Las Vegas Sands Founder Sheldon Adelson Dies at 87

Self-made billionaire

Sheldon Adelson, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, has died at age 87. Both his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, and his company released statements confirming that he passed away Monday night from complications related to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he had been battling since 2018.

estimated net worth of $33.5bn

One of the world’s richest people with an estimated net worth of $33.5bn as of September 2020, Adelson got his start by buying the rights to sell newspapers outside Filene’s Basement in Boston when he was 12, using a $200 loan from his uncle. He parlayed his profits into a vending machine business just four years later.

Adelson created about 50 companies in his life, but it was in the late 1970’s when he established himself as a Las Vegas mogul, when he and his partners created the COMDEX computer industry trade show. They sold it in 1995, Adelson reaping $500m from the deal.

In 1988, Adelson and partners bought the Sands Hotel and Casino, a legendary Rat Pack haunt, and built the Sands Expo and Convention Center the following year. In the 1990’s, he razed the Sands and built The Venetian, one of the landmark properties on the Las Vegas Strip. The Venetian opened in 1999.

Despite Las Vegas Sands’ roots in the US, the company makes the vast majority of its money in Asia. Adelson opened Sands Macao in 2004, Venetian Macao in 2007, Marina Bay Sands (Singapore) in 2010, and Sands Cotai Central (Macau) in 2016.

Online gambling’s most staunch opponent

Though The Venetian’s poker room is a player favorite in Las Vegas, Sheldon Adelson’s legacy in the poker world will be as online poker’s greatest enemy. He fought against online poker – and online gambling, in general – for years, claiming that he was looking out for children and problem gamblers. It was widely known, however, that his real motivation was to protect his brick-and-mortar casinos from possible online competition.

In January 2014, Adelson used his company to form the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), a lobbying group that pushed state and federal lawmakers to criminalize online gambling. CSIG signed over three dozen groups to support its efforts, nearly all religious organizations that fall on the far-right of the political spectrum.

attempted to get RAWA inserted into larger, must-pass legislation

In 2014, Adelson lobbyists penned the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a bill which aimed to rewrite the Federal Wire Act of 1961 to ban all forms of online gambling. He was able to get Republican lawmakers in both the House (Jason Chaffetz) and the Senate (Lindsey Graham) to introduce it and even hold hearings, but in the end, the legislation always died. Adelson also attempted to get RAWA inserted into larger, must-pass legislation, but his politicians’ efforts were always sniffed out.

Political power broker

Sheldon Adelson was the most prolific Republican political donor in the past decade. In 2012, he contributed $90m to Republican efforts to unseat President Barack Obama. During the Republican primary season leading up to the 2016 election, hopeful candidates traveled to Las Vegas to seek his support. Adelson gave $5m to Donald Trump’s inauguration fund and gave $30m to mid-term election efforts in 2018.

This political influence again reared its heard in the gambling world in early 2019, when the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) unexpectedly reversed its 2011 reinterpretation of the Wire Act, saying that it makes all online gambling illegal.

The Wire Act was originally written to curtail organized crime by banning the use of wire communications for sports betting. The DOJ eventually interpreted it to cover all forms of internet gambling, but the OLC issued a decision in late 2011, saying that it only applied to sports betting.

The Wall Street Journal soon reported that Adelson’s lobbyists got in the ear of top officials in the Trump DOJ, telling them that the 2011 decision was incorrect. The DOJ then asked the OLC to take another look, resulting in the reversal. Not much has resulted from the 2019 OLC decision aside from lawsuits, but it has been a threatening cloud hanging over the US online gambling industry.

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