Sheldon Adelson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1933 and became an entrepreneur at an early age. He created several very successful businesses, and in the 1970s developed the computer trade show COMDEX. He went on to build casino resorts in Las Vegas and Asia, and later ventured into politics, generously supporting Republican causes and candidates.
The story of Sheldon Gary Adelson, born in the poor Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, in 1933, is a classic American rags-to-riches story. Sheldon’s father drove a taxicab and sold advertisements, and his mother ran a small knitting store. Sheldon start working at a young age selling newspapers, and by age 12 he owned his first business, selling toiletries.
In the early 1950s, he entered City College of New York, majoring in corporate finance, but dropped out after less than two years. He joined the U.S. Army and started working as a court stenographer on Wall Street, where he set his sights on making his fortune. After leaving the Army, he worked as a mortgage broker and investment adviser and soon made his first fortune. In the early 1960s, he moved back to Boston and invested in various companies, among them a travel and tour business, The American International Travel Service, which was very profitable. However, his success turned sour in a stock market decline in the late 1960s.
In the early 1970s, Adelson rebounded in the real estate brokerage business in Boston, arranging condominium conversions, and did well for a time until the condo market took a dive. Scrambling to find a lifeline, he caught a big break when he bought a company that published magazines, among them Data Communications User, a computer magazine. After attending a condo trade convention, he learned that the producer was a condo magazine publisher. Adelson believed the same effort could be made for the computer business and started a trade show for the computer industry.
With the modest success of his first show in 1973, Sheldon Adelson could see he was onto something. He sold his condominium holdings and the publishing company, but held on to the trade show business, launching the Interface Group and concentrating on the computer show. The company grew slowly, garnering only $250,000 in its first year of operation. Around this time, Adelson met his first wife, Sandra, and in time they adopted three children. They divorced in 1988.
In 1979, Sheldon Adelson created the Computer Dealers Expo, or COMDEX, and held the show at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. His timing was perfect, as the personal computer industry was just taking off. As brands such as IBM, Apple and Microsoft began their rapid growth, Adelson’s trade show was there to present their products to consumers and to other companies. By 1987, COMDEX had grossed $20 million and become the largest trade show in Las Vegas. By the end of the decade, the Interface Group had reached a net income of $250 million and expanded COMDEX shows into other countries.
By the late 1980s, Adelson and his partners began looking for hotel property to complement their travel companies and their several private jets. In 1988, they purchased the legendary Sands Casino for $128 million, famed for being the hangout of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Adelson redesigned the Sands to his business model. He built a resort, shopping mall and convention center for his company’s events, including COMDEX. He also began his notorious battles with regulatory authorities and unions while constructing the new Sands Casino and Convention Center.
In 1991, Sheldon Adelson met his wife Miriam, an Israeli-born physician specializing in drug abuse treatment. While honeymooning in Italy, he was inspired by the canals and architecture of Venice and began to envision a mega-resort hotel. In 1995, he sold COMDEX to a Japanese firm for $860 million, with a personal share of over $500 million. Free now to make his own deals with Wall Street bankers, Adelson shed his partnerships with Interface and ventured out on his own to build his $1.5 billion Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Despite legal and contractual battles with unions and contractors, the resort opened in 1999 and was wildly successful.
Following the success of the Venetian, Sheldon Adelson was presented with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Through business associates he was able to negotiate an agreement to open another Venetian casino resort on the Chinese island of Macao, which had recently become the center of a massive Asian gambling market. In 2006, Adelson was awarded a hotly contested license to construct a casino resort at Singapore’s Marina Bay. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino opened in 2010 at a rumored cost of $5.5 billion.
In the 2000s, Sheldon Adelson began to lend his influence and wealth to political candidates of his liking. Originally a Democrat, Adelson became a Republican as his wealth increased. He became dissatisfied with paying higher tax rates and clashed with trade unions, both of which were supported by Democrats. In 2004, Adelson contributed $250,000 to the second inaugural of George W. Bush. In 2008, he became the principal backer of Freedom’s Watch, a now-defunct political advocacy group established to counter the influence of George Soros and other Democratic-leaning billionaires.
In 2010, Adelson donated $1 million to American Solutions for Winning the Future, a political action committee supporting the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich. By February 2012, Adelson and his wife had added an additional $10 million to Gingrich’s failed campaign. Soon after, he transferred his support to presidential nominee Mitt Romney by donating $20 million to Romney's super PAC. Romney lost his bid for President of the United States in 2012 to incumbent president Barack Obama. All toll, Adelson is reported to have spent $93 million on the 2012 election.
Sheldon Adelson has found success supporting political causes he believes in. In 2014, he donated $2.5 million to Drug Free Florida Committee and later, another $1.5 million for the NO on 2 campaign in a successful attempt to defeat Florida’s medical marijuana initiative. He also spent heavily supporting conservative candidates for the U.S. Senate in the mid-term election.
In 2016, Sheldon Adelson altered his strategy from backing a candidate for president who most closely adhere to his political ideology to supporting a more mainstream candidate. Reportedly, aids to Adelson have said there will be more scrutiny in selecting candidates who can win elections. This may benefit more well-known candidates who have established records and a “more electable” message..
The Adelsons have also given millions of dollars to various charitable organizations, including medical research, addiction clinics and Birthright Israel, an organization that finances tours of Jerusalem for kids. The couple has also donated to the the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, and the Museum of Holocaust Art. Adelson is a member of the board of directors of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. In 2007, Sheldon Adelson established the Adelson Family Charitable Trust, which is expected to donate $200 million to Jewish and Israeli causes.
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