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July 6, 2015

Nevada is an important state for 2016 presidential candidates, and the casino lobby is trying to make sure its industry is considered important too.

Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, recently sent a letter to candidates arguing that because Nevada is a key battleground state, presidential hopefuls need to recognize the contributions of the state’s most dominant industry if they want to succeed here.

Freeman urged the presidential candidates to consult with people who understand gaming and to make appearances at gaming facilities.

“As you travel to other key presidential states, you will quickly realize that gaming is no longer a niche, novel industry, but a nationwide, quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar industry that is supporting more than half a million jobs in the key states of Iowa, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” Freeman wrote.

Most tellingly, Freeman ended his letter by warning candidates his group planned to create a voter guide for casino employees so they know exactly how the next potential commander in chief feels about the industry.

The implication was clear: If presidential candidates aren’t favorable to casinos, the millions of workers supported by the industry will know it, and that could influence their vote.

So where do the candidates stand?

Jeb Bush (R)

The former Florida governor has publicly opposed the growth of gambling in his state. In 1999, for example, he saidexpanding gambling “goes against what I think ultimately is the right solution, which is to change our culture away from a something-for-nothing attitude,” according to the Sun Sentinel. Bush fought a proposal to add slot machines in Miami-Dade County in 2005, and the website of the group No Casinos, which opposes gambling expansion in Florida, lists Bush as a member of its statesmen’s council.

Lincoln Chafee (D)

As governor of Rhode Island, Chafee in 2013 helped celebrate the addition of table games to his state’s Twin River casino. In 2014, he signed legislation calling for a ballot measure to add table games to the Newport Grand slots parlor. Chafee said he supported casino gambling in Newport to generate revenue and defend against competition from Massachusetts, the Providence Journal reported. The measure failed.

Chris Christie (R)

The gaming industry is a priority in Christie’s state — and not entirely in a good way. As governor of New Jersey, Christie has had to deal with intense economic struggles in Atlantic City, where four of the city’s 12 casinos closed in one year. To address the ongoing challenges, Christie brought in an emergency management team to figure out how to revive the city. And like Nevada, New Jersey has launched a regulated online gaming industry.

Hillary Clinton (D)

Casinos haven’t figured very prominently in the political life of Clinton, although in 1984 as first lady of Arkansas, she opposed a proposal to bring casinos to the state. In more recent years, however, she seems to have taken a more favorable view. In 2000, she supported casino development plans in New York, and she recently spoke with members of a casino workers union while in Las Vegas for a campaign stop.

Ted Cruz (R)

The Texas senator made critical remarks about casinos in 2014, but they were used mainly to attack Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who was Senate majority leader at the time. Cruz lambasted the public-private program Brand USA, which intends to attract international tourists, as being designed to help casinos in Reid’s home state. “Last I checked, casinos were very profitable endeavors that didn’t need the taxpayers helping them out, didn’t need the Congress serving your hard-earned dollars and handing it out to promote casinos,” Cruz said, according to Roll Call. Cruz also apparently sought the support of Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson, a fierce opponent of online gaming.

Lindsey Graham (R)

The South Carolina senator twice has pushed legislation to ban online gaming nationwide. Graham’s most recent version of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act, introduced in June, includes fellow presidential hopeful Marco Rubio as a co-sponsor. It is backed by Adelson, whose brother is part of the Graham campaign’s finance team.

Mike Huckabee (R)

On his television program last year, the former Arkansas governor hosted a segment devoted to the perils of online gaming. He said Internet gambling sites “are preying on every kid with a smartphone or a tablet” and that net gaming was “one of the most important topics that I don’t hear anybody talking about.” Huckabee even suggested those who don’t support an online gaming ban should be removed from office.

Bobby Jindal (R)

Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, has voiced intense opposition to online gaming, signaling he wouldn’t allow his state — which has casinos — to legalize it. “Those who want to bring casinos into America’s living rooms say, ‘Trust us, it’s safe for kids.’ … I don’t trust them, and neither should the people of Louisiana,” Jindal said, according to the Washington Post. The Times-Picayune reported that Jindal’s administration supported using unclaimed gambling winnings to finance medical exams for survivors of sexual assault.

