The mysterious new owner of Nevada’s biggest and most influential newspaper, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, has apparently been unmasked, thus revealing a secret that has both alarmed and intrigued the media-political complex since the purchase was first reported a week ago.
The good news is that the buyer paid $140 million, an encouragingly rich price in a financially troubled time for the newspaper industry, representing a $38 million premium over the previous purchase price only nine months ago.
The bad news—and, alas, it does look like mostly bad news, potentially anyway, to the 110 editors and reporters who work for the hard-charging Review-Journal—is that the mystery buyer is Sheldon Adelson, the controversial, libel suit-prone international gambling billionaire and sugar daddy to Republican presidential candidates.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the business magazine Fortune cited “multiple sources familiar with the situation” to identify the 82-year-old Adelson—a cagey billionaire not known for his love of journalists, especially those who have investigated his far-flung casino enterprises—as the newspaper’s latest steward, having purchased the media property from Gatehouse Media, which paid only $102 million in March.
Adelson—said to be worth an estimated $28 billion as the chairman and chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns gambling resorts in Singapore and Macao, as well as the Venetian in Vegas—had been rumored to be the buyer, although he hadn’t acknowledged his ownership as of late Wednesday.
Strangely, the Review-Journal’s top editor, Mike Hengel, told The Daily Beast, two hours after the Fortune scoop, that his reporters were still working to confirm Adelson’s purchase.
Hengel and his team had been aggressively investigating and running stories about the sale since it came to light last week.
A call to the newspaper’s publisher, Jason Taylor—who apparently knows for certain who his new secret boss is—was not returned.
An email seeking comment from Adelson’s charitable foundation likewise received no response.
According to Fortune, Adelson “had taken great pains to remain anonymous,” cloaking his involvement using a limited liability corporation that required a minimum of public reporting and made it difficult to pierce the corporate veil.
“Adelson has not responded to repeated requests for comment over the past several days,” the magazine reported on Tuesday, as speculation concerning the buyer’s identity increasingly focused on the casino magnate. “What remains unclear is why Adelson has refused to come forward.”
The magazine continued: “Clearly this isn’t a vanity play, and it’s also hard to imagine it as a financial investment (particularly given the steep price tag). What that leaves is political influence, particularly in a swing state like Nevada. That said, however, it would seem difficult to direct editorial coverage when the actual editorial writers are in the dark as to who signs their paychecks.”
Adelson, a staunch supporter of Israel, and particularly of Likud Party Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also owns the Hebrew-language free daily Israel Hayom, a reliable Netanyahu cheerleader, and tends to bankroll Republican presidential candidates who impress him as most loyal to the interests and wellbeing of the Jewish State.
During the 2012 election cycle, he spent more than $10 million to fund a super Pac supporting his longtime friend and ally Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House; this time around, Adelson is said to be leaning toward hawkish Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid.
Adelson, who has frequently sued journalists and media outlets whose stories displease him, is famous as a micromanager of his casino business, and it seems unlikely that he would maintain a hands-off approach to newspaper ownership.
A longtime Review-Journal staffer—who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job—said Adelson’s ownership, if confirmed, would likely prompt awkward issues concerning the paper’s political coverage and especially its aggressive coverage of the gaming industry, including Adelson’s rival casino magnate, Steve Wynn.
Updated: 9am Dec. 17, 2015: A previous version of this article stated Adelson’s net worth to be $28 million, we have corrected to $28 billion.