“I’ve already figured out when I’m going to be No. 2 and No. 1.”
Sheldon Adelson was born in 1933 in Boston, Massachusetts, and brought up in a lower-middle-class Jewish home with his parents. Adelson identifies as a business magnate, investor, and philanthropist, with a large involvement in politics. In June 2015, Forbes listed the polarizing figure as the 18th richest person in the world, with an empire worth $28 billion. His primary wealth builder has been his casino properties around the world.
Adelson showed signs of entrepreneurship from a young age. His first two businesses were selling newspapers in Boston with a license he bought with $200 borrowed from his Uncle at age 12, and a candy vending machine business at age 16. Adelson had begun training towards becoming a court reporter, but the education system didn’t suit him, so he dropped out to join the army.
After the army, Adelson was a serial entrepreneur, and by the time he was in his mid 30’s had started 50+ businesses. His belief, which he holds to this day, was “I look at every business and ask, how long can this last? How can I identify the status quo and change it?” He became a millionaire several times, going broke several times and repeating the process. In 1979, Adelson and his partners staged their first computer trade show, COMDEX, which was his biggest business venture to that point. They eventually sold the business in 1995, with Adelson taking his $500 million shares. COMDEX was renowned as the best computer trade show in the world in the ’80s and ’90s.
Before the sale of COMDEX, Adelson and his partners had started to enter the casino & hotel industry with the purchase of Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel & Casino in 1988. Forever the entrepreneur, it was on his honeymoon in Venice that his next massive project was conceived. The Sands Hotel & Casino was razed, and in its place, he built The Venetian, which still stands as one of the most recognizable casinos on the strip. It is based on many traits from Venice, Italy, including the singing gondoliers.
Not content with one resort property, Adelson built a casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 2009, which hasn’t been a great success by his standards. His other properties, however, have been topical and successful.
Adelson built the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel in Macao at a cost of $2.4 billion. It opened in 2004. Most interestingly, Adelson’s company owns the iconic Marina Bay Sands building in Singapore, which opened in 2010 at a cost of $5.5 billion.
With such a heavy interest in land-based casinos, it is natural that the fate of online poker in the USA would be of significant interest to Adelson. Essentially all of the casino magnates are in support of online poker becoming regulated in the U.S.A., with Adelson being one of the few exceptions. In a quote that sent shivers down the spines of poker players nationally, he has said he will do ‘whatever it takes’ in regards to spending funds to prevent regulated online poker in America.
Adelson has not always been opposed to online gambling. Surrounding his Las Vegas Sands are Caesars Entertainment and the MGM Grand, which both have online operations. Under his watchful eye, Sands Corporation was actively exploring the possibility of online gaming between 2001 and 2007. In Adelson’s words, “If the market sees a way into expanding in electronic gaming, we’ll be in it.” Between 2001 and 2005, Sands Corp.’s various filings with the Securities and Exchanges Commission clearly showed that they were looking long and hard at entering the online gambling and poker world. After that dalliance had fallen short of expectations, their interest picked back up in 2006, seeing Sands Corp. partnering with Cantor Gaming to serve the UK market’s demand for online gaming. After this second attempt, all forays into online gambling were ceased, and Adelson became a staunch critic of the legalization movement ever since.
Formerly a Democrat, Adelson made a rare move for a high-profile person by changing his loyalties to the Republicans. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Adelson made it clear that it was not he who left the Democrats, but that the Democrats who had left him. He backed it up with three reasons. These reasons faced heavy backlash, with many believing the real reason to be that he didn’t want to pay higher taxes after getting into confrontations with labor unions at his Vegas properties.
Adelson supported Mitt Romney’s failed 2010 presidential campaign to the tune of over $10 million. He’s now gone on record as a backer of Senator Lindsay Graham for President. Graham is vehemently opposed to online gambling and gaming. In a quote, he recently said that “because of this decision by the Obama administration, virtually any cell phone or computer in South Carolina could become a video poker machine.” The senator, along with Senator Marco Rubio, has begun to champion the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. As Adelson has stated, “I see this as my humanitarian legacy. We’re prepared to pay billions.”
Adelson has always kept the public in the dark as to the reasoning behind many of his decisions, but it is believed he played a key role in New Jersey’s delay in allowing regulated online poker. With politicians aware of the financial impact he can have, it is believed signing off on the bill kept getting pushed back to keep Adelson happy and show they were on his side despite the inevitability of legalized online gambling in New Jersey.
The impact of the delay has also meant large American states, particularly California and Texas, have not been swift to push through their regulations. Adelson is no closer to getting a federal ban on online poker, but the longer he can delay regulation at a state level the better off he is.
In 2014, Sheldon Adelson ramped up his efforts against online gaming when he started the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) which lobbies at state and federal level to prevent the legalization of online gambling.
His rise hasn’t been without difficulties. In May of 2015, Adelson found himself in court discussing a lawsuit that threatened to topple his entire empire. Steven Jacobs is the former CEO of Macau’s wing of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. He alleges that he was terminated for attempting to stop apparent payoffs to Chinese officials, which are highly illegal, and for trying to untangle the company from the world of organized crime in China. Adelson claims that Jacobs was fired for incompetence. The location of the trial could determine the outcome for Mr. Adelson. Should the trial be held in the United States – as Jacobs’ attorneys would prefer – it would allow the evidence supporting Jacobs’ case to aid in ongoing federal investigations into Adelson’s activities. Adelson could also lose his casino licenses, which are the main source of his wealth. This would also hinder Adelson’s ability to donate those vast sums of money to the Republicans.
In the meantime, Adelson continues to call Las Vegas home, where he lives with his wife, Miriam. He has three adopted children from his previous marriage to Michelle, who died of a drug overdose in 2005. That tragedy made Adelson passionately resist legalizing marijuana use.
At the age of 82, Adelson is like many entrepreneurs, in that he will probably never “retire”. He is considered to be one of the most influential businesspeople of the last 30 years. Adelson is not going to stop acting in support of what he believes, and with such a large fortune he has the opportunity to set his legacy for the next few decades. “Why do I need succession planning? I’m very alert; I’m very vibrant. I have no intention to retire,” he has said.