This year’s presidential race comes as states are considering ways to legalize online wagers, an issue on which the two candidates have taken different stances.
At the same time, political contributions by the casino industry have risen as the industry has grown.
Mitt Romney has said he opposes online wagering, while the Obama administration has taken steps that could ultimately clear the way for Internet betting.
But the industry does not seem to be supporting one candidate over the other, said Joseph S. Weinert, senior vice president of Linwood’s Spectrum Gaming Group.
Democrats have received more political contributions this cycle from the casino industry, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Democrats have received $6.4 million from the industry to Republicans’ $5.8 million, according to figures released in early September.
An additional $20.3 million was allocated to political action committees and so-called “Super PACs” that have a greater ability to spend on candidates.
In 1992, the casino industry gave $484,019, according to the center. Of that, 71 percent went to Democrats and 29 percent to Republicans. The center ranked the casino industry 75th most generous out of more than 80 industries.
Twenty years later, the center reported the casino industry has contributed more than $32.5 million, as of early September. Direct contributions still favored Democrats, 52 percent to 48 percent, but the industry’s ranking rose to 15th most generous.
But Weinert said the partisan discrepancy could be because Democrats represent more gambling jurisdictions. Furthermore, Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has been a major proponent of online gaming, Weinert pointed out.
“The bigger context is the economy,” Weinert said, and support would likely hinge on whose economic proposals seem better.
Roger Gros, publisher of Global Gaming Business Magazine, said, “In general the top guys are pretty clear where they are standing,” starting with Sheldon Adelson, chairman and chief executive officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Casino money “never has been that important,” Gros said, “but when you have Sheldon Adelson, who has a billion dollars to spare, it becomes very important.”
Adelson has been a Republican contributor since the 1990s. He started playing an outsized role in the presidential campaign in January, when he and his wife, Miriam, together donated $10 million to Winning Our Future, a super PAC that supported former candidate Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Adelson has since pledged “limitless” support for Republican nominee Mitt Romney and other Republican candidates, telling Forbes magazine that he did so to stop President Barack Obama’s “socialization” of America and to secure closer ties to Israel.
Obama also offended other Las Vegas casino industry officials, Gros said.
Gros pointed to comments Obama made in 2009 when the president said of federal spending, “You can’t go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers’ dime.” At a town-hall meeting the following year, Obama said, “You don’t blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you’re trying to save for college.”
Gros said Obama “didn’t really apologize for that in a fashion that the industry would have liked to have seen.”
Officials have been quiet in Atlantic City, the nation’s second-largest gaming jurisdiction. Jon Bombardieri, lobbyist and spokesman for the Casino Association of New Jersey, declined to comment, as did association President Tony Rodio, who heads Tropicana Casino and Resort. Other casino executives also declined comment.
Under Obama, the Justice Department in 2011 interpreted the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 in a way that was seen as friendly to gambling. That interpretation said the law, which previously barred Internet wagers, applied only to sports betting. Since then, New Jersey and a number of other states have sought to host e-wagers.
In a response to an online petition to license and regulate online poker, Brian Deese, a special assistant to Obama for economic policy, wrote in May that Internet wagering is an issue for the states. He said the Obama administration was concerned about the potential for fraud, money laundering and underage gambling.
Romney has taken different positions on the topic of gambling throughout his political career.
He is a Mormon, who in following the teachings of the faith, does not gamble. But when Romney unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994, the Boston Globe reported that he supported a proposed casino, saying it was a decision for the community to make.
Running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney supported closing a $2 billion state budget hole with a taxpaying casino, the Globe reported.
Once in office, Romney proposed raising $300 million to $800 million with video slot machines, but the state Legislature rejected the proposal. The Globe reported he also called on casino operators in Rhode Island and Connecticut to pay $75 million to keep Massachusetts from developing its own casino, but that never came to pass.
Gambling has not been a major issue in the presidential race, but before the Nevada primary in February, Romney told a Las Vegas television station that he generally opposed online gambling opportunities because “Gaming has a social effect on a lot of people.”
He also told KSNV-TV that he opposed online wagers because there is plenty of gambling access currently and that some states use gambling tax proceeds for public purposes, and online gambling would not improve that.
The Republican Party also formally opposes Internet wagering. In this year’s platform, the party said it supported the prohibition of Internet betting and called for the reversal of the federal Justice Department’s gaming-friendly interpretation of the Interstate Wire Act. Casino industry officials said they saw this as Adelson’s influence.
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