Adelson’s impact on Las Vegas and the world cannot be overstated


John Locher / AP

Las Vegas Sands Corp. CEO Sheldon Adelson speaks at the Global Gaming Expo on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Las Vegas.

It may seem difficult to believe today, but there was a time not so long ago when the idea of a Las Vegas resort having its own convention center was considered laughable. The thinking was that resort operators were wasting their time and money trying to attract conventiongoers, and instead should concentrate on serving the tourists who came here to play on weekends.

Then came Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian, and everything changed.

Adelson defied conventional thinking by building a resort attached to the massive Sands Convention Center, betting that there was enough demand for convention space in Las Vegas that he could draw business midweek while also attracting the weekenders.

As we know today, it worked. The Venetian’s opening in 1999 touched off a growth era in the city’s convention traffic, and soon resorts up and down the Strip were building their own convention centers to get in on the game. It’s a trend that continues today, and it’s one of several ways in which Adelson left an indelible mark on Las Vegas and the resort industry.

Adelson’s death Tuesday brought a time to reflect on the contributions of this innovative and influential entrepreneur. Fittingly, tributes poured in from the state’s most prominent leaders, who praised Adelson’s leadership role in a number of areas: igniting the effort to bring the NFL to Las Vegas, developing the Macau market, his family’s philanthropic work, and more. The Adelsons’ charitable work included underwriting drug addiction recovery programs, homeless and nutritional-assistance relief, and local schools and universities. A U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, Adelson also supported programs for veterans and personnel at Nellis Air Force Base.

“No one shaped modern-day Las Vegas more than Sheldon Adelson,” the Vegas Chamber said in a prepared statement. “From transforming the convention industry and creating two of Las Vegas’ most iconic resorts, to becoming an international leader in sustainability practices and supporter of the men and women who have served our country in the military, he leaves a legacy that few, if any, will ever match.”

Gov. Steve Sisolak, while noting Adelson’s accomplishments, highlighted one recent act that he considered particularly profound.

“Despite suffering significant economic losses due to the global pandemic, the shutdowns and limited business, due to mitigation protocols, Sheldon made a commitment to keep all of his Las Vegas employees paid and insured,” Sisolak wrote. “That commitment helped keep thousands of Nevadans afloat during the most difficult of months, and Sheldon’s commitment will never be forgotten.”

Outside of his business and charitable pursuits, Adelson also will be remembered for his passionate — and at times controversial — views on politics and the Middle East.

The son of Jewish immigrants who grew up in a Boston tenement before becoming one of the world’s richest men, Adelson became one of the Republican Party’s top financial contributors and, as described by Politico in 2012, “the dominant pioneer of the super PAC era.” After the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling opened the door to megadonations from individual contributors, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated tens of millions of dollars to GOP candidates.

Adelson also invested heavily in Israel and U.S.-Israel relations, including with a $25 million donation to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and as the primary sponsor for the Republican Jewish Coalition, among many other activities. He is believed to have heavily influenced President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was fiercely opposed by Palestinians and much of the Arab world at the time.

As readers of the Sun are aware, Adelson’s political stances put him deeply at odds with us editorially. And after his purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2015, the Sun and R-J became locked in an ongoing legal battle over attempts by the R-J to silence the Sun’s voice.

But our differences aside, we cannot ignore the impact Adelson had on the gaming industry or the philanthropic world, nor his leadership in international affairs. Whether we agreed or not, we respected the fact that he was not afraid to express his beliefs.

Adelson was a man of firm convictions, big visions and passions, who was willing to throw extremely sharp elbows to see his will done. For those he considered enemies, he could be an implacable foe willing to do surprising, even shocking, things. For those he loved and for his causes, he was the warmest and most beloved of friends capable of surprising kindness and generosity.

The hunger and lessons of his youth in poverty were never far from his thoughts. He was a scrappy kid on the Boston streets hawking newspapers, fighting for his place in the world. That kid was still alive and active inside the man who strode through world capitals and corridors of power.

Adelson should also be remembered as a devout and loving family man to his wife and children.

We send our condolences to Miriam Adelson and the entire Adelson family, of which Sheldon Adelson was very proud.