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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

The Venetian also was the setting for what came to be called "the Adelson primary" — meetings where Republican presidential hopefuls would woo Adelson and pitch their agendas to the Republican Jewish Coalition, a group he backed.

From his office in the Venetian, Adelson laid the groundwork for even grander, glitzier operations. In Singapore, his company's Marina Bay Sands boosted tourism by 20%. In Macau, the former Portuguese colony just off China's coast, Adelson supersized the Venetian, constructing what his company described not just as the world's largest casino, but "the world's largest inhabited building."

Adelson developed four more hotel-casinos in Macau — all on a strip that had been swampland before he filled it in. Macau became the world's biggest gambling destination and, despite bitter litigation over his efforts, Adelson thrived.

In 2016, he agreed to a $9-million settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over accusations that his Macau operation had bribed Chinese officials. He also agreed to pay a reported $75 million to a Sands executive in Macau who resigned after allegedly being pressured to seek dirt on Chinese regulators and to allow prostitution in Sands properties.

When the chips were down, Adelson often went to court. In a 10-year period, he was a party to 150 lawsuits in Nevada's Clark County alone, according to the Washington Post. In 2018, a lawsuit accused him of "legal sadism" for needlessly prolonging legal proceedings to weaken his adversaries.

In a libel action filed by Adelson, a Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist was forced into bankruptcy just as his young daughter was undergoing treatment for brain cancer. When Adelson secretly acquired the Review-Journal in 2015, the columnist, John L. Smith, quit after being banned from writing about the new owner of the state's largest newspaper.

Adelson was even sued by Gary and Mitchell Adelson, two sons from his first marriage, who claimed he had cheated them in a transaction of company stock. A Massachusetts judge ruled that Adelson, while "perhaps lacking paternal kindliness," had not defrauded or misled his sons.

Mitchell Adelson died of a drug overdose in 2005.

In addition to his wife, Adelson's survivors include four children from his two marriages.


In 1993, the Adelsons established a nonprofit drug clinic in Tel Aviv. They subsequently built two more, in Las Vegas and Macau. Adelson also invested heavily in campaigns against the legalization of marijuana, contending it was a gateway to addiction for his son and countless others.

Through family foundations, the Adelsons gave millions to medical researchers in Israel and the U.S. They also funded Jewish education, contributed to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, and gave more than $410 million to Birthright, an organization that brings young Jews from all over the world to Israel.

Even before his marriage to Miriam, Israel was a cause close to Adelson's heart.

On his first trip there, the well-heeled businessman wore shoes that had belonged to his late father, a Lithuanian immigrant who drove a taxi for a living.

Arthur Adelson had never gotten to visit Israel, his son told many audiences, and it was only fitting that at some point his shoes should touch the ground.


(Chawkins is a former Times staff writer.)

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