Sheldon Adelson launching campaign against Internet gambling
Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose record-breaking campaign spending in 2012 made him an icon of the new super-donor era, is leveraging that newfound status in an escalating feud with industry rivals over the future of gambling.
Adelson, best known for building upscale casino resorts in Nevada and more recently in Asia, wants to persuade Congress to ban Internet betting.
He says the practice is a danger to society and could tarnish the industry's traditional business model.
Nearly all of his competitors, including Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts, disagree. They say regulated Internet gambling can be done safely and can boost the industry.
To make his point, Adelson is preparing a public campaign to portray online gambling as a danger to children, the poor, and others who could be exploited by easy access to Internet betting.
Three states have moved to legalize online gambling, with New Jersey scheduled to go live this month. At least a dozen others are expected to consider it next year.
The new push against Internet gambling is Adelson's biggest foray into a legislative debate directly related to his business, and it sets up a test of the influence that a megadonor can exert when lawmakers know he is willing to spend enormous sums to influence elections.
Adelson has begun hiring lobbyists and public relations experts in Washington and in state capitals nationwide to press his case in what is shaping up to be one of the most heavily lobbied debates of 2014.
In January, Adelson plans to roll out an advocacy group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, that aides say will include advocates for children and others who are considered vulnerable to the temptations and potential harms of online betting. The coalition hopes to enlist organizations representing women, African Americans and Hispanics, all seen as likely to be sympathetic to the cause.
Advisers to Adelson say he is intensely focused on the coming battle and talks about it every day with his staff. He has about two dozen experts working nearly full time on the issue.
"In my 15 years of working with him, I don't think I have ever seen him this passionate about any issue," said Andy Abboud, Adelson's top political adviser.
Rival firms view Adelson's initiative as a major threat and say they will mount a counteroffensive arguing that his proposed ban would foster a dangerous, unregulated black market.
Some competitors noted that Adelson, whose chosen political candidates lost last year, could not guarantee success, even with his ability to tap a seemingly bottomless bank account.
"We don't make a habit of picking fights with billionaires," said John Pappas, executive director of the industry-aligned Poker Players Alliance. "But in this case, I think we'll win, because millions of Americans who want to play online will oppose this legislation, along with dozens and dozens of states that want the freedom to authorize any kind of gaming they see fit."