Contrary to some social media reports, Donald Trump has many friends but few are as supportive or as influential as Sheldon Adelson. The man who is said to have donated more than $25 million to the President and his party is a pivotal background figure in US politics.
But how did Adelson become so prominent, despite being so low profile?
Sheldon Adelson early life and success
Born in Boston in 1933, Sheldon Adelson began to make business breakthroughs in the growing computer industry of the late 1970s. He and his commercial partners were responsible for the pivotal COMDEX Trade Shows which ran from 1979 to 2003.
Those exhibitions took place in Las Vegas and, clearly, Sheldon Adelson must have been bitten by the vibe in this part of the world. In 1988, he was involved in a consortium that purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino – and this was where Adelson began to build his multi-billion dollar empire.
From there, Adelson has developed further interests in Vegas while building casinos in Pennsylvania, Macau and Singapore. In 2019, the veteran is also involved in the media but there is no doubt that he built his considerable fortune around the casinos of Las Vegas.
Throughout his business life, he has remained a staunch Republican and his many benevolent acts for the party include those huge donations to the Donald Trump administration.
Given that Adelson has done so well out of the gambling industry, you might assume he’d also be involved in innovating around the industry – taking a front seat in its evolution, like other entrepreneurs. But in fact, this couldn’t be much further from the truth.
A conservative figure in a changing landscape
Las Vegas has been among an isolated set of states that have embraced casino gambling in a country that has largely outlawed the practice. In the modern-day, however, that could be set to change.
The US is just starting to relax its strict attitude to sports betting across the country. In 2018, the US Supreme Court moved to overturn the earlier PASPA ruling that has effectively limited betting and gambling to just one lone state for the previous 25 years.
Slowly, the country has reacted with developments in states such as New Jersey where sports betting halls have been constructed in Atlantic City casinos. Sports teams have entered into commercial partnerships with gambling operators while the National Basketball Association (NBA), now has a betting partner.
In the new climate of acceptance, many feel the time is right to allow internet gambling across the US – but that doesn’t include Sheldon Adelson. He remains fiercely opposed to the suggestion and in 2019, he succeeded in forcing the Wire Act to clarify its position. The Department of Justice had previously stated that a law prohibiting bettors from transferring data from state to state would only apply to sports betting – not gambling at online casinos. In the present day, that law covers all internet gambling.
Why the strict stance against online gambling?
Many have questioned Sheldon Adelson’s vociferous opposition to online gambling in the US. In response, he’s claimed it’s a “moral issue” rather than a financial one.
“I’m in favor of gambling. I’m in favor of it as a form of entertainment. But I am not in favor of it exploiting the world’s most vulnerable people. I know I am a Republican and I am not supposed to be socially sensitive, but I am very socially sensitive,” he said.
However, many experts might look across the Atlantic for an example of an online gambling industry that’s both flourishing and responsible. In the UK, the online sector is thriving across the Atlantic – bringing in one-third of total gambling revenue.
And the reasons are clear, the benefits obvious – at least for players. Playing at an online offers so much flexibility and convenience for those involved. Unlike a brick and mortar casino, there is no need to dress up and you can just switch on your PC, laptop or mobile device and play in your pajamas if you really want to.
Online casinos also take away the hassle of queuing and, with fewer overheads, it’s also possible to provide a wider choice of games. And these games are of a high standard, with engaging slots and immersive live casino games among the titles you can enjoy playing online.
The benchmark among game developers has been set pretty high, with some games rivaling consumer-facing titles for their quality and speed. To get a sense of just how impressive today’s gambling sites really are, you might want to visit an online casino in the UK which is widely regarded as one of the best.
And to counter Adelson’s suggestion that online casinos are somewhat morally bankrupt, they have several measures in place to protect problem gamblers, include ‘take a break’ sessions, which give gamers the ability to lock themselves out of the casino site if they want to cut down the time they spend gaming – an equivalent that wouldn’t be afforded to them in land-based casinos.
Could it be that Sheldon Adelson is merely looking to shut down the opposition? It’s certainly true that the rise of online gambling in the UK has had an adverse effect on the bricks and mortar establishments across the country. There have been many closures while moves to build a number of so-called Super Casinos under the previous Labour government came to nothing.
Such a changed landscape in Las Vegas would clearly have a negative impact on Sheldon Adelson’s fortune. If the size of the black market is anything to go by, online gambling would be raking in at least $150 billion per year if it was legal. And inevitably, it would be taking away profit from land-based casinos, where Adelson’s interests lie.
How long will Adelson continue to be an influence?
As Sheldon Adelson is such a major donor to the Republican Party, there are obvious reasons as to why the Trump administration will need to keep him on-side. With the next Presidential Election due in 2020, we’re unlikely to see any changes in internet gambling laws before then and that’s a testament to Adelson’s influence.
In return, the endorsements received by the Republicans help to keep Sheldon Adelson’s profile high and they will, therefore, enhance his own business interests. The cynics will say that Adelson will never endorse internet betting purely because of his own personal concerns and maybe they are right.
Alternatively, a win for the Democrats in 2020 could change the landscape completely. In regions such as the UK, online sportsbook and casino play contributes to a growing industry.
Can the US continue to ignore such potential? The influence of Sheldon Adelson says they can – but an altered political climate may disagree in 2021 and beyond.