John Kasich (R) *Hasn’t announced but is likely to run

While the Ohio governor was in Nevada recently, political journalist Jon Ralston asked him about casinos during a television interview. Ralston questioned Kasich about a report that he wanted his state’s casinos to pay more taxes, despite the fact that Ohio already has one of the country’s highest casino tax rates. Kasich said he’s not opposed to gaming but that casinos “needed to pay their fair share to the state.” He said he reached a “good agreement” with the casino industry and “things are fine” now. 

Martin O’Malley (D)

Even though as mayor of Baltimore he said slot machines were “a pretty morally bankrupt way” to boost education funding, O’Malley brought casinos to Maryland when he was governor. He ended a fight over gambling in the state Legislature by putting the issue before voters, who approved the development of casinos. Still, he isn’t an enthusiastic casino backer: The Washington Post noted that when the Horseshoe Baltimore opened in 2014, O’Malley appeared “decidedly unenthusiastic” while welcoming VIPs.

George Pataki (R)

As governor of New York, Pataki supported gambling, and in 2001, The New York Times called him “perhaps the most pro-gambling governor the state has ever had.” But when it comes to online gambling, he’s certainly among the most opposed. Pataki served as one of the co-chairs of the Adelson-backed Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.

Rand Paul (R)

Paul, a Kentucky senator and noted libertarian, hasn’t made a huge deal about casino-related issues. But he did make it clear he did not support restricting gambling on the Internet. “The government needs to stay out of that business,” he told the Alpha Pages. After reports surfaced suggesting Adelson may spend money to defeat Paul’s presidential ambitions, Paul met with Adelson and Adelson’s wife and said “they assured me there was no truth to that.”

Rick Perry (R)

Last year, while the former Texas governor still was in office, he sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to ban online gaming. “When gambling occurs in the virtual world, the ability of states to determine whether the activity should be available to its citizens and under what conditions … is left subject to the vagaries of the technological marketplace,” he wrote, according to the Hill newspaper. Perry has also received political support from Adelson and Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta III of Station Casinos, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Marco Rubio (R)

Like Bush, Rubio has a record of critical remarks about gambling that date back to his days as a state politician in Florida. In June, he signed on to a Senate bill that would ban gambling on the Internet. Asked whether his support was intended to win the favor of Adelson, the Florida senator dismissed the suggestion. Noting his “long history of opposing the expansion of gambling,” Rubio said he believed “for the most part, especially that kind of gambling is a tax on the poor and does little to develop the economy,” The Washington Post reported. Political observers have speculated Rubio is a front-runner for Adelson’s support.

Bernie Sanders (D)

Sanders’ most widely noted remarks about gambling don’t have much to do with casinos. He notably said the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation “did not end much of the casino-style gambling” on Wall Street. Ridiculing the rich and powerful is one of Sanders’ defining traits. When he was in Las Vegas recently, he sharply criticized Adelson during a rally with more than 700 attendees at Treasure Island.

Rick Santorum (R)

In 2012, the last time the former Pennsylvania governor ran for president, Santorum said he didn’t support online gaming. His stance was based on moral grounds; he said it was dangerous for the country. Santorum also opposed expanding brick-and-mortar casinos, suggesting they were better off confined to Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

Donald Trump (R)

Trump arguably understands the gaming industry better than any other candidate. After all, his name is emblazoned on buildings in the country’s two main gambling cities. He founded Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, now called Trump Entertainment Resorts, which runs the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. His name also is on the off-Strip Trump hotel in Las Vegas.

Scott Walker (R) *Hasn’t announced but is likely to run

This year, Walker used his authority as governor of Wisconsin to quash a proposal to build a casino in his state. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Walker said there were “more than a hundred million reasons” the casino plan had to be rejected. Walker has been criticized for suggesting as a state politician in 1999 that gambling donations be banned, then accepting money from Adelson when running for governor.

Candidates with no clear record on casinos

Ben Carson (R)

Carly Fiorina (R)


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