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Jan. 12, 2021, 8:52 a.m. EST

Sheldon Adelson, casino mogul and GOP power broker, dies at 87

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By Associated Press

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire mogul and power broker who built a casino empire spanning from Las Vegas to China and became a singular force in domestic and international politics has died after a long illness , his wife said Tuesday.

Miriam Adelson and the Las Vegas Sands Corp. /zigman2/quotes/208792014/composite LVS -0.03% both released statements confirming Adelson’s death. He was 87 years old.

At one point the third richest man in the world, Adelson brought singing gondoliers to the Las Vegas Strip and went all-in betting Asia would be a bigger jackpot than Sin City.

He was the son of Jewish immigrants, raised with two siblings in a Boston tenement, who over the second half of his life became one of the world’s richest men. The chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation brought singing gondoliers to the Las Vegas Strip and foresaw correctly that Asia would be an even bigger market. In 2018, Forbes ranked him No. 15 in the U.S., worth an estimated $35.5 billion.

“If you do things differently, success will follow you like a shadow,” he said during a 2014 talk to the gambling industry in Las Vegas.

Blunt yet secretive, the squatly-built Adelson resembled an old-fashioned political boss and stood apart from most American Jews, who for decades have supported Democrats by wide margins. Adelson was considered the nation’s most influential GOP donor over the final years of his life, at times setting records for individual contributions during a given election cycle.

In 2012, Politico called him “the dominant pioneer of the super PAC era.”

Adelson regularly hosted the party’s top strategists and most ambitious candidates at his modest office, wedged among the casinos on the Strip. Throughout, he helped ensure that uncritical support of Israel became a pillar of the GOP platform, never more visibly demonstrated than when the Trump administration relocated the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018.

The inflammatory move had been adamantly opposed by Palestinians and was long a priority for Adelson, who had even offered to help pay for it, and for the Republican Jewish Coalition, of which he was the primary benefactor. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, were front and center at the ceremony in Jerusalem.

When asked at a gambling conference what he hoped his legacy would be, Adelson said it wasn’t his glitzy casinos or hotels, it was his impact in Israel. He donated $25 million, a record sum for a private citizen, to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. He established a think tank in Jerusalem. He was closely aligned with the conservative Likud party and funded a widely-read free daily newspaper called “Israel Hayom,” or “Israel Today,” so supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that some Israelis nicknamed it “Bibi-ton.”

In the U.S., Adelson helped underwrite congressional trips to Israel, helped build a new headquarters for the lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and later was a top supporter of the Israeli-American Council, whose conferences have attracted top Republicans (Vice President Mike Pence) and Democrats (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi). He sponsored “Birthright” trips to Israel for young Jewish adults that were criticized by some participants as intolerant of opposing views.

His attachment to Israel was life-long and so deep that he once said he wished his military service had been in an Israeli uniform instead of an American one.

Adelson was a late bloomer in business and in politics. He didn’t become a casino owner, or a Republican, until well into middle age. Through the 1990s and after his wealth soared and his engagement in politics intensified. He was a supporter of President George W. Bush and backed Republican Rudolph Giuliani for the 2008 presidential race, before turning to the eventual candidate, Sen. John McCain, who lost to Barack Obama.

His leverage grew considerably in 2010 after the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision lifted many restrictions on individual campaign contributions. He and his wife spent more than $90 million on the 2012 election, funding presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and later Mitt Romney, who also lost to Obama.

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” he told Forbes magazine in 2012. “But as long as it’s doable I’m going to do it.”

Adelson came around slowly to Trump, who during the campaign had said he would be “neutral” in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump even ridiculed his initial liking for Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, tweeting in 2015, “Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!” Adelson eventually endorsed Trump, but remained hesitant through much of 2016. He gave more than $20 million in the final weeks of the campaign after reports that he would contribute $100 million, and was more generous with congressional races.

But after Trump’s surprise victory, the new president spoke often with Adelson and embraced his hardline views on the Middle East. He cut funding for Palestinian refugees and withdrew from the Obama administration’s nuclear nonproliferation deal with Iran. He moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem even though earlier administrations — Democratic and Republican — avoided doing do because it directly challenged the Palestinian view that the ancient city should be part of any peace agreement.

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