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I worked for Sheldon Adelson. I obviously knew of him but never met him.

I admired his philanthropy but  didn’t always agree with his politics.

I enjoyed visiting his casinos and dining in some of his restaurants or attending conventions at his Sands Expo Center.

Adelson, who grew up dirt-poor but became a billionaire and one of America’s wealthiest businessmen, died early Tuesday after a long bout with cancer. He was 87.

The Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., owned hotels and casinos in Las Vegas — the Venetian and the Palazzo — along with casinos and hotels in Asia, had been battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma for over two years and had recently taken a leave of absence from his job to continue his fight against the cancer.

He always liked to claim he was a regular guy from Boston who was just trying to make a buck. But he was far more complex. He loved power, craved it actually. He could be ruthless with his politics, both in the U.S. as well as in Israel, and he was compassionate too. 

He illustrated that last spring and again recently when he kept his workers on the payroll along with their health care benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. At a time where he was losing hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps billions, he refused to lay the blame at his employees’ feet.

So how should we remember Sheldon Adelson?

I guess it depends on where you stand on certain issues. Politically, if you are a Republican, particularly if you endorse and support Donald Trump, he was your patron saint. Adelson’s support of Republican causes as a mega-donor is no secret and his Super PACs to help the party have success at all levels is well known, almost legendary.

As a casino owner, he tried to cater to all customers — high rollers and quarter slots players. He didn’t charge to park at his hotels at a time where that additional revenue would’ve probably helped his bottom line. His employees were always friendly and good at customer service.

He loved Las Vegas and whether it was the hotel, the casino or the convention business, Adelson was a big booster of the city. A lot of Vegas’ growth as a destination can be attributed to him.

He championed philanthropic causes for medical research, fighting drug abuse and embracing his Jewish roots through education. There’s a school in my Summerlin neighborhood which bears his name. 

But he had another side to him. He could be ruthless to his enemies — particularly his political foes. Cross him and you risked paying a high price.

Want proof? Ask the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, particularly its former head Rossi Ralenkotter. Adelson despised the LVCVA and went after them hard and eventually through his newspaper, got dirt on Ralenkotter eventually forcing him to step down.

He was a tough negotiator when it came to business. He rarely backed down from a fight and was never afraid to take on governments, whether they were local, state, federal or even international.

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He owned newspapers in the U.S. and in Israel to push his conservative political agendas in both countries. That’s how I got to work for him when I was already employed at the Las Vegas Review-Journal when he purchased it in 2015. He never stepped foot in the building while I was there — I left in 2018 — and talking to former colleagues, he never did address the newspaper’s staff in person.

But that’s O.K. His influence always lurked over the R-J’s editorial position. And that led to friends and colleagues leaving the paper in the aftermath of his purchasing it.

Let’s be honest, when you get to grow into the stature of someone like Adelson, you’re going to make friends as well as enemies along the way.

That’s sort of what happened with the Raiders moving to Las Vegas. Back in 2016, Adelson had worked a deal with team owner Mark Davis that would see Adelson invest $650 million to help move the team from Oakland.

It would lead to the state of Nevada increase the hotel room tax to raise an additional $750 million to help construct what is now Allegiant Stadium, the team’s current home.

But Adelson found himself in a disagreement with the team over the business plan for the stadium and pulled his financial support. The team eventually filled the financial void and the project finished on time.

Still, without Adelson, the Raiders might still be in Oakland. Or some other city.

I may not have agreed with Adelson’s politics or his way of doing business, but there’s no denying the fact he helped contribute to making Las Vegas the special place it is and he did a lot of good things for society. Our condolences to his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson, their six children and 11 grandchildren. He will always be remembered on the Strip and beyond.

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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