How Sheldon Adelson’s Death Could Affect Online Gaming Laws

Sheldon Adelson was one of the largest Republican donors in the last decade. His large donations began in 2012 after the Citizens United ruling in 2010. Republican 2016 candidates tried to win him over during their 2016 presidential runs, but Trump won the money. Adelson was not only the largest Republican donor in the 2012 elections. He was also the single largest donor to Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. In a party that depends on megadonors, Adelson’s absence will be felt.

However, his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, was as involved in political donations as her husband. In fact, she was likely the driving force behind his political involvement. Between her political leanings and her stake in the casinos, she’ll likely continue the political donations.

One of her views is likely opposition to online sports betting. Sheldon Adelson already influenced the Trump Department of Justice’s Wire Act 2019 opinion. (We’ll explain that in a minute.) But since he was a land-based casino magnate, defending his retail sportsbooks was probably top of mind. But Dr. Adelson’s stake in the casinos is four times higher than Sheldon Adelson’s. It’ll likely remain a priority for her political giving.

Sheldon Adelson’s Anti-Online Gaming Influence

Sheldon Adelson owned hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, Singapore, and Macau. It’s a massive empire worth many billions of dollars. In his life, Adelson protected that empire by retaining every advantage. That meant keeping gambling at his casinos and not on every smartphone within 1,000 miles. He fought against online gambling laws, and he had a great ally in President Trump.

In 2011, the Obama DOJ issued an opinion that decided the Wire Act only applied to sports betting. No sports wager information could cross state lines. But in 2019, the Trump DOJ broadened the Wire Act’s applicability. Instead of only applying to sports betting, the Trump DOJ’s opinion included all online gambling. Online lotteries and online poker were all endangered by the new opinion. Federal prosecutors could’ve charged gambling companies for sending information that had been legal for eight years across states. It was an aggressive move against online gambling companies.

But the man behind it wasn’t former Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It was Sheldon Adelson. That stunning legal reversal can be traced all the way back to a 2017 memo written by one of Adelson’s lobbyists. That’s the kind of influence the Republican megadonor had. His arm reached all the way to his favored candidate’s Department of Justice.

And Dr. Miriam Adelson will likely have the same reach.

Why Megadonors Are Critical To The Republican Party–To Their Detriment

Republicans run on tax cuts for the wealthy. So, they attract wealthy donors who stand to profit from reduced tax rates. In the wake of Citizens United, super PACs overwhelmingly favored Republican candidates. The Republican party came to rely on the massive influx of cash. And for a while, it worked. They out-earned Democrats easily.

But that’s begun to change. While Republicans rely on their megadonors, the Democrats have begun to successfully leverage online donations.

How Grassroots Donations Are Finally Funding The Democratic Party

While Republicans rely on megadonors, grassroots campaigns fuel Democratic campaigns. Democrats have had a grassroots fundraising portal for their websites since 2004. They’ve had a decade and a half to build their base of contributions up. Republicans only created their equivalent grassroots fundraising portal in 2019. They’re 15 years behind, and it’s beginning to show.

The 2020 election cycle was characterized by fundraging. Angry Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans gave what money they had to Democrats in tight races. Fury helped Democrats win back Congress and the presidency, which is a force that Republicans haven’t learned to leverage yet.

What About QAnon?

Casual political analysts may think QAnon is a grassroots movement. However, it’s fueled by a few powerful influencers. A few influential accounts create content that gets repeated by many followers. Take those influential accounts out, and QAnon crumbles. Only a few accounts are important.

In contrast, each individual is equally important in grassroots movements. Every grassroots member either:

  • Gives a similar amount of money.
  • Has a similar amount of influence in the movement.

Grassroots movements gain influence as they grow–and they have a lot of room to grow. Both these strengths allow grassroots movements to win against megadonors in the long run. It’s not a guarantee of victory. But it is a long-term advantage that megadonors lack.

What Does This Have To Do With Online Sports Betting?

Miriam Adelson is likely to continue her political contributions. Based on reports from her associates, she was the driving force behind Sheldon Adelson’s donations, anyway. She’ll likely become the prominent public figure that her husband was. That means Republican candidates who depend on her money will likely have to bend on online sports betting–among other issues, of course.

But despite her ability to give, Democrats have angry grassroots movements demanding change and donating accordingly. If the people in those grassroots communities want sports betting legalized, they can out-raise Republican megadonors now. The willingness to legalize sports betting will vary by community. But as Republicans kick their dependence on megadonors, super PACs and the megadonors behind them will lose influence. Megadonors won’t disappear. But grassroots supporters will compete for elected officials’ attention, diluting megadonor influence.

Sheldon Adelson’s death isn’t the biggest obstacle to anti-online sports betting donors. The Democrats’ ability to outraise Republican megadonors is the greater threat. Republicans will have to invest in grassroots fundraising to catch up to the army of angry Democratic donors. When Republicans secure grassroots supporters, they’ll have to balance megadonor priorities against the masses. Dr. Adelson’s continued influence may keep policies against online gaming front and center. But the party will likely grow away from her and other megadonors as Republicans find new ways to finance their campaigns.

Long-Term Predictions

In the long run, online sports betting will be a state and local issue. The Adelson’s casino empire won’t be able to stop online gaming forever. They’ve been beaten before on far more consequential issues than online gambling. If Democrats maintain their 2020 momentum, then Republicans will have to master grassroots political campaigns to compete politically.

Don’t expect drastic changes in 2024 or even 2028. But watch for the trend away from Republican megadonors and toward grassroots movements. Watch for anti-online gambling advocates to lose influence over time. Prepare for local communities to drive decisions about online gaming in both parties.

About the Author

Chris Gerlacher

Christopher is a sports betting enthusiast and online gaming expert from Colorado Springs.