Billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson dies at 87

Chris Stein
·4-min read

Billionaire casino magnate and donor to Republican and Jewish causes Sheldon Adelson has died of cancer, his company said on Tuesday, eliciting tributes from two of the leaders he staunchly supported, US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The son of a Boston taxi driver, Adelson brought new heights to the gambling industry around the world. He was equally known for his tireless advocacy for Israel and right-wing causes, and for his impassioned opposition to the Palestinian cause.

Adelson's death was confirmed on Tuesday by Las Vegas Sands, the company with which he built a sprawling casino empire stretching from Las Vegas to the Chinese territory of Macau.

"Our founder and visionary leader, Sheldon G. Adelson, passed away last night at the age of 87 from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma," the company said in a statement.

Adelson last week took a leave of absence for cancer treatment from Las Vegas Sands, with chief operating Officer Robert Goldstein replacing him in an acting capacity, the company said.

One of the richest men in the world, Adelson was a prominent supporter of Trump and well-known in the American business community, which has been cutting ties with the president or backing away from politics, at least temporarily, after last week's attack on the US Capitol.

The deadly assault on Congress came after Trump addressed a crowd of supporters in Washington and urged them to march to the Capitol to protest the certification of Democrat Joe Biden's victory in the November 3 presidential election.

Adelson made no statement about the events at the Capitol before his death, spokesman Ron Reese told AFP.

But he was a prominent supporter of the president, appearing alongside Trump wearing a distinctive red "Keep America Great" cap.

The New York Times reported that he donated $220 million to the president's failed reelection campaign last year, as well as to other Republican politicians.

"His ingenuity, genius, and creativity earned him immense wealth, but his character and philanthropic generosity his great name," Trump said in a statement. "Sheldon was also a staunch supporter of our great ally the State of Israel."

"Sheldon Adelson's life represents the best of the American dream," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Tuesday, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called him a "remarkable American."

- From America to Israel -

Adelson rose to become one of the richest men on the planet thanks to his chain of casinos. As of Tuesday Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $35 billion.

"He was a wonderful friend to us personally and an incredible champion of the Jewish people, the Jewish state and the alliance between Israel and America," Netanyahu said in a statement.

In the United States, Adelson fiercely opposed former Democratic president Barack Obama and made no apologies for putting his wealth to use for causes he cared about.

In 2012, he told Forbes he was "against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it's doable I'm going to do it."

He caused a furor with many of his remarks, including dismissing the Palestinians as an "invented" people and musing about how the United States should drop a nuclear bomb on Israel's arch-enemy Iran.

But with his lavish donations to politicians and advocacy groups, Adelson's hawkish views soon entered the mainstream in Washington. His casino boardroom was dubbed the most crucial testing ground for Republican candidates.

Trump, before finding favor with Adelson, wrote on his now-suspended Twitter account in 2015 that the magnate was "looking to give big dollars" to rival presidential contender Marco Rubio "because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet."

- Final triumphs -

Adelson showed no qualms with Trump after the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia and hailed his steps to boost Israel, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem in 2018.

In an apparent bid to keep the US embassy in Jerusalem, Adelson last year bought the residence of the ambassador when the embassy was located in Tel Aviv.

Adelson's final triumph came just before New Year's when the Trump administration lifted travel restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, a US citizen who spent 30 years in prison for passing classified documents to Israel.

Adelson sent a private jet to fly Pollard to Tel Aviv, where the convicted spy kissed the ground and was welcomed on the ground by Netanyahu.

His death will not end his influence as his widow, dual national Miriam Adelson, shares his views.

In a 2019 opinion piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which the Adelsons own, she said that one day the Bible may have a "Book of Trump."

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