LAS VEGAS — Republican front-runner Donald Trump met privately here Tuesday with Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who is a much-sought-after donor in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.
The get-together occurred Tuesday afternoon at the Venetian, a luxury Italian-themed hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip that is owned by Adelson and that hosted Tuesday evening’s CNN debate. A person familiar with the session said it was a friendly encounter.
In a telephone interview before the meeting, Trump described it as a courtesy and a conversation rather than a solicitation for campaign donations.
“Sheldon knows that I’m in town because of the debate, and he’s been a friend of mine for a long time,” Trump said. “He called to see whether or not we could meet, and we are going to meet.”
When asked for a comment, Adelson adviser Andy Abboud wrote in an email that Trump was coming by to visit Adelson and his wife, Miriam.
The gambling magnate — who Forbes estimates is worth $23.7 billion — has been avidly wooed by most of the Republican contenders as they seek the kind of massive financial lift the Adelsons gave White House aspirants Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in 2012.
Among those Adelson met with Monday was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), according to a person familiar with the session. Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, declined to comment, saying the campaign does not discuss private meetings.
Rubio has been particularly attentive in courting the Las Vegas Sands chief executive and has already been endorsed by several wealthy donors close to Adelson and his wife.
So far, however, the Adelsons have not publicly weighed in on the 2016 race, wary of their experience four years ago, when they invested millions — only to see their candidates fall.
Trump has sent conflicting signals about whether he wants Sheldon Adelson’s backing. During the summer, the real estate entrepreneur called Adelson, who is a staunch supporter of Israel, and emphasized his connections to the Jewish community, including the fact that one of his daughters converted to Judaism, according to the New York Times.
But Trump has also tweeted that Rubio would be a “puppet” of Adelson if he gained the support of the 82-year-old businessman. In October, he told Fox News Channel that Adelson would have “total control” over the senator.
“If Sheldon gives to him, he’ll have total control over Rubio, and that’s the problem with the way the system works — whoever gives,” Trump said.
On Tuesday, Trump, who is using his own fortune along with small-dollar donations to fund his campaign, insisted that he is not interested in having Adelson financially support him. If anything, he said, he would like Adelson’s endorsement.
“What I told Sheldon through his people is that I’d love their support. It’s unnecessary, but I’d like his support. I don’t want his money,” Trump said.
He also said it would not surprise him if Adelson was inclined to back a more traditional Republican contender.
“That’s okay,” Trump said. “Look, I don’t expect his support, even though I know him and like him and he likes me. I don’t expect his support because people like putting up money to candidates. They’re like gamblers. They’re like horse-betters.”
“I’ve had so many people come up to my office and beg me to take their money,” he added. “I say: ‘No, thank you. I’m not interested in that.’ So they go and give to other candidates. They’re like junkies. They want the action. If they can’t have action with their money, they go look for action somewhere else.”
In 2012, the Adelsons donated $92 million to GOP-allied super PACs. That total did not include money they contributed to politically active groups that do not disclose the identities of their contributors. Still, it secured the Adelsons the title of largest donors of the cycle.
Their biggest public donation went to Restore Our Future, a super PAC backing Romney, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Next on the recipient list: American Crossroads, an organization founded in part by Republican strategist Karl Rove that supported GOP candidates across the country.
In this cycle, the Adelsons have signaled that they will be more cautious with their donations. That has only seemed to increase the intensity of visits from presidential candidates.
Gold reported from Washington. Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.