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Sheldon Adelson: a biography

Anyone who follows the business and financial headlines will be well aware of Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who’s a force to be reckoned with in the gambling world. His personal wealth is worth a reported $37.3 billion and he is the CEO, chairman and principal shareholder of Las Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino operator.

Anyone who follows the business and financial headlines will be well aware of Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who’s a force to be reckoned with in the gambling world.

His personal wealth is worth a reported $37.3 billion and he is the CEO, chairman and principal shareholder of Las Vegas Sands, the world’s largest casino operator.

Even if you don’t know Adelson by name, his Las Vegas hotels The Palazzo and The Venetian or his Singapore resort, Marina Bay Sands, are familiar to millions. Let’s take a look at his life and work in business and politics.

From humble beginnings to COMDEX

Adelson may be a billionaire today, but his early days couldn’t have started out much differently. Born on August 4th, 1933, Adelson was the son of a Boston taxi driver and grew up sleeping on the floor of his family’s Boston tenement.

His career started out with a loan of $200 from his uncle at 12 years old, to sell newspapers on a busy city street corner. He also sold adverts in trade press and worked as a court reporter to make a living.

It wasn’t until he launched the computer industry trade show COMDEX in 1979 that he truly hit the big time. The event grew to become the annual centerpiece of the computer industry’s calendar throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Like a true entrepreneur, Adelson knew when to get out when the time was right. He sold COMDEX and several smaller shows for an impressive $862 million.

Getting into the casino game

Adelson’s true calling was entering the casino business. But surprisingly, Adelson didn’t get into the industry itself until he was 55, starting with the Sands Hotel and Casino, which he bought for $128 million in 1995 — and then demolished in 1996.

The ageing establishment made way for The Venetian Las Vegas, which took two years and $1.5 billion to build. Naturally, Adelson wanted the hotel to be reminiscent of Venice, Italy. He ordered detailed renderings of famous attractions in the city, such as Doge’s Palace, the Rialto Bridge and Campanile tower. Finally, the hotel opened in April 1999.

The success of The Venetian was the starting point to push ahead with building The Sands Macau, since it allowed him to obtain a license for the project. The hotel, which opened in 2004, cost more than $265 million to build.

That’s small change, considering he made $2.2 billion in a single week in April 2019, thanks to significant revenue from the Macau hotel. The company’s share price went up by 8.8%.

Fighting the corner of land-based casinos

As an owner of land-based casinos, Adelson certainly doesn’t welcome the arrival of online ones and has fervently campaigned against them. Some have even linked him to the recent crackdown on online gambling.

In the first quarter of the year, he and his wife Miriam donated a combined $500,000 to the Trump campaign, earning them Medals of Freedom as a result. However, sources close to Adelson have stated he’s never taken advantage of his influence to approach the President personally and request such a crackdown.

Adelson may be firmly against online gambling – perhaps due to his interests in the bricks-and-mortar gambling industry – but many other markets, and players, support it. Following the repeal of PASPA in 2018, online sports betting has started to become legal across the US, a move for which New Jersey especially has fought hard – along with West Virginia and Delaware. Now the wheels have been set in motion, many are now in favor of legalizing online casinos too – with many operators keen to get their foot in the door.

After all, online casinos provide players with the chance to have a flutter on their favourite games from the comfort from their own home – anytime, anywhere and using any device.

What’s more, unlike in the case of brick-and-mortar venues, visitors to online casinos have the chance to educate themselves on how to play the games on offer and practice playing them before gambling with their money. They can use the casinos’ online guides to the most popular games, giving them a better chance of winning when they take to the tables.

For example, you should really read gambling expert John Grochowski’s guide about how to play craps before heading to the table. It covers the rules of the game plus strategies to win – and is quite simply a must-read if you’re ever thinking of playing the game online or in a land-based casino.

However, it appears that online gambling legalization is still some way off. In January 2019, the US Justice Department broadened its interpretation of rules relating to sports gambling to include online gambling and lottery businesses.

Influence in domestic and foreign policy

The gambling world isn’t the only place Adelson holds some serious sway. He’s also a powerful figure in politics, given he’s close to Trump.

The Las Vegas Review, the newspaper which Adelson bought for $128 million, was among those that endorsed the current president on his way to victory. The couple also pledged a further $5 million towards the inauguration festivities.

As a result of these generous donations, he has come to be known as the president’s ‘Patron-in-Chief’.

This isn’t the first time Adelson has contributed financially to an election campaign. In 2012, he sent $17 million Newt Gingrich’s way to support his ultimately unsuccessful quest to become the Republican nominee for presidential candidate.

There’s also his outspoken support for Israel, which included backing the relocation of the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He’s committed to strengthening ties between the US and Israel, and has worked to protect Israel interests within the US – paying for new headquarters in Washington for the powerful pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Adelson has further supported the organization by funding ‘birth-right’ trips to Israel for young Jewish Americans. According to Forbes, he has donated $410 million to the program and provided further finance to a group that opposes criticism of the Jewish state at US universities.

Life of luxury

When not supporting philanthropy projects, political candidates or his business interests, you might find Adelson at one of his many homes.

The 85-year-old billionaire owns a huge mansion in Las Vegas and he’s also the owner of various properties in The Colony, a gated community in Malibu, California, popular with Hollywood celebrities.

If not relaxing on land, he may spend some quiet time on ‘Queen Miri’, the private yacht he bought in 2015 for around $70 million and named after his wife, Miriam.

Adelson’s days of selling newspapers on a Boston city corner are a long way behind him now as he rubs shoulders with people at the very highest level of American politics and enjoys the trappings of a major gambling empire. It’s a story to inspire us all.

Next Finance 9 July
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