I-Team: A look back at the building of Sheldon Adelson’s $2 billion Venetian project, political influence, and global gaming empire


LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Casino giant Sheldon Adelson was one of the world’s richest men; he was worth an estimated $35 billion. But he wasn’t just known for building his global gaming empire: Adelson is also known as the single biggest political contributor in the country.

So how much of a perfectionist was Sheldon Adelson?

Back in 1998, he gave an exclusive tour to the I-Team of his not-yet open Venetian hotel and casino. During the tour, Adelson explained how he and his wife had personally traveled the world to hand-select the fabrics, patterns, fixtures, and furnishings that went into each of the Venetian’s 6,000 suites.

“If you bend down here, feel that texture; this is the first mini bar in Las Vegas,” Adelson said in an interview in 1998. “The safe is large enough to store a laptop. The fax machine has a printer and a copier, the marble in the bathrooms; it’s a better quality product.”

Critics thought Adelson was reckless, spending $2 billion to build the Venetian at a time when interest rates were high, and Las Vegas was supposedly overbuilt, but the property proved a smashing success. Later, Adelson was even more successful by being among the first to spot the Macau gaming market’s potential, which turned him into a billionaire 40 times over.

Sheldon Adelson

He donated hundreds of millions of dollars to charities and, along the way, Adelson butted heads with almost everyone, including the powerful Culinary Union, which picketed his property before it ever opened and pummeled him in the national media.

“The union is knocking Las Vegas; it’s scorched earth approach is telling people don’t come to Las Vegas,” Adelson said.

During the interview, he also explained why he became so involved in politics. His experience with the union convinced Adelson to invest in political influence.

He bankrolled the campaign of an ex-police officer named Lance Malone, who won a seat on the union-friendly Clark County Commission. Adelson began plowing $100,000 per month into Republican groups in Nevada, which was chump change compared to what came later.

In 2016, Adelson and his wife donated $83 million to Republican candidates, including tens of millions to Donald Trump. Adelson’s influence convinced Trump to change his views about Israel, and as president, Trump delivered for him.

Adelson often found himself in court, as both a defendant and as a plaintiff, sometimes suing journalists.

To influence the narrative, he bought Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Review-Journal, for $160 million.

During the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, Adelson lost huge sums of money at his Las Vegas properties but proved to be exceptionally generous to his out of work employees, perhaps in defiance of expectations.

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