Sheldon G. Adelson was Chairman of the Board and principal owner of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., the parent company of the Sands, The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada and the Venetian Macao Limited in Macao, China. He also owned the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom and the American daily newspaper Las Vegas Review-Journal. Adelson was one of the richest men in the world. He was a major contributor to the Republican Party and a philanthropist who late in life contributed tens of millions of dollars to Israeli institutions and pro-Israel organizations.
Adelson was born on August 4, 1933, to Jewish Ukrainian immigrants, grew up in the poor Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a taxi driver and his mother ran a knitting store.
He started his business career at the age of 12, when he borrowed $200 from his uncle and purchased a license to sell newspapers in Boston. At 16, he borrowed $10,000 from his uncle to start a candy-vending-machine business. Adelson later worked as a mortgage broker, investment adviser and financial consultant.
Sheldon attended the City College of New York but did not graduate. He attended trade school in a failed attempt to become a court reporter before joining the army.
After being discharged from the army, he established a business selling toiletry kits, then started another business named De-Ice-It which sold a chemical spray to help clear frozen windshields. In the 1960s, he started a charter tours business and soon became a millionaire, although by his 30s he had built and lost his fortune twice. Over the course of his business career, Adelson has created almost 50 of his own businesses, making him a serial entrepreneur.
In the late 1970s, Adelson lived in Massachusetts with his wife, Sandra, and her three children, Mitchell, Gary and Shelley, whom Sheldon adopted. They divorced in 1988.
Also, in the 70s, Adelson and his partners developed the COMDEX trade shows for the computer industry. In 1995, Adelson and his partners sold the Interface Group Show Division, including the COMDEX shows, to SoftBank Corporation of Japan for $862 million; Adelson’s share exceeded $500 million.
Miriam Adelson is a physician who specializes in treating chemical dependencies. She was born on October 10, 1945, in Tel Aviv and grew up in Haifa. She attended the Hebrew Reali School for 12 years and served mandatory army service as a medical officer at Ness Ziona.
After earning a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Genetics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a medical degree from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical School, she went on to become the chief internist in an emergency room at Tel Aviv’s Rokach Hospital. Adelson then married Ariel Ochshorn, a physician, with whom she had two children.
Miriam divorced Ochshorn and, in 1986, went to Rockefeller University on an exchange program, specializing in drug addiction. While at Rockefeller, she met Sheldon Adelson, whom she married in 1991.
In 1993, she founded a substance abuse center and research clinic there. In 2000, the couple opened the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Research Clinic in Las Vegas. She also heads a clinic in Tel Aviv. The clinics have treated thousands of heroin and cocaine drug addicts.
In 1988, Adelson and his partners purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and later opened the Sands Expo and Convention Center, then the only privately owned and operated convention center in the U.S.
In 1991, while honeymooning in Venice with Miriam, Adelson found the inspiration for a mega-resort hotel. He razed the Sands and spent $1.5 billion to construct The Venetian, a Venice-themed resort hotel and casino that opened in 1999.
In the late 2000s, Adelson’s company decided to build a casino resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
In 2001, Adelson was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, which restricts his ability to stand and walk. This did not stop his business activity.
Adelson spearheaded a major project to bring the Sands name to Macau, the Chinese gambling city that had been a Portuguese colony until December 1999. The one-million-square-foot Sands Macao became the People’s Republic of China’s first Las Vegas-style casino when it opened in 2004. In 2006, Adelson’s company was awarded a license to construct a casino resort in Singapore’s Marina Bay, which opened in 2010.
In August 2007, Adelson opened the $2.4-billion Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on Cotai and announced that he planned to create a massive, concentrated resort area he called the Cotai Strip, after its Las Vegas counterpart. In 2010, he opened the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore as part of his expansion into Asia.
In 2007, Adelson made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the Israeli newspaper Maariv. When this failed, he decided to publish a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, which was published on July 30, 2007. On March 31, 2014, Adelson received the go-ahead from a Jerusalem court to purchase Maariv and the conservative newspaper Makor Rishon. In 2016, Adelson’s attorney announced that he does not own Israel Hayom, but that it is owned by a relative of his. In 2018, Miriam became the publisher. Israel Hayom became the number one newspaper in Israel to the consternation of its competitors who had to sell their publications for a profit while the Adelsons were content to lose money on their paper.
The Adelsons were major supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and their paper was widely referred to as “Bibiton” (a play on Netanyahu’s nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper) for its largely uncritical support of the prime minister. The Adelsons had a falling out with Netanyahu, however, when Israel’s Attorney General alleged that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal with the publisher of Israel’s second largest newspaper, Yedioth Achronot, to get more favorable coverage in exchange for taking steps to weaken Yediot’s rival, Israel Hayom.
