| WASHINGTON, March 26
WASHINGTON, March 26 Casino mogul Sheldon
Adelson became a major player in Republican politics in the 2012
elections, when he spent more than $90 million in an
unsuccessful effort to oust Democratic President Barack Obama.
Now the 80-year-old billionaire wants something from
Washington: a ban on internet gambling, a growing industry that
Adelson says could hurt the casino industry. On Wednesday, some
of Adelson's allies in Congress, including South Carolina
Senator Lindsey Graham, plan to propose legislation that would
do just that.
The bill is not expected to go far; analysts say Congress
may not even bring the measure up for a vote this year.
Even so, the Las Vegas Sands Corp chief executive's
push against online gambling could force Republican politicians
to confront an issue that pits religious conservatives who agree
with Adelson against more pragmatic elements in the party.
It also could lead to some interesting moments this week as
four potential candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential
nomination - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin
Governor Scott Walker, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio
Governor John Kasich - pay their respects to Adelson and his
deep pockets during a four-day meeting in Las Vegas.
The meeting in Las Vegas could be particularly awkward for
Christie, who last year signed a law legalizing internet
gambling in New Jersey, which along with Nevada and Delaware
have approved online gambling as a way to boost tax revenue at a
time when earnings from land-based casinos have flat-lined.
Christie's office did not respond to a request for comment.
The others who may be courting Adelson's political support
likely will be reluctant to take a public position on online
gambling, which is not a big issue for most Americans, said
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of
"I think they would try to tiptoe around it as much as they
can," he said.
Similarly, the lack of a national consensus on online
gambling probably will discourage many members of Congress from
taking up the issue, Republican strategist John Feehery said.
"On these things, if you can avoid taking a stand for as
long as possible, that's always the best policy," he said.
STATES WARM TO ONLINE WAGERING
Online gambling was effectively outlawed in the United
States until December 2011, when the Justice Department backed a
court's decision that said a 1961 law banning interstate sports
betting did not apply to other forms of gambling.
In the absence of action by Congress, states have moved to
allow online gambling operations within their borders.
Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware now offer some form of
internet gambling, and eight other states considered legislation
last year. New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia and Illinois sell
lottery tickets online. Several Native American tribes that
operate casinos are preparing to offer internet play as well.
Some gambling companies see an opportunity to boost revenue
as earnings from the 900 land-based casinos in the United States
Adelson's Las Vegas Sands is not among them.
In an opinion piece on Forbes.com last year, Adelson called
internet gambling "fool's gold" that could hurt business at
existing casinos and turn video game-playing children into
gambling addicts. Adelson did not respond to a request for
Las Vegas Sands likely wouldn't be affected if online
gambling became widespread in the United States because it makes
most of its revenue abroad, said Morningstar analyst Chad
Mollman. But a federal ban could hurt rival casino companies
that are counting on online gambling revenue to offset flat or
declining earnings from their casinos, he said.
In Washington, Adelson has set up a lobbying group called
the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
"It's common sense that putting a virtual casino in the
pocket of every American with a smartphone is bad public
policy," the group said in a statement.
In response, Adelson's rivals, including Caesar's and MGM
Resorts International, have created their own group, the
Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection. They argue that
efforts to block online gambling haven't worked and that states
should be able to regulate the issue.
"For Congress to come along and stop these efforts is a
mistake," said Mary Bono, a former Republican representative who
is a spokeswoman for the group.
In Congress, Senator Graham, Republican Representative Jason
Chaffetz and Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard will
introduce the Adelson-backed legislation that would outlaw
internet gambling. Graham faces re-election this year in
conservative South Carolina, while Chaffetz and Gabbard are from
Utah and Hawaii, respectively, where all forms of gambling are
Adelson also has enlisted religious conservative groups, who
play an influential role in Republican presidential primaries.
Bob Vander Plaats, head of The Family Leader, a
social-conservative group in Iowa, said online gambling has not
come up in his meetings with potential candidates for the
Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
"But as it becomes more and more of a threat, I do believe
you'll see full-spectrum conservatives definitely taking a
stand," said Vander Plaats, who has not worked with Adelson's
Advocates opposed to limits on online gambling say that such
restrictions would conflict with the Republican Party's
traditional suspicion of federal regulation.
"I think you're going to see a real divide in the Republican
electorate," said John Pappas, executive director of the Poker
Players Alliance, which has mobilized thousands of members to
support Internet-based poker games.
LOOKING TO 2016
Adelson has another ace up his sleeve: the promise of
campaign cash in the 2016 presidential race. Adelson and his
wife, Miriam, donated at least $93 million to Republican
candidates and causes in the 2012 election, making him by far
the biggest publicly known donor in either party that year.
Adelson told The Wall Street Journal shortly after the
election that he intends to spend more on the 2016 elections.
So far, Adelson has lined up support for his online gambling
ban from Republican governors Rick Perry of Texas and Bobby
Jindal of Louisiana, both potential presidential candidates.
Adelson will have the chance to discuss the issue with
Christie, Bush, Walker and Kasich in Las Vegas this week, when
the governors attend a meeting of the Republican Jewish
Coalition. Adelson is hosting a dinner for which Bush is the
Adelson has backed Christie despite their disagreement over
online gambling. Adelson hosted Christie for a fundraiser in Las
Vegas last August and donated $3,800 to his re-election
campaign, New Jersey records show.
Adelson has been a particularly enthusiastic supporter of
Walker, donating $250,000 when the Wisconsin governor fought
back a recall campaign in 2012, according to the National
Institute on Money in State Politics.
Walker has not taken a stand on internet gambling but may
have to confront the issue soon because of growing support for
it among Native American tribes in Wisconsin. His office did not
respond to a request for comment.
The Lac du Flambeau band of the Lake Superior Chippewa is
planning to offer internet gambling to those who are physically
on the tribe's lands. Tribes oppose a federal ban on such
gambling on the grounds that it would interfere with their
revenue-raising efforts, said Jeff Nelson, a lawyer with the
Indian Gaming Alliance.
In Ohio, Kasich oversaw an expansion of casino gambling in
his state but has not take a position on internet wagering, an
aide said. Bush also has not taken a public position.
Even if Adelson lines up support for the ban among potential
2016 candidates, that will not do much good if Congress does not
act soon, analysts say.
"The cat's out of the bag, to be sure," said Michael
Pollock, managing director at Spectrum Gaming Group, a research
(Additional reporting by Hilary Russ in New York; Editing by
David Lindsey and Eric Walsh)