There is something truly spectacular about Sheldon Adelson. Witness the parade of Republican supplicants paying tribute in his Las Vegas lair. They would include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
What’s remarkable is not the aesthetics of possible presidential nominees beseeching a casino oligarch in return for campaign cash. Wannabes from the other party also engage in such activities – though there’s a certain down-market feel to courting one whose many billions come from separating the gullible from their money. Some parts of the country still consider state-sanctioned gambling immoral.
What makes Adelson so special as a political benefactor is his directness in stating what he wants in return. What he wants is Congress to curb his competitors. And he wants Republicans to challenge the very states’ rights they profess to support. That’s all.
And his desires have not been even slightly veiled from general scrutiny as are most of the quid pro quos between business interests and our political class. They’ve been hung on the clothesline for the world see.
After all, Adelson spent about $100 million on Republicans in 2012. He might feel that kind of money entitles him to be open and honest.
What Adelson wants is a ban on online gambling because it competes with his bricks-and-mortar casino empire. Revenues at the Las Vegas Sands Corp. derive from in-person attendance at his casinos in Singapore, Macao and, of course, Nevada. Those who do their “gaming” online might miss the opportunity to patronize the 2,000-odd slot machines at The Venetian (the one in Vegas).
Under current law, states regulate gambling. Three now permit Internet gambling: New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada. Adelson’s people in Washington, D.C., have introduced legislation that would ban this activity.
In writing the bill, they have carefully skirted horse racing. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky, a big horse racing state. The Kentucky Derby encourages online betting through TwinSpires.com, as its website says, “a Churchill Downs company.”
Meanwhile, the Internet gambling interests have not been sitting on their wallets. They are represented by the nicely named Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection. Michael Oxley is one of its lobbyists. When he was a Republican rep from Ohio, Oxley accused online betting companies of “gobbling up victims in the United States.” Things have changed, he says. Haven’t they.
Nowadays, many states are succumbing to the lure of tax revenues from casino gambling, often out of concern that neighboring states are feasting off their taxpayers. Because participants tend toward the lower incomes, many people regard state-sanctioned gambling to be a form of regressive taxation.
Adelson’s other cause is Israel, for which he is both a hawkish defender and a meddler. He’s been buying up media there and once threatened to sue Israel’s Channel 10 for some unflattering coverage.
Last year, Adelson famously suggested that the United States send a nuclear missile to an unpopulated part of Iran as a warning against its weapons program. He later said he didn’t really mean that. He was using “hyperbole to make a point.”
As one might expect, a guy who says such crazy things would not be shy about expressing his more modest wishes. Thus, he felt no need for quiet diplomacy in calling on Congress to protect his business from online competition. And asking Republicans to stomp on the rights of states to set their own policies would seem a minor request.
Less expected is that serious politicians would rush to bond with him in such a public manner. Money has long trumped dignity, but the bar used to seem higher.