Sheldon Adelson: Self-Made Billionaire
Sheldon Adelson is a self-made billionaire and the majority shareholder of the Las Vegas Sands corp. In recent years, Mr. Adelson has bounced around among the top 10 places in the Forbes list of the richest people in the world. A large portion of his wealth derives from his holdings in wildly successful resort-casinos located around the world.
Sheldon Adelson has a long history in business, but his fortune exploded when he got into gambling. More specifically, his fortune exploded when he got into gambling in Macau. Sheldon Adelson's company was the first to invest significant resources into developing the gambling industry in Macau in the early 2000s. It was a gamble, but it paid off in a big way and made Sheldon Adelson one of the richest entrepreneurs in the world.
Building an Empire
The story of Sheldon Adelson reads like any cliché rags to riches biography. He was born in 1933 to a humble family. His father was a taxi driver and his mother ran a knitting shop. Sheldon got started in the business world at an early age by selling newspapers in Boston at the age of 12.
He spent a little time in college but left before graduating. He served in the army in the 1950s, got out and started another business selling toiletry kits. He then went to Wall Street where he worked as a court stenographer.
Sheldon earned his first million dollars as an investment advisor to companies interested in selling shares on the stock market. He also got into real estate and eventually started investing in numerous companies in a variety of industries. One of his most successful investments was in a travel agency: the American International Travel Service. That one made him a millionaire over and over again.
Adelson did well for himself, but his first really big break came after putting together a computer trade show business in the late 1970s and early 80s. He saw an opportunity to bring computer industry insiders together where they could present their products to potential buyers. This came at a time when the computing industry was just starting to take off in a major way, and his trade show was a massive success.
He sold the trade show business in 1995 and instantly added $500 million to his personal fortune. While this was all going on, Sheldon had his eye on the gambling industry. His company purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1988. Three years later, he demolished the hotel and replaced it with one of the first mega resorts in Las Vegas: The Venetian.
Sheldon's ambitious plan for the Venetian was to make it more than just a casino like so many others in Vegas at the time. He wanted it to be a destination, a place where people go to shop, to eat, to gamble, and to be entertained. His vision was to appeal to more than just gamblers. He wanted to make it a first class destination in its own right.
$1.5 billion later, the Venetian was completed. It opened in 1999 and was an instant success. Just a few years later, Adelson got word that a remote Chinese administrative region called Macau was preparing to issue licenses to new casinos.
Most Las Vegas people weren't interested. Macau wasn't a major gambling destination and the legal system over there was a mess. It seemed like a major headache. But Adelson and his company decided to take the opportunity. At the time, gambling in Macau was done in dark, utilitarian casinos that lacked the glamor and decadence of American casinos.
So, Sheldon and company decided to go all-out and build a massive mega resort in Macau to mirror the Venetian back home. The $265 million project was completed in 2004 and it too was an instant success. The casino paid for itself in just 9 months. Over the next several years, the casino helped propel Sheldon Adelson to billionaire status and earn a place on the Forbes richest-of-the-rich list.
The Sands Macau blew existing Macau operators out of the water. It brought luxury, glamor, shopping, and dining to the Macau gambling world. Other Las Vegas operations eventually followed, and Macau now ranks as the largest gambling destination in the world, easily surpassing Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
Sheldon Adelson is a major contributor to Republican political issues. He was once a Democrat, but bad experiences with contracting unions and ever-increasing taxes persuaded him to switch to the Republican Party. He raised eyebrows in 2012 when he donated nearly $100 million to various Republican interests during the run-up to the Presidential election. He invested in Newt Gingrich during the primaries and later donated even more to Mitt Romney after Romney won the Republican nomination. When asked about how he felt about spending so much money on a failed election, Sheldon Adelson responded by saying "I don't cry when I lose. There's always a new hand coming up."
Sheldon Adelson is also strongly opposed to online gambling. He has time and again come out against the legalization of online poker and gambling in the United States. This position pits Sheldon against a powerful coalition of other casino moguls, businessmen, and player organizations who want to see the industry legalized and regulated in the United States.
But on his side, Adelson has plenty of money to spend and a large portion of Americans who agree with his position. He has stated that he's willing to fight online gambling at any cost. In 2013, he said he is "...willing to spend whatever it takes," to stop online gambling in the US.
Sheldon Adelson and his wife have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charitable causes in the United States and Israel. Much of his charitable work deals with Jewish causes such as Birthright Israel, which sends young Jewish people on educational trips to Israel.
Adelson and his wife also run the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation. They have devoted millions of dollars to the foundation, and it in turn they have also given money to cancer research causes, hospitals, and laboratories.
Sheldon Adelson remains active in business and politics to this day. He's expected to be a major force in the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination. Several 2016 hopefuls have already made the pilgrimage to Adelson's Las Vegas headquarters.
On the business side, his Asian casinos are performing better than ever. Macau's gambling industry now dwarfs that of Vegas, and it might just be getting started. China is in the works of building a high speed railway to link Macau to the mainland while bridges are in the works to connect Macau to Hong Kong and Zhuhai.
As long as he remains healthy, Adelson will be a considerable force in both gambling and politics for the foreseeable future.
Author: Wesley Burns
Updated: March 2015
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