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September 1, 2014

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Adelson going underground with political money – I smell a Rove – and adamantly against web poker

Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, whose family donated $21.5 million to a SuperPAC backing Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid, said Thursday evening he wants to recede from the national spotlight and will begin contributing to organizations that do not have to disclose their donors.

Adelson, who rarely gives interviews, also told me that he is “even stronger” in his opposition to legalizing Internet gaming, which has made him nearly alone in a Nevada casino industry ravenous for the revenues from web poker.

The chairman of the company that doubled its quarterly earnings in numbers reported this week made his comments shortly before he received the “Hospitality Leader of the Year” at UNLV’s Vallen Dinner of Distinction held – of course – at The Venetian.

I asked Adelson during the brief interview if he was going to start donating to American Crossroads or its nonprofit adjunct, Crossroads GPS, and he smiled and declined to answer. But a few minutes later, he expressed gushing admiration for Karl Rove, who helped found the groups, and I pressed him again.

“I’m going to give one more small donation – you might not think it’s that small – to a SuperPAC and then if I give it will be to a c4,” a reference to 501c4 nonprofits, which are tax-exempt and also exempt from disclosures. I opined that surely meant Crossroads, which would allow him to indirectly help Mitt Romney and Sen. Dean Heller, who is running against Rep. Shelley Berkley. Berkley used to work for Adelson, but they had a falling out in the mid-1990s and he surely would love to see her lose.

“Do you know how many c4s there are?” Adelson retorted, as if to try to indicate he had more choices than Crossroads. Indeed. But I can’t think of too many that will influence who controls the White House and the U.S. Senate. And did he telegraph where his money is going with the Rove comments? I think so.

(Berkley had a letter inside the program for the event in which she wrote “the individuals being honored this evening are all true leaders of distinction.” She did not name names.)

I suggested to Adelson that by one more small ($5 million?) donation to a SuperPAC, he was almost certainly referring to Restore Our Future, the entity trying to help Romney. But he would not confirm. “I’m not going to tell you,” he said. “You’ll find out when it is reported.”

Adelson said he believed the media’s inevitable use of the phrase “casino mogul” whenever his donations became public “is not helpful to the person.”

On web gaming, Adelson said he is even more convinced that legalizing the practice is bad policy because “you don’t want a casino in every home.” And, he added, legalization “will cause a 10 percent to 20 percent decrease eon land-based gaming revenues.”

Really, I wondered.

“Minimum,” he retorted.

That is bad news for legalization proponents, including Gov. Brian Sandoval and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both of whom have lobbied the Sands chairman on the issue. “I’m not going to change my mind,” he said.

Adelson comments came on the eve of tonight’s fundraiser he is hosting for Speaker John Boehner, who has been neutral on web poker. But the others on the invitation – Steve Wynn, the Fertittas and the American Gaming Association – all want a bill passed.

But if Adelson holds firm, his influence in the House – he recently donated $5 million to help Boehner – and the (excuse me) casino mogul is close to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor – could doom the prospects.

The evening concluded with AGA boss Frank Fahrenkopf engaging in a conversation on stage with Adelson, who was loose and jovial – who wouldn’t be after his first quarter? At one point, Fahrenkopf wondered what Adelson saw in Macau, where he now makes most of his money, 10 years ago. Adelson responded, “A swamp and a bay.” But, he then added, there also are 1.3 billion people there who like to “challenge luck.”

Judging by his success – better in business than in politics – Adelson challenged luck and won.

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