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Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate who backed Trump and Israel, dies at 87

Delphine TOUITOU
·4-min read
Sheldon Adelson was a supporter of the Republican party in the United States and involved himself in politics in Israel

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a major donor to the US Republican party for decades and a loyal supporter of Israel, has died, his Las Vegas Sands company said on Tuesday. He was 87.

The cause was complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the company said.

From humble beginnings in Boston, Adelson became one of the richest men on the planet thanks to a chain of casinos sprawling from the Las Vegas strip to the Chinese territory of Macau, with a fortune estimated at $35 billion at the time of his death, according to Forbes.

He put that money to work weighing in on American politics -- and lobbying on behalf of Israel. He also entered the media sphere, buying newspapers in Vegas and Tel Aviv.

A friend of the Republican party, Adelson became an opponent of former Democratic president Barack Obama, then a major financier for his Republican successor Donald Trump.

He contributed nearly $220 million to Trump's failed 2020 reelection campaign, as well as to other Republican candidates, The New York Times reported.

For these activities, Adelson made no apologies, telling Forbes in a 2012 interview he was "against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it."

He pointed to similar donations made by liberal financiers like George Soros, and said his donations acted as a counterbalance.

"I'm proud of what I do and I'm not looking to escape recognition," he said.

- Involvement in Israel -

Adelson also financially supported the Jewish community, both in the United States and abroad.

Together with his wife Miriam Adelson, he established the Adelson Family Foundation in 2007 "to strengthen the State of Israel and the Jewish people," according to its website.

Adelson had never hidden his opposition to a two-state solution in the country, and worked to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

In 2007, Adelson founded free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, which today is one of the most widely distributed in the country.

After Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Adelson in September 2020 bought the US ambassador's residence in an upscale suburb of the latter city, which some observers viewed as a way to ensure the move to Jerusalem remains permanent.

In the United States, he also purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper.

- Immigrant family -

Born on August 4, 1933 in Boston, Sheldon Gary Adelson grew up in the northeastern US city's Dorchester neighborhood.

His father, who was Jewish of Ukrainian and Lithuanian origin, drove a cab, and his mother, an immigrant from England, owned a knitting shop.

Adelson demonstrated his entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age, borrowing $200 from an uncle when he was 12 to buy a license to sell newspapers in Boston, according to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), an organization devoted to strengthening ties between the two countries.

Four years later, he borrowed money from an uncle again, this time the tidy sum of $10,000 to start a candy vending business.

He attended The City College of New York, but didn't graduate. He tried and failed to become a court reporter, and served time in the army.

He then opened a business selling toiletry kits before starting another selling De-Ice-It, a chemical aerosol spray to remove ice from windshields.

All told, he ran about 50 companies at various times, according to AICE, and made his fortune in the 1960s with a charter travel business.

But the "serial entrepreneur" only entered the casino business in 1989 at the age of 55 when he and his partners bought the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $128 million.

Before his death, he owned more than half of the gaming empire which did $14 billion in sales from its properties, according to Forbes. ProPublica in 2018 reported that Adelson's business in Macau, where he outmaneuvered fellow casino investor Trump, accounts for about half of Sands's annual revenue.

Based on his wealth, Forbes put him in 28th place on its list of billionaires in 2020.

He leaves behind six children from two marriages and 11 grandchildren.

Dt/lo/cs/st