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Sheldon Adelson seated in a gray suit and red tie, pointing to the left, with red drapes behind him

From Rags to Riches: Overcoming the Odds with Sheldon Adelson


Spotlight on Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson headshot

Sheldon Adelson

Rockville, Md., Oct. 2 – Forbes’ 20th richest entrepreneur in the United States just so happens to use a mobility device due to disability issues.

Sheldon Adelson, 84, grew up with nothing – living during the 1930’s-40’s in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Massachusetts: Dorchester.

“I didn’t know we were poor, but we were very poor,” he said during a testimony. “Church mice were rather affluent compared to our family.”

However, his past shaped Adelson’s everlasting drive and ability to overcome the odds, making him a candidate for RespectAbility’s #RespectTheAbility campaign, which highlights companies that either are run by or employ people with disabilities. An estimated 15 percent of people who own businesses have a disability. In this classic ‘rags to riches’ story, Adelson grows from an impoverished young boy living in (at the time) gang-riddled Boston to becoming a self-made entrepreneur with a net worth of more than 3.6 billion dollars.

Life as an Entrepreneur with Peripheral Neuropathy

At the age of 12, Adelson started his career as an entrepreneur with two, borrowed, 100-dollar bills in his pocket selling newspapers outside of the local Filenes Basement. After his newspaper-salesman-career ended, he served in the army, and then later attended and subsequently dropped out of The City College of New York in order to peruse his grander entrepreneurial dreams. He began by selling toiletry kits to the Army. But it did not take long for his empire to expand from toiletries to real estate. He made his first million dollars investing in travel companies such as the American International Travel Service.

“For me, businesses are like buses. You stand on a corner and you don’t like where the first bus is going? Wait ten minutes and take another. Don’t like that one? They’ll just keep coming. There’s no end to buses or businesses,” said Adelson.

Next he dabbled in the computer industry and very quickly made 500 million dollars. But his career truly exploded once he entered the business of buying casinos. Adelson purchased the well-known Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in order to rip it down and begin to build his sparkling empire, beginning with The Venetian – the casino that he built to replace Sands. Two years after The Venetian opened, he purchased a second and more popular hotel/casino in China, Macau. He now owns casinos all over the world.

It was during the time that Adelson purchased the Macau that he was diagnosed with Peripheral Neuropathy, a disease that follows damage caused to the peripheral nervous system making communication between the brain and the spinal cord more difficult. However, his business never slowed as a result. He adjusted his life, began using a motorized wheelchair/scooter and continued with his capitalist venture. In 2014, Adelson was included on CNBC’s list of 200 people who have had a profound impact on business in the last 25 years.


Both Adelson and his wife Dr. Miriam Adelson have dedicated much of their lives to philanthropy. He and his wife run the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation and have donated millions of dollars toward cancer research. Additionally both Adelson and his wife allocate much of their money to their Adelson Family Foundation – a nonprofit that primarily focuses on Jewish education, more specifically funding birthright trips to Israel.

Adelson is a self-made accomplished man that proves the statistic that people with disabilities want to work. Yet 70 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities are outside of the workforce. Adelson is a part of the driving force to end stigma surrounding people with disabilities simply because he has never stopped trying.

Adelson says: “It’s unfair that I’ve been treated unfairly—but it doesn’t stop me.”

#RespectTheAbility Success Stories

Download our free toolkit, “Disability Employment First Planning Tool,” for more information.

Meet the Author

Julia Wood
Julia Wood

Julia Wood is a Communications Fellow at RespectAbility and a senior at Emerson College. She is not stranger when it comes to advocating for people with disabilities. Growing up she advocated for her sister who had Mitochondrial Disease and Leukemia. Previously she volunteered for "Buddy Ball” and “Make-A-Wish.”

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