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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

During Trump's first years in the White House, Adelson and the president had monthly phone chats and shared occasional meals at the White House, the New York Times reported.

Both took a hard stand on what they saw as existential threats to Israel.

After Trump announced the U.S. would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, "the true capital of Israel," the Adelsons had front-row seats at the celebration of its opening. Adelson advocated cutting aid to the Palestinians and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal — actions Trump took in 2018. On election night in 2018, Adelson and his wife dined at the White House with the president and his inner circle, watching the midterm results roll in.

"I would put Adelson at the very top of the list of both access and influence in the Trump administration," Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen told ProPublica. "I've never seen anything like it, and I've been studying money in politics for 40 years."

Sheldon Gary Adelson was born in Boston on Aug. 4, 1933, and grew up in the tough Dorchester neighborhood. He was raised in a one-room tenement apartment, where he slept on the floor with his sister and two brothers.

"Mine is a rags-to-riches story," he liked to say, "but we couldn't afford the rags."


At 12, he borrowed $200 from an uncle and landed the right to hawk newspapers on a prime street corner. At 16, he broke into the candy machine business, then did a stint in the Army and a year at City College of New York.

A driven young man, Adelson threw himself into business after business. He sold de-icing fluid for windshields and ad space in financial magazines. He was a mortgage broker and a travel agent. In 1979, he started Comdex, a Las Vegas-based computer trade show that drew crowds of more than 200,000 and became the biggest event of its kind in the world.

Adelson's career was framed in superlatives. After buying and later demolishing the aging Sands hotel, he and his partners built the Venetian Las Vegas, an opulent resort with marble pillars, Renaissance-style ceiling frescoes, a fleet of gondoliers skimming down a Grand Canal, and more than 1,000 slot machines.

"It's full of richness. It's full of luxury. It's full of decadence, and it's full of romance," he told reporters on a preview tour in 1999, adding that it was inspired by the city where he and his wife had honeymooned.


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