On Monday, billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson passed away in Malibu, California at the age of 87. Worth more than $35 billion, the controversial CEO and chairman of casino company Las Vegas Sands was also a major Republican kingmaker in the final decade of his life. Riding the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which removed many limits on political contributions, Adelson was the largest single donor in the 2012 elections, spending $93 million. In the 2018 election cycle, Adelson and his wife Miriam donated more than $123 million to conservative politicians. And in this most recent election cycle, the couple gave $218 million.
Far from a Never Trumper, Adelson was a Forever Trumper, pumping $25 million to the Trump presidential campaign in the 2016 election, and giving a whopping $5 million to the committee organizing the inauguration festivities—the largest single contribution to any president’s inaugural event. Naturally, the Adelsons had prime seats on the day of Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.
“He is a candidate with actual C.E.O. experience, shaped and molded by the commitment and risk of his own money rather than the public’s… [Trump] has created a movement in this country that cannot be denied,” Adelson wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
With billionaire Ken Langone, venture capitalist Doug Leone, and other businessmen and corporations turning away from Trump after the January 6 insurrection, it’s unclear what path new Adelson might’ve taken—if any. But away from the political sphere, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson also made their mark on the philanthropic world, with giving that looked quite different from their political contributions.
While some of the Adelson family’s philanthropy is decidedly ideological—Adelson founded Freedom’s Watch, which was supportive of President Bush’s involvement in Iraq—he and Miriam never became big donors to conservative think tanks and advocacy organizations. Instead, they embraced a more traditional set of philanthropic causes. Here’s what to know in the wake of Adelson’s death.
Jewish life and Israel
There are several Adelson charities associated with the family. The Adelson Family Foundation is concerned with Jewish causes around the world. The son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Wales, Adelson grew up sleeping on the floor of a Boston tenement. He owned his first business at 12 years old and went on to make his first fortune organizing computer trade show, Comdex, which sold to Softbank for about $862 million in the mid-1990s.
The family foundation supports charitable organizations located primarily in Israel and the United States, with funds going to Israel advocacy and defense, Israel Studies, Holocaust and anti-semitism awareness, among others. He directed $400 million to Birthright Israel, the popular sponsor of heritage trips to Israel, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights for young Jewish adults, $25 million to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, and $50 million to Adelson Educational Campus, the largest Jewish school in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation (AMRF) provides research grants for basic and clinical research into life-threatening illnesses. Adelson passed away from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Miriam Adelson, holding an M.D. from Tel Aviv University, specialized in internal and emergency medicine and is a former head physician.
Established in 2006, AMRF supports research scientists and investigators participating in “goal-directed basic and clinical research to prevent, reduce or eliminate disabling and life-threatening illness.” The foundation fosters collaboration among biomedical researchers to hasten medical innovation and the commercialization of needed medical products. AMRF operates three main grantmaking programs: cancer research, immunological diseases, and neural repair and rehabilitation.
Since the 1980s, Miriam devoted time to researching and treating drug abuse and the biology of addiction. The couple founded Adelson Clinic for Drug Abuse Treatment and Research in Las Vegas and Tel Aviv, dedicated to treating the disease of opiate addiction by providing treatment and counseling services.
Besides Miriam, the family’s philanthropy will live on through their four children and 11 grandchildren. It remains to be seen how much of Adelson’s fortune will ultimately go to philanthropy, or when.