Sheldon Adelson, Major Conservative Donor And Casino Titan, Dies Adelson built a casino empire that stretched from Las Vegas to Singapore. His huge donations to conservative causes in the U.S. and Israel helped shape politics in both countries.

Sheldon Adelson, Conservative Donor And Casino Titan, Dies At 87

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Casino magnate and political megadonor Sheldon Adelson has died. He was 87 and had been battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Adelson was worth some $35 billion according to Forbes magazine, and he used his immense wealth to support Republican candidates, in the process helping to change the political dynamics here in the U.S. and in Israel. Peter Overby has more.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Sheldon Adelson was born poor but with the instincts of a businessman.


SHELDON ADELSON: I've been in business for 69 years - since I was 12.

OVERBY: This is from a videotaped talk at the American Gaming Association's convention in 2014.


ADELSON: If you do things differently, success will follow you like a shadow. And you can't get rid of it. So that's what I did.

OVERBY: Adelson did things differently in Las Vegas. He got rich running conventions, then much richer building casinos. His empire includes hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Pennsylvania, Singapore and Macau. It's still expanding, helped by allies in the Trump administration. As Adelson's wealth grew, so did his interest in politics. He had good timing. In 2010, the Supreme Court gave its approval to multimillion-dollar contributions. Adelson became a leader in the first wave of the superrich to unleash their political giving. Starting with the 2012 primaries, he and his wife, Miriam, put nearly $300 million into Republican candidates and campaigns. Campaign finance analyst Bob Biersack tracked Adelson's money for years.

BOB BIERSACK: Beginning in 2012, with maybe one exception, he was the largest individual donor in terms of disclosed money by a pretty significant margin.

OVERBY: Sometimes the money came from Adelson, sometimes from Miriam and sometimes from them as a couple. It gave rise to what's called the Adelson primary. Presidential hopefuls would flock to one of his casino hotels in Las Vegas to court the Republican Jewish Coalition and especially Sheldon Adelson.


JOHN KASICH: Hey, listen. Sheldon, thanks for inviting me.

OVERBY: That's Republican John Kasich in 2014, winding up his speech with an obvious truth.


KASICH: I don't travel to these things much, but this is one that I thought was really, really important.

OVERBY: In the 2016 cycle, the Adelsons gave close to $80 million during the campaign, then $5 million to the Trump Inaugural Committee and after that, $500,000 to the legal defense fund for Trump White House aides. In the 2018 cycle, they gave $132 million. At a White House ceremony that fall, President Trump gave Miriam Adelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The citation praised her work as a physician and philanthropist to research addictions.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You have been truly incredible. Here to celebrate Miriam's award is Sheldon. Where is Sheldon? Where is Sheldon? Where is he? There he is. Oh, well, you didn't get - you didn't make the front row. He's probably angry.


OVERBY: Adelson avoided talking politics with reporters. But in 2012, he admitted in a press gaggle he wasn't always in sync with the Republican Party.


ADELSON: On the social issues, I'm not pro-life. I'm pro-choice.

OVERBY: His No. 1 cause was Israel. He was heavily involved in its politics, backing hard-line conservatives, such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One way he helped them was to launch and finance a free daily newspaper. It became Israel's largest circulation paper. In 2012, Adelson money kept Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign on life support for weeks because Gingrich made this pledge.


NEWT GINGRICH: I will issue an executive order directing the U.S. Embassy in Israel to be moved to Jerusalem.

OVERBY: Adelson lobbied the George W. Bush administration to move the embassy. Bush wouldn't do it, but President Trump did. Netanyahu opened the new embassy with a ceremony in May 2018.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: What a glorious day. Remember this moment.

OVERBY: As the prime minister spoke, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson sat beaming in the front row.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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