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Will Sheldon Adelson Back Chris Christie in 2016?

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Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson is looking for a moderate Republican to back in 2016, but he is also looking for someone friendly to his anti-online gambling push.

Las Vegas casino magnate and scourge of online casinos in America Sheldon Adelson has never been afraid to put his money where his mouth is. He’s a Republican, and he puts his money behind the Republican cause, donating major amounts of money to Republican candidates in state and national elections. His backing of Republicans can partially be explained by the party’s general opposition to online casino legalization. But other issues are important to him as well, including the overall business climate in America and the official stance toward Israel, of whom he is a staunch supporter.

Money not well spent in 2012

The Washington Post reported that Adelson donated $92 million to Republic campaigns in 2012. Most of this money went to the presidential bid of Newt Gingrich, which turned out to be a colossal failure. Gingrich was a dark horse who never had a real shot at beating Mitt Romney in the primary, and his smear campaign damaged Romney’s reputation enough to hurt his chances in the national election. $92 million doesn’t seem like much to a man with a net worth of $38.2 billion, but he obviously will look to get more bang for his buck the next time around.

This time, expect Adelson to choose a mainstream candidate with a more realistic chance at mounting a challenge to the Democratic opponent. According to Las Vegas Sands board member and fellow Republican backer Victor Chaltiel: “He doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee…He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, who has convictions but is not totally crazy.” Candidates with the potential to win the “Adelson primary” include New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, former Florida governor (and little brother of George W.) and Ohio governor John Kasich.

Is gambling on the agenda in 2016?

The country is relatively puritanical when it comes to the popular activity and American gambling laws are restrictive when it comes to online gambling, allowing the activity only in states which have created their own regulated markets. But to the average American gambling is not a major issue and many have never heard the name Sheldon Adelson. But aside from working to prevent states from creating online gambling markets, Adelson is also lobbying for a major piece of federal legislation: a federal, blanket ban on online gambling which would not only ban interstate and foreign-operated sites but prohibit states from legalizing the activity.

•In 2012 Sheldon Adelson donated millions of dollars to the campaign of dark horse candidate Newt Gingrich; this time he will seek a more electable figure to sponsor

•Adelson is lobbying for a blanket federal ban on all forms of online gambling, so will look for a presidential candidate with an anti-online gambling stance

•Chris Christie looks like the most electable candidate but last year signed a bill to legalize online casinos in New Jersey, so Adelson may have second thoughts

This would turn the clock back to the pre-2011 situation, before the Justice Department handed decision-making powers to the states. Since then New Jersey and Delaware have created online casino markets while Adelson’s home state of Nevada legalized online poker. Adelson is already pushing for passage of a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. A sister bill is also being proposed in the House of Representatives which may receive support from Republicans and Democrats.

While not a necessary condition for getting such a bill passed, having a friend in the White House would certainly help Adelson’s cause. It looks unlikely that he would support a candidate with a demonstrated openness to online casinos. None of the mainstream candidates seem eager to take a stance on what can be a potentially divisive issue. That is, except on who already has: Chris Christie.

The potential front-runner, but is he Adelson’s guy?

New Jersey governor Chris Christie currently looks like the front-runner for the Republican nomination. He is a moderate, centrist candidate in a party and country that has grown tired of the ideological rigidity of recent years. But his actions toward internet betting in America have drawn the ire of social conservatives and of Adelson. Last year he signed into law a controversial bill legalizing online casinos in New Jersey (he could have exercised a veto). He claimed to do it for two reasons: as a reflection of his overall pro-business mentality and as a way of balancing the state’s budget, projecting it would produce $200 million in tax revenue during the first fiscal year.

Several months later the amount of money in public coffers is much smaller, and Christie appears to be backtracking slightly from his prior support for online gambling. His administration has recently issued statements admitting that they overestimated the positive effects on online casinos on the budget. However, Christie has stopped short of claiming that he or the state made a mistake in legalizing online casinos.

Where does that put him with regards to Adelson? The Vegas bigwig has played his cards close to the vest, refraining from making any committal statements about Christie. It’s clear that is very unhappy about New Jersey’s legalization of online casinos, but he also knows that it was sponsored by Senator Ray Lesniak, not Christie himself. And just because Christie signed a bill to legalize online casinos doesn’t mean he won’t change course and take a harsh stance against them if elected president. We’ve seen presidents flip-flop countless times, with Obama’s about face on the War on Terror being only the most recent and significant example. If Adelson since Christie has the best chance of beating Hillary Clinton, he’s likely to back him.

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