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 Nevada-Las Vegas.
“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.