A truly Distinguished Nevadan, great American and all-around Mensch, Sheldon Adelson, died Tuesday. This self-made fabulously wealthy entrepreneur, businessman, philanthropist, and political and communications force of nature was also a great human being who will be hugely missed.
In this hour, we send condolences and prayers to his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, and family and friends.
Many people know some aspects of his remarkable life, but only some. Born into a one-room Boston tenement in 1933 to a Lithuanian-Ukrainian cab driver and knitting-shop owner daughter of a Welsh coal miner, Sheldon became the third-richest person in America in 2007. Following some ups and downs, he left a fortune of $33.5-billion, plus a vast legacy of gifts to many good causes.
At 12, he began his career by borrowing $200 from his uncle to buy a license to sell newspapers on street corners. He went on to create nearly 50 other businesses in his life. He attended college but dropped out and attended trade school, hoping unsuccessfully to become a court reporter, before joining the army. By his thirties, via entrepreneurial ventures, he had twice built and lost million-dollar fortunes. Later, he lost $25-billion and recovered that.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he also adopted and cared for the three children of his first wife.
He didn’t invent trade shows, but he and partners bought the fledgling COMDEX computer industry shows in the late 1970s. Sheldon’s vision and creativity built it into one of the largest trade shows in the world in the next two decades – and remade the resort and casino industry into its modern form.
Previously, the casino business overwhelmingly concentrated on the gaming floor, with cheap accommodations and food. Besides pioneering trade shows to diversify the business and upgrade the eats and accommodations to world-class levels, he also recognized the tourist business could be much more than merely gaming.
Honeymooning in Venice in 1991 with his second wife Miriam, he envisioned the mega-resort hotel and casino. He added exotic shopping, entertainment and recreation to lavish rooms and food to set off the Las Vegas explosion that made him and many others very wealthy. The first such property, the magnificent Venetian, opened in 1999.
Soon, he realized the model of bringing tens of millions of visitors annually to Las Vegas was insufficient, and he led the industry to the People’s Republic of China, opening the 1,000,000 square-foot Sands Macao in 2004. It multiplied his fortune by a factor of fourteen, and he built many more from there. Today, Macau’s industry dwarfs Las Vegas’s.
In 2010, he opened the $5.5-billion Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the sixth-most expensive building in the world. It has the greatest amenities of any such building and was featured extensively in the 2018 mega-film Crazy Rich Asians.
But here’s what’s important about all this. In 2008, the Nevada Policy Research Institute gave him its Chairman’s Award for efforts to advance free market principles in Nevada. Before 1996, he was a Democrat, but since then has been a free markets and Republican stalwart.
In 2010, as a Regent, I nominated him and Miriam for the Distinguished Nevadan award from our system of higher education. Why?
In bestowing the award, I emphasized that the money he had made in business and investment only reflected the even bigger value he bestowed upon customers, his 100,000-plus employees and legions of investors, as well as Las Vegas and Nevada. When people talk abut giving back, they miss the fact that fearless entrepreneurs like Sheldon become wealthy by the great value they deliver to others via their creativity, investment, vision and guts.
In 2014, he was named to CNBC’s list of 200 people who transformed business in the previous 25 years: “top leaders, icons and rebels, a definitive list of people who have had the greatest influence, sparked the biggest changes and caused the most disruption in business.”
There’s so much more to tell. He has been a major force in philanthropy, newspaper publishing, diplomacy and politics in America, Israel and the world.
But his humanity showed perhaps brightest when the Coronavirus pandemic hit. He’s kept the ten-of-thousands of Southern Nevadans he employs on payroll and covered by health insurance.