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Nevada Today

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Power Play: How One Casino Mogul Seeks to Call All the Shots in Nevada

Sheldon Adelson is not only the richest person in Nevada, but also one of the most powerful. He now has a direct line to the White House, the ears of a U.S. Senator and a potential future Governor, his own hometown newspaper that prints all the news he sees fit, and even major pull overseas. Let’s review Adelson’s incredible portfolio of power, from the news you’ve already heard something about to the power plays you haven’t even seen coming.

Adelson’s “shadow” of a campaign machine

A whole lot of ink has been spilled over the $30 million that Sheldon Adelson is pouring into the Congressional Leadership Fund to help House Republicans save their majority. It’s just another in a series of multi-million dollar donations Adelson has made over the years to Republican-aligned PACs and organizations. However, his political largesse doesn’t end there. For a more complete view of how his machine operates, let’s look closer to home.

Nearly a year ago, local media (myself included) looked into the murky waters surrounding a shadowy entity by the name of Secure Nevada’s Future that emerged at the very last minute of the Nevada Legislature’s 2017 session to torpedo legislation to strengthen the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS). It just so happened that Las Vegas Sands (Adelson’s gaming empire) and Wynn Resorts strongly opposed the RPS bill, and it just so happened that Secure Nevada’s Future was launched by people with close ties to Sands and Wynn.

Since the legislative session, Secure Nevada’s Future has become more of a well-rounded “shadow Republican Party”. Not only does their Facebook page promote President Trump’s agenda, but they’re also taking to local DMV’s to find conservative voters to turn out in the upcoming election. This is nothing new for Adelson and friends, but rather a sort of failsafe that allows them to work around a dysfunctional Nevada Republican Party to elect the candidates they want.

Who are the candidates Adelson wants, and why is he drawn to them?

Last year, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) landed himself in some piping hot water when he was caught trying to convince the Gaming Control Board to intervene on Adelson’s behalf in a lawsuit involving Las Vegas Sands’ rather shady business activities in Macau. Since then Laxalt continues to stand by his behavior, and he’s since formally announced his long awaited campaign to become Nevada’s next Governor. And not only has Laxalt refused to express any regret for his use of public office to benefit a private benefactor, but he continues to promote Adelson’s agenda (just look at their shared hatred of online poker) while benefiting from Adelson’s PAC money.

Well, at least we can say Laxalt has been consistent. U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R), on the other hand, had to shift gears and reinvent himself to return to Adelson’s good graces. Last June, he stood alongside Governor Brian Sandoval (R) in denouncing legislation to repeal Obamacare. But after Adelson and other Republican mega-donors complained about Heller obstructing Trump’s (and their) agenda, he not only voted for Trumpcare, but he boasted about legislation he supported to end the Medicaid expansion and derail the health insurance market that Sandoval and other state officials wanted to save.

Lesson learned? If one wants the pay, one needs to play, and clearly Dean Heller and Adam Laxalt are among the many politicians who are playing Adelson’s game. Just ask Donald Trump how that works.

A review of how Adelson’s journal promotes his causes

Over the past year, the Trump administration has officially reversed the long, careful, and bipartisan approach to Israel-Palestine policy by relocating the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which delighted hard-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while inflaming tensions in Gaza and the West Bank. While other media outlets around the world were covering Israeli military forces killing dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza, the Las Vegas Review-Journal bizarrely omitted any reports on the bloodshed in Gaza and international uproar over Trump’s approach to Middle East diplomacy… And instead placed an op-ed by Miriam Adelson (as in, Sheldon’s spouse) praising Trump’s actions on its front page.

This is nothing new for the state’s largest newspaper. When Adelson first bought the paper late in 2015, he tried to hide his purchase. After R-J reporters unmasked their new boss, Adelson became more aggressive in remaking the paper into his own public relations firm and driving uncooperative journalists out of R-J headquarters.

Today, the paper has essentially become a shell of its former self. Not only has it tended to promote Adelson’s foreign policy goals, but it’s also censored coverage of Adelson’s business affairs, promoted the $1 billion+ Raiders stadium subsidy deal that Adelson was originally involved in, and offered favorable coverage to politicians Adelson favors (such as Laxalt and Heller).

Why 2018 may be an incredibly pivotal year for Sheldon Adelson and the State of Nevada

Already Adelson holds immense clout in this state, in this nation, and even around the world. Still, this year holds the potential for Adelson to cement his place as a key Nevada powerbroker with this year’s election, especially the election for Governor. If Adam Laxalt could be caught using his authority to assist Adelson’s business and still get a promotion to even higher office, what would stop Laxalt from doing it again?

This right here illustrates the challenge in answering the question of whether it’s appropriate for one billionaire to have so much control over so much that’s happening in this state. Adelson already has an entire campaign apparatus and media outlet at his beck and call. What’s next? Now might be a good time to check recent history of North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Kansas to see what could happen here.

Cover photo by Christopher Tam, and made available by the U.S. Air Force.

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Comments (1)

  1. Managing editor

    Excellent work. Very informative. Thank you.

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