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Sheldon Adelson, billionaire casino owner and Republican mega-donor, dies at 87

Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon G. Adelson, whose faux Venetian palaces drew gamblers eager to beat the odds and Republican candidates eager to win campaign jackpots, has died. He was 87.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Miriam Adelson. Adelson was being treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, his company disclosed in early 2019.

Adelson was listed by Forbes magazine in 2020 as the 19th-richest American, with holdings estimated at $29.8 billion. After he took his Las Vegas Sands Corp. public in 2004, his wealth increased by $1 million an hour. During the 2008 recession, it plummeted for a time at $1,000 a second.

In the primary and general elections of 2012, 2016 and 2018, Adelson was far and away the top Republican political donor, giving a total of more than $302 million, including at least $35 million to President Trump. He and his wife, Miriam, a physician specializing in addiction, also contributed $5 million for Trump's inauguration, the largest donation of its kind in U.S. history.

But when Adelson connected with the president in the summer of 2020 to discuss the coronavirus relief bill and the economy, Trump instead confronted the billionaire on why he wasn't doing more to bolster his reelection campaign, Politico reported. Stung that Trump seemed unaware on how much money he's donated, Adelson ended the conversation. Nonetheless, Adelson later donated $75 million to a political action committee supporting Trump's reelection.

Adelson also was politically active in Israel, his wife's homeland and a focus for much of the couple's extensive philanthropy. In 2007, Adelson began financing Israel Hayom, a free tabloid newspaper that became Israel's largest-circulation daily. The paper reflected Adelson's hawkish positions on Israel and backed the hard-right policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

Like Democratic mega-donors such as George Soros, Adelson was excoriated for using his vast wealth to buy political influence. But he shrugged off his critics, saying he was only trying to set right a system that had gone tragically wrong.

"There is absolutely no expectation of any favoritism whatsoever," he told the British newspaper the Guardian in 2012, when he showered Republican candidates with more than $92 million. "Though if I'm fortunate enough to be invited to the White House Hanukkah party, I hope someone would save me a couple of potato pancakes. They ran out the last time I was there."

A short man with thinning red hair who was forced into a motorized wheelchair by a painful nerve condition, Adelson had a grandfatherly affection for cornball jokes. He was also known for his uncompromising drive to succeed, his zeal for litigation, and his hardball negotiating tactics. At a panel discussion in 2014, he suggested demonstrating U.S. opposition to Iran's weapons program by dropping a nuclear bomb over an unpopulated region of that nation's desert.

"Then you say, 'See? The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business,'" Adelson said. "'You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.'"

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