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Gambling loses industry titan - Sheldon Adelson dies at 87

Sheldon Adelson, whose vision for gaming in Asia helped reshape the skylines of both Macau and Singapore, died in January at age 87, though analysts expect the company to continue with its commitment to the region.

Adelson, the founder CEO and Chairman of Las Vegas Sands died following complications for the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He was forced to take a leave of absence from the company in 2019 to receive treatment for the disease but had been back at work until early this year.

In a statement, his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson spoke of how the executive was an all-American story of entrepreneurship. 

“When Sheldon launched a new venture, the world looked on with anticipation,” she wrote. “He was an American patriot: a U.S. Army veteran who gave generously to wounded warriors and, wherever he could, looked to the advancement of these great United States. He was the proudest of Jews, who saw in the State of Israel not only the realization of an historical promise to a unique and deserving people, but also a gift from the Almighty to all of humanity.”

Adelson was a true rags to riches story. He was born to immigrant parents and went from being a teenager selling newspapers on a street in Boston to one of the world’s richest men. According to Forbes, he’s worth $35.9 billion, making him the world’s 28th richest person. 

He was a relative latecomer to the casino industry, buying the Sands Hotel and Casino in 1989 with a partner. He went on to develop that resort into the iconic Venetian property after honeymooning with his second wife in the Italian city in 1996.

Adelson is credited with being the person to recognize the potential of a swampy area of land off the Macau Peninsula, which has now been transformed into the glitzy Cotai Strip and which helped propel Macau to become the world’s largest gambling hub, generating about seven times the revenue of the Las Vegas Strip.

He opened Sands Macau in 2004 and went on to open the Venetian Macau in 2007. He opened The Parisian Macau in 2016 and in the coming weeks the revamped Sands Cotai Central will reopen as The Londoner. 

His entry into Macau however was not without acrimony. The company initially teamed with Galaxy Entertainment for one of the concessions, but was unable to agree on a contract, leading to the creation of the sub-concessions.

In 2010, he opened the doors of the $5.6 billion Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which is one of the world’s most profitable resorts and most photographed properties. 

However, last year, the company pulled out of the running for a license in Japan, blaming the onerous conditions.

Although a visionary in the land-based world, the company has shunned the online space, mainly due to opposition from Adelson. As a result, Las Vegas Sands lags its U.S. peers in developing a digital strategy.

“Today, more than 50,000 Sands team members have Dr. Adelson and the entire Adelson family in their thoughts and prayers and are grateful to have had their lives touched by a true force of nature,” the company said in a statement. 

A funeral will be held in Israel, the birthplace of Dr. Miriam Adelson, with plans for a memorial service held in Las Vegas.

Adelson was a major donor to President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldstein was appointed CEO in Adelson’s absence. Analysts have said they didn’t expect the departure of the company’s founder to mark a major change in strategy and it will remain committed to its plans in Asia.

Las Vegas Sands said last year that it was planning to sell off its properties in Las Vegas, with a $6 billion price tag. That would leave it without any resorts in North America, though it has since begun lobbying for the right to build a casino in Texas.

The major question mark will be whether the death of its founder will open the way for Las Vegas Sands to explore a digital strategy like many of its biggest rivals. 

Adelson had been vehemently opposed to online gaming, leaving Las Vegas Sands behind companies such as Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, which have made significant forays into the online space. 

Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.

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