Are the days of legal online poker in Nevada numbered? They very well could be if Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt wins the race for Governor this November.
Laxalt, 39, won the incumbent Republican Party primary in June and will look to continue a two-decade-long stranglehold the GOP has enjoyed on the Nevada Governor’s Office in the November election. Current Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval cannot run for re-election. The Nevada Constitution prescribes a two-consecutive-term limit.
Gov. Sandoval is known as a staunch supporter of online gambling. In fact, he led the push for the legislation that made online poker legal in the state back in 2013. However, Laxalt has been a thorn in his side on the issue ever since.
Laxalt and RAWA
In 2015, Laxalt made his anti-online gambling stance crystal clear. He suggested money launderers might be victimizing online gambling operators. He expressed a desire to return Nevada to the status quo pre-online poker. Plus, Laxalt added his name to a list of state attorneys generals who support the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) movement. The RAWA movement backs federal legislation that would effectively end online gambling in Nevada and across the US.
At the time, Gov. Sandoval struck back. He blasted Laxalt for speaking out against current state law in Nevada’s top industry while it’s his job to represent the state’s legal interests:
“As a former Attorney General, Gaming Commission Chairman and someone who worked with the industry and the Legislature on Nevada’s online poker legislation, I am very concerned that anyone representing the state’s legal interests would speak out against current state law in our leading industry.”
Laxalt and the letter to Trump
However, a year later, Laxalt was one of ten state attorneys general signing a letter to then-Vice President-Elect Mike Pence and President-Elect Donald Trump‘s transition team asking the federal government to change its position on the Wire Act. In 2011, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel released the opinion that the act only applied to sports betting. This ultimately paved the way for states to legalize and regulate other forms of online gambling.
The letter implored the Trump administration to help spearhead legislation reaffirming that the Wire Act covers online gambling. A move that would make online gambling illegal across the US.
This time, a source in Gov. Sandoval’s office confirmed Laxalt acted without consulting the Governor.
Then-Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman AG Burnett said he is “disappointed Mr. Laxalt didn’t consult with his clients on this,” adding that online gambling has been a regulatory success in the state.
Laxalt and Adelson
Not surprisingly, no one has made more contributions to the Laxalt campaign than anti-online gambling zealot and the man behind RAWA, Las Vegas Sands Corporation founder, chairman and chief executive officer Sheldon Adelson.
Prior to the Republican primary this year, Las Vegas Sands Corporation casinos donated $30,000 to the Laxalt campaign. In Laxalt’s 2014 campaign for Attorney General, he reportedly received $210,222 from gambling and casino interests. Some $40,000 of that money came from Adelson and those associated with him. Laxalt even received a $5,000 donation from Adelson’s daughter.
State Treasurer Dan Schwartz, who ran against Laxalt in the Republican primary, suggested throughout the campaign that Laxalt is in Adelson’s pocket.
Laxalt asked Burnett to intervene in a civil lawsuit between Adelson and former Sands executive Steven Jacobs in 2016. The Deputy Attorney General had already asked Burnett not to. Burnett secretly recorded his conversations with Laxalt and turned the recordings over to the FBI. The FBI ultimately decided Laxalt’s actions were not criminal.
The lawsuit, which surrounded Adelson’s efforts to gain leverage on gaming officials in Macau, ended with a $75 million settlement for Jacobs.
Laxalt and others accused Burnett of colluding with Nevada Democrats to attack him. Burnett stepped down in November 2017.
The upcoming election
Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak, 64, won the Democratic primary in June. He will take on Laxalt in an election expected to primarily focus on the issue of education funding.
The Nevada Independent conducted a poll in April pairing Laxalt and Sisolak as gubernatorial candidates. Sisolak won by six points.
However, Laxalt may find a way to continue the Republican’s dominance in the state. If he does, Nevada’s fledgling legal and regulated online poker industry could very well be in his post-election crosshairs.