Sheldon Adelson Has Less Influence in Pennsylvania Than You Think

Steve Ruddock March 6, 2015 778 Reads

With two bills and a scheduled hearing, Pennsylvania has jumped to the top of the “Candidates for Online Gambling Expansion” list, leapfrogging the quagmire that is California.

But there may be another reason an online gambling bill could pass in Pennsylvania this year, and ironically enough it has to do with online gambling’s biggest roadblock, Sheldon Adelson.

The prevailing notion Is that since Adelson owns a casino in Pennsylvania he would have a lot of sway in the state legislature, but his ownership of a casino is probably working against him when it comes to fighting online gambling expansion in the Keystone State.

Pennsylvania’s campaign finance laws

Pennsylvania has extremely strict campaign finance laws when it comes to in-state casino owners.

Under the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (section 1513); Pennsylvania casino owners are prohibited from contributing to candidates running for state offices, and this prohibition extends to donations made to political action committees (PAC’s) and political groups.

Adelson and his wife Miriam own 23% of the Sands Bethlehem Casino, with another 18.6% controlled by Adelson trusts according to Philly.com. With both listed as owners, neither Adelson is capable of contributing to candidates for office in Pennsylvania, be it a candidate for Governor or candidates for state representative/senate.

Because of this law there is a real barrier between casinos and state lawmakers, which is why Pennsylvania hasn’t found itself in the same type of situation California is facing, where, when it comes to gaming, legislators seem to be little more than extensions of the state’s more powerful gaming interests.

This campaign finance prohibition was something Adelson experienced firsthand in 2014 when he donated $1,000,000 to the Republican Governors Association PAC, which later transferred nearly the entire amount ($987,844) to the RGA’s Pennsylvania PAC.

While Adelson had no knowledge of which state his money was heading, this shows just how seriously Pennsylvania takes this law.

3 examples of Adelson’s limited influence in PA

In addition to the laws, there are other recent examples that clearly demonstrate Adelson’s lack of influence in Pennsylvania politics.

A May 2014 hearing in front of the House Democratic Policy Committee lacked any type of representative from the Sands Bethlehem Casino or Adelson’s anti-online gambling movement. The Committee did hear from representatives from Caesars and Parx Casino.

An Adelson representative, Andy Abboud, did appear at second online gambling hearing in the PA legislature in 2014. The hearing took place in front of the Senate Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee, but Abboud’s interchange with lawmakers was far from friendly, and his boss’s motives were overtly questioned when State Senator Randy Vulakovich, ended his comments with the rhetorical statement, “you’re against online gambling but you’re in the gaming industry… interesting.”

Another clear example was the introduction of a proposed bill by State Representative Mario Scavello that would have criminalized online gambling in the state. Not only was this bill quickly scrapped, the backlash it received caused at least one early supporter to abandon ship and  withdraw his support of the measure.

Is PA even in Adelson’s long-term plans?

Another interesting angle to this story are the on-again/off-again Sands Bethlehem sale rumors. These rumors have a lot of legs (Las Vegas Sands President and COO Michael Leven admitted as much in 2013) considering Sands Bethlehem is the company’s outlier.

Adelson’s empire was built on massive, resort-style casinos in destination locations (Macau and Las Vegas), while the Sands Bethlehem Casino sits in a fairly remote part near Pennsylvania’s border with New Jersey, and is little more than a converted slots parlor.

However, Sands Bethlehem is a revenue machine, perennially at, or near, the top of list of Pennsylvania’s highest revenue generating casinos.

Therefore, even if LVS is in fact shopping the casino around, they’re unlikely to unload it just for the sake of unloading it. However, Pennsylvania passing an online gambling bill might speed up the process.