LAS VEGAS — Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a giant in not just the casino industry but in the world of trade shows, has died at the age of 87. Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands and a significant donor to the Republican Party, passed away from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Born to immigrant parents and raised in a poor section of Boston, Adelson went from a teenager selling newspapers on a street corner to becoming one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs.
His achievements in the integrated resort and hospitality industry are well-documented. In Las Vegas, Macao, and Singapore, Adelson’s vision for integrated resorts transformed the industry, changed the trajectory of the company he founded, and reimagined tourism in each of those markets.
The industry reacted to Adelson’s passing.
Gary Shapiro, President and CEO, Consumer Technology Association, said, “Sheldon was an exceptional businessman and a passionate patriot — a U.S. immigrant with a remarkable success story. He created and grew the largest trade show of its era, COMDEX. We met 40 years ago, working together on a project in Las Vegas — a 120,000-square-foot building we together donated to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to accommodate the growing CES and ever-expanding COMDEX.”
As one of the founders of the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO), Adelson parlayed his ownership stake in the legendary and groundbreaking COMDEX show in the 1980s into a worldwide gaming and convention empire that also thrust him into the elite ranks of “casino moguls.” When he bought the Sands Hotel, he focused on convention space with the hope of keeping hotel rooms full during the week.
Shapiro continued: “After Sheldon bought the Sands Hotel and turned it into the massive Sands Expo and Venetian Resort, we strengthened our relationship as CES continued to grow and fill his properties. As a former trade show owner and producer, Sheldon understood our needs and was honorable, tough, and fair in his dealings. We were friends and rivals. We were business partners and competitors. Throughout it all, I admired Sheldon’s brilliant vision and ability to get the best deal possible for his company. His businesses did everything they could to help trade shows thrive.
“An immigrant who lived the American dream, a rags-to-riches legend and a strong personality who transformed trade shows, the Las Vegas skyline and the Las Vegas experience, Sheldon’s impact will last a long time.”
Vincent Polito, Managing Director, mdg, A Freeman Company, worked with Adelson at the Interface Group for several years until it was sold to Mashayoshi Son and Softbank. “While I could regale you with stories and anecdotes from those years until very recently, I want to say that he instilled the importance of confidence and honesty in me and many people that worked for him over the years. First, I don’t think you ever wanted to pitch an idea to him unless you were very confident, and second, he had a way of always getting to the truth in every situation. I think ‘tenacious’ is a good way to describe his approach to all things. He often cultivated a persona that obscured his warmth and charity, but he was every bit as tenacious in those areas as well,” Polito explained.
“He was truly a self-made billionaire. He didn’t enter the gaming business until the late 80s and never forgot the trade show industry was the springboard to subsequent successes. He would tutor many of the industry’s leading individuals with lessons in floor planning and marketing and, until his last days, was playing a role in supporting efforts to get the government to provide assistance to our industry. As my friend Mary Pat Heftman of Winsight texted me today, ‘I don’t know what category is above icon, but he was that.’ I truly believe our industry had never seen a man as great as he. I doubt we ever will again.”
Jaki Baskow, owner of Las Vegas Speakers Bureau, remembers working with Adelson during COMDEX. “He was a true visionary who was the brainchild behind today’s technology conventions. The trade show industry in Las Vegas wouldn’t be what it is without Sheldon’s contributions.”