The trip to Jordan by a group of United States congressmen was supposed to be a chance for them to meet the newly crowned King Abdullah II. But their tour guide had a more complicated agenda.
The guide was Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who helped underwrite trips to the Middle East to win support for Israel in Congress. On this occasion in 1999, as the lawmakers enjoyed a reception at the Royal Palace in Amman, Mr. Adelson and an aide retreated to a private room with the king.
There, the king listened politely as Mr. Adelson sat on a sofa and paged through his proposal for a gambling resort on the Jordan-Israel border to be called the Red Sea Kingdom.
“This was shortly after his father, King Hussein, died, and he was grateful to me,” Mr. Adelson explained later in court testimony, recalling that he had lent his plane when the ailing monarch sought treatment in the United States. “So they remembered.”
The proposal never went anywhere — Mr. Adelson later said he had feared that a Jewish-owned casino on Arab land “would have been blown to smithereens.” But his impromptu pitch to the Jordanian king highlights the boldness, if not audacity, that has propelled Mr. Adelson into the ranks of the world’s richest men and transformed him into a powerful behind-the-scenes player in American and international politics.
Those qualities may also help explain why Mr. Adelson, 78, has decided to throw his wealth behind what had once seemed to be the unlikely presidential aspirations of Newt Gingrich. Now, in no small measure because of Mr. Adelson’s deep pockets, Mr. Gingrich is locked in a struggle with Mitt Romney heading into Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday.
Mr. Adelson, by some estimates worth as much as $22 billion, presides over a global empire of casinos, hotels and convention centers whose centerpiece is the Venetian in Las Vegas, an exuberant monument to excess with canals, singing gondoliers and acres of slot machines. That fortune is a wellspring of financial support for Mr. Gingrich, who has benefited from $17 million in political contributions from Mr. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, in recent years, including $10 million in the last few weeks that went to a “super PAC” supporting him.
The question of what motivates Mr. Adelson’s singular generosity toward the former House speaker has emerged front and center in the campaign. People who know him say his affinity for Mr. Gingrich stems from a devotion to Israel as well as loyalty to a friend. A fervent Zionist who opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state, Mr. Adelson has long been enamored of Mr. Gingrich’s full-throated defense of Israel.
Editor in Chief, THL
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