Apparently there’s no avoiding what has become the story of the day: Sheldon Adelson‘s $5 million dowry to presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich. It’s a gift that comes with a substantial pre-nup; if Gingrich falters in South Carolina, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS (past nemeses of Sen. Harry Reid [D-NV]) will pull the purse strings taut and probably go shopping for another blushing bride. That’s a scenario which is more likely than not, for one simple reason: Adelson has a craptacular track record when it comes to backing winning candidates. Most of his Cinderellas turn into pumpkins on or (often) well before Election Night. Personally, I’d expect the sanctimonious Adelson (see below) to support “an authoritarian, sexist douche” — as a Ron Paul supporter characterized an opposing candidate — but one neocon is as good as another, I guess. Either way, he’s bankrolling a movie (clips available here) depicting Mitt Romney as the Tom Barrack of politics, a man who turns to ashes every business he touches.
Depending on your perspective, Adelson’s line of attack against Romney is about time or merely too late to do any damage. Sheldon and his Crossroads crew plan to hammer Romney on his background in … wait for it … private equity. Now, those are two words tantamount to profanity in some gaming circles after PE firms went on a rampage through the casino industry, demolishing jobs by the thousands and corporate worth by billions. After overpaying for certain assets (Harrah’s Entertainment, Station Casinos, the former Carl Icahn portfolio, etc.) and then crashing them and/or getting their clocks cleaned, PE vultures came through for a second swoop, feasting on such carrion as The Palms, the Tropicana of Las Vegas, Hooters Casino Hotel and Aliante Station, which was essentially deeded to some predatory lenders in lieu of foreclosure.
Mind you, Romney had nothing to do with that casino carnage and his track record at Bain Capital, however baneful, is very, very old news to those of us who have followed his career since his unsuccessful Massachusetts senatorial run in 1994. Were it not for some recondite philosophical difference between Adelson and Romney, the former would doubtless be applauding the latter’s slash-and-burn business practices. I mean, if one were choosing the casino owner in town of whom it could be said he “comes in and destroys everything that we ever worked for,” Adelson would get quite a few accusatory fingers pointed his way. Just ask the people who used to work at Allyn Masonry and Saffles Construction.
Sheldon pioneered the build-megaresort/stiff-subcontractors business model in Las Vegas, a practice that wrought such economic havoc that the Nevada Legislature actually rewrote state law to ensure that nobody ever pulls that caper again. As for the wreckage private-equity firms have left across Vegas, Adelson hasn’t had a beef with it … until now, conveniently. Back in ’06, when some of us knew in our bones that Harrah’s, Station and Wall Street had to be collectively (if metaphorically) snorting coke by the shoveful and warned of potentially dire LBO consequences, Adelson was mum to a fault. For that matter, it takes some nerve to promulgate footage of empty or unfinished buildings while the St(ump) Regis stands idle and Sands Bethlehem is still unfinished, 2.5 years after its “grand opening.” And let’s not even start with the comp-sweating Adelson’s borderline-sleazy business dealings in the Far East, ones that currently have him embroiled in both litigation and investigation. At any rate, when it comes to wreaking havoc on free enterprise, Adelson is no slouch. Wouldn’t it be nice if his flier into independent filmmaking blew up in his face?
Speaking of authoritarian douche-iness, at which he is also no slouch, Adelson recently made headlines when tried to jam up his rivals — mainly Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming — by opposing legalization of online poker. He’d worked behind the scenes in late 2010 to sandbag Reid’s attempt to push it through during the waning weeks of his supermajority, a shambolic effort by Old Sixty Votes that probably would have failed even without sub rosa agitation by Adelson or anyone else. The B.S. got particularly thick and cloacal when the Las Vegas Review-Journal caught wind of the Las Vegas Sands CEO spreading word on Capitol Hill that he was “morally opposed” to online gambling. The headline item probably should have been Adelson admitting to having moral scruples, period — ones which aren’t offended, however, by people losing money on the floors of his casinos. But online? Quel horreur!!
This time, however, Adelson found himself pissing into the wind. While it was predictable that Rep. Shelley Berkely (D-NV) would publicly blow Sheldon off, so did Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV, right). And since Sands has only deigned to invest in one state other than Nevada, if its pasha is having trouble finding receptive ears locally, I can think of 48 states whose representatives probably couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about Sheldon’s moral opprobrium either. Anyway, for all Adelson’s sulking and pouting, the train has left the station without him. It’s every state for itself and Adelson has been loath to invest anything other than hot air in the Land of the Free lately, even in places like Florida and Massachusetts where he’s been pushing casino legalization for years. If the dike hasn’t officially broken, it soon will. What are the odds Sheldon will pull his thumb out, grab a bucket and try to get a pailful of that same $35 billion torrent in which he so recently spat? (Mind you, Adelson’s not the only one looking foolish: After fatuously predicting imminent federal action — seemingly since the dawn of mankind — Gary Loveman can now only sniff that state-by-state legalization is “far less rational” than doing things his way.)
Pace Bob Dylan, you may not need a weather man to tell you which way the wind is blowing, but Adelson might want to put a meteorologist or two on the payroll.
What happens in Vegas … becomes presidential-campaign fodder, at least if you helped one of your buddies cover up a little hide-the-salami in Sin City.