In the last three decades of his life, Sheldon Adelson, 87, had an outsized influence on American and Israeli politics, fueled by an empire of casinos in Las Vegas, Macao, and Singapore that defined the skylines of these cities. Estimated by Bloomberg News as the world’s 37th wealthiest person, this cabdriver’s son was unapologetic and tough in his embrace of conservatism as he purchased newspapers and bankrolled successful presidential campaigns.
His Jewish views and causes were the result of his childhood in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston. “We had to go to school with at least four kids,” he told Forbes Magazine in 2012. “The Irish kids came out of the bushes and tenements with rubber hoses and chains and brass knuckles.” The experience gave him an appreciation for Israel and a determination to succeed.
Among his beneficiaries is outgoing president Donald Trump. After sitting out the 2016 primary, Adelson made a rare public statement in a Washington Post op-ed outlining his support for the fellow casino magnate.
“He is a candidate with actual CEO experience, shaped and molded by the commitment and risk of his own money rather than the public’s,” he wrote. “He is a CEO success story that exemplifies the American spirit of determination, commitment to cause, and business stewardship.”
Adelson was a serial entrepreneur whose breakthrough in the late 1970s involved computer trade shows when that industry was emerging. As it grew, so did his personal wealth. Within two decades of his first trade show in Las Vegas, he was building new casinos in this city and across the world.
In prior elections, Adelson gave generously to George W. Bush in 2004, Newt Gingrich, and then Mitt Romney in 2012, and various campaigns connected to the Republican Party.
Adelson’s $25 million donation to Trump’s campaign reaped dividends in an administration that relocated the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognized the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, and ruled that Jewish communities across the former Green Line are not in violation of international law. He was a supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, using his Israel Hayom newspaper to promote the embattled Israeli leader as he faced multiple re-elections and legal investigations.
“Sheldon Adelson’s life represents the best of the American dream,” wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “The world, Israel, and the United States are safer because of his work.”
His support for Israel went beyond supporting pro-Israel candidates. For Israelis living in America, including his wife Miriam, he expanded the Israeli-American Council to have more chapters nationwide, lobby in Washington against BDS, and promote Israeli-American entrepreneurs. In memory of Jews killed by anti-Semites, his support for Yad Vashem resulted in expanded educational programs and its Museum of Holocaust Art.
“He was well aware of the dangers inherent in anti-Semitism, and recognized the duty to instill the memory of the Holocaust, believing in the value of education as a critical means of doing so,” said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. “It was precisely thanks to these shared goals that Sheldon was particularly committed and closely connected to Yad Vashem.”
For the younger generations of American Jews, his support for Birthright Israel took hundreds of young people off the waiting list to additional flights that bolstered their Jewish identities.
Adelson was an outspoken opponent of legalizing marijuana, fearing that this narcotic could serve as a gateway drug to more dangerous substances. His adopted son Mitchell died in 2005 to an overdose of cocaine and heroin. In Las Vegas, his wife Miriam, an Israeli-born physician, founded the Adelson Clinic to research and treat substance abuse. “Sheldon and Miriam’s efforts to combat addiction and substance abuse in the Silver State changed the lives of many,” wrote Sen. Jacky Rosen. “As Jewish leaders, we also shared a deep concern for the rise in anti-Semitism and joined efforts to help combat hate.”
Miriam was his second wife, mother of his two youngest children, and an active partner in his political and philanthropic ventures. In 2018, Trump awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Their honeymoon in Venice inspired Adelson to replicate the experience in the Nevada desert at the massive Venetian Las Vegas hotel and casino.
“Sheldon was the love of my life. He was my partner in romance, philanthropy, political activism, and enterprise. He was my soulmate,” she wrote in a statement. “He gave readily of his fortune to charitable causes that may literally be countless, as he expected no credit and often preferred anonymity. Although bluff in build and speech – and, in the last two decades, beset by painful sickness – Sheldon was always sensitive to the needs of others.”
By Sergey Kadinsky