PlayUSA Rewind: Sheldon Adelson Deploys Lobbyists In Texas

Posted on December 3, 2020 - Last Updated on December 30, 2020

As we approach the end of 2020, we are left wondering, “What else could possibly happen?” Virginia, once a completely antigambling state, has transformed overnight. Could there be other dominos to fall? What other secrets is the commonwealth hiding from the world?

Is it possible to have even more unexpected phenomena happen in 2021?

The answer could be yes.

On this week’s rewind, billionaire Sheldon Adelson prepares to deploy lobbyist troops in Texas — yes, Texas! Plus, Virginia moves up its online sports betting timeline, and Illinois casinos embrace iGaming.

On the rewind:

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson hires lobbyists in Lone Star State

Once upon a time, Virginia was as conservative about gambling as Texas continues to be. But economic budgets needed to be filled, and neighboring states around Virginia continued to embrace things like sports betting. And thus, tax dollars continued to leave the commonwealth.

But now, the winds are shifting. Casino executives around the US are noticing this trend of legalizing alternative forms of gambling and pouncing on the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. Billionaire Sheldon Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation and arguably one of the most powerful gaming executives in the world, is no exception.

According to Kxan, Adelson has hired eight influential lobbyists ahead of the upcoming legislative session in Texas. On top of this rather peculiar move, Adelson and his wife also donated $4.5 million to Republican campaigns for the state House during the 2020 cycle.

Now, I’m no political strategist, but I have seen similar things happen in other states that didn’t have casinos or sports betting, and now they do.

Democratic State Rep. Joe Deshotel has proposed a constitutional amendment to authorize casino gambling, and as we know, Adelson is a casino forward thinker.

The only downside is that Texas lawmakers meet once every two years. And so the chess match begins.

It’s probably also important to note that Adelson recently began to explore selling his two signature Las Vegas casinos, the Venetian and Palazzo (plus their attached Sands Expo Convention Center) for around $6 billion.

The takeaway: Campaign donations are not a sign of things to come. Companies have pumped millions of dollars into states like Florida and California and have seen zero returns. But as the casino industry becomes less taboo, things of this nature stand out. Adelson has significant political influence and, although not a silver bullet, the gaming industry has proven to be a constant stream of tax revenue. Perhaps Texas is taking notice.

Virginia sports betting could arrive in early 2021

It feels like only yesterday that sports betting was legalized in the commonwealth, and now it could potentially arrive in early 2021.

Kevin Hall, executive director of the Virginia Lottery, told the Herald Courier that the Lottery expects to be in a position to issue online sports betting licenses by 2021.

“We are now reviewing the applicants, and we will conduct background and suitability checks within the 90-day time frame specified in the statute,” Hall said.

Much like in Tennessee, the legislation permits sports betting only through online platforms. However, the five recently approved casinos are guaranteed one of the 12 sports betting licenses.

But much like March Madness, not everyone gets an invite to the big dance.

The VA lottery received 25 applications, meaning 18 companies will be on the outside looking in.

The takeaway: Virginia appears to know the benefit of launching online sports betting before some of the biggest sporting events take place. The Super Bowl tends to be the single most wagered-on event every year. Now that college basketball is back, and given the state’s rich basketball history, March Madness could also provide ample betting opportunities.

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Casinos support iGaming in Illinois

Our last story involves the state of Illinois, but this time, it’s not about the most recent round of casino closures.

Once lawmakers return to Springfield in early January, there will be a pair of gaming measures primed and ready for discussion, the first being eliminating in-person registration for mobile sports betting accounts and the second the legalization of iGaming.

Many have wondered why Gov. JB Pritzker continues to extend his executive order permitting remote registration and simply does not make it law. The answer is simple: He does not have the authority to do so. Only the state legislature can make laws.

Legalizing iGaming might be a bit tougher.

There are several groups that could oppose online casino games, most notably the video gaming industry, which accounts for 37,459 machines spread across the state.

The takeaway: The appetite for both gaming measures has to be there. Illinois has a budget mess that surpasses the Sears Tower, or whatever it’s called now. There are other high-profile issues floating around IL — cough Madigan cough — that might be first in line. So there is a chance that both of these issues could be pushed to the bottom of the list. However, Pritzker’s progressive agenda of legalizing sports betting and marijuana is a good start. So don’t count these things out just yet.

Nicholaus Garcia Avatar
Written by
Nicholaus Garcia

Nick has had stints in Chicago, writing about local politics, and in Washington, D.C., covering the expanding gambling industry. Now back in Chicago, he continues to write about the emerging sports betting market with a focus on the Midwest. Originally from West Texas, he graduated from Texas Tech University and completed his master's degree in journalism at Columbia College Chicago.

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