In 2011, the Israeli press said that Adelson was unhappy with coverage of him on Israeli Channel 10, which alleged that Adelson had acquired a casino license in Las Vegas inappropriately through political connections. The channel apologized after Adelson threatened a lawsuit.
In 2015, Adelson purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. Within a few weeks, the paper’s editor stepped down in a “voluntary buyout.” Many reporters and editors also left the newspaper citing “curtailed editorial freedom, murky business dealings and unethical managers.”
Adelson had been a major contributor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) but became dissatisfied with its positions during the Obama era and shifted his funding the Israeli-American Council, an organization comprised of Israeli-born Americans who were becoming more politically active.
A strong supporter of Israel, Miriam admitted her heart has always been in that country and that she got “stuck” in America after meeting her husband. She is credited with influencing Sheldon’s political views on Israel.
On January 1, 2007, Sheldon Adelson established the Adelson Family Charitable Foundation, which is expected to dispense upwards of $200 million annually to Jewish and Israeli causes, the largest by far of any existing private foundation with that aim.
The Foundation’s first gift was a pledge of $25 million a year to Birthright Israel, an organization that provides free trips to Israel for Jews (originally those between the ages of 18 and 26 who had never been to Israel). This doubled the capacity of the organization, allowing it to bring 20,000 participants to Israel in the summer of 2007. The foundation has continued to support the program and the Adelsons became its largest donors, contributing $127 million since 2007.
In 2016, the Adelsons began to fund the Maccabee Task Force to support students on college campuses in promoting Israel, fighting anti-Semitism, and countering the activities of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Adelsons’ first major contribution in Israel was a $25 million donation to Yad Vashem, the largest private donation ever made to the organization. Construction of the Museum of Holocaust Art was supported by a generous donation from the Adelsons in memory of Dr. Adelson’s parents, and the members of the Zamelson and Farbstein Families who perished in the Holocaust. The Adelsons also were the major donors for a medical school constructed on the campus of Ariel University, which was inaugurated in 2018 with the conspicuous absence of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Closer to home, the Adelsons donated more than $25 million to The Adelson Educational Campus in Las Vegas for construction of a Jewish high school.
They also funded the private, Boston-based Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation.
Estimates vary but it is believed that anywhere from 500,000 to one million Israelis, including Mrs. Adelson, live in the United States. For decades, this population was relatively inactive on issues related to Israel. This began to change in 2007 when a small group of Israeli-born philanthropists created the Israeli-American Council (IAC). The transformation from a local Los Angeles-based group to a national one was fueled by the vision and financing of the Adelsons who promoted IAC’s expansion in 2013.
Sheldon was a member of the board of directors of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. He received honorary degrees and other awards, including the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship given to the couple in 2008 by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution.
Sheldon was raised a Democrat but later became a Republican. He said, “I didn’t leave the Democrats. They left me. The couple is among the largest contributors to the Republican Party. Miriam served as one of the “finance vice-chairs” for the inauguration of Donald Trump and the Review-Journal was the only major newspaper nationwide to endorse Trump. As president, Trump awarded Miriam the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Adelsons donated $75 million to Mr. Trump’s failed re-election bid.
In 2008, the share prices of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. plunged, and the company was in danger of bankruptcy. Adelson lost $4 billion and his net worth declined from approximately $30 billion to $2 billion over the next year. By 2011, however, his business recovered and, the 2020 Forbes 400 listed Sheldon as the 19th richest person in the world with a fortune of $29.8 billion.
The Adelsons created the Adelson Family Foundation, which makes grants to support Holocaust and Anti-Semitism Awareness, Israel Advocacy, Israel Programs, Jewish and Zionist Identity & Education, Social Services, Health and Welfare.
On February 28, 2019, Las Vegas Sands announced that Sheldon was receiving treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He died on January 12, 2021, at the age of 87.
Sources: The Venetian;
“Sheldon Adelson,” Wikipedia;
“Miriam Adelson,” Wikipedia;
“Dr. Miriam Adelson named publisher of Israel Hayom,” Israel Hayom, (May 18, 2018);
“Sheldon Adelson-backed pro-Israel campus initiative doubling to 80 campuses,” JTA, (August 30, 2018);
Or Kashti, “How Israel Founded the Adelson Medical School: In Haste and Against All Advice,” Haaretz, (August 28, 2018);
Adelson Family Foundation;
James R. Hagerty and Alexandra Berzon, “Sheldon Adelson Dies at 87, a Giant in the Casino-Resort Industry,” Wall Street Journal, (January 12, 2021).