WASHINGTON (AP) — Three Republican governors who weren't invited to GOP super donor Sheldon Adelson's political gathering in Las Vegas this week are nonetheless trumpeting their agreement with him against Internet gambling.
Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Nikki Haley of South Carolina have submitted letters in recent days to congressional leaders stating that gambling in the virtual world compromises the ability of states to control gambling within their borders. Weeks earlier, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana wrote that he would do everything he could to stop Internet gambling from spreading in his state.
Each of the governors' missives is highlighted on the website for the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, an advocacy group that Adelson, an 80-year-old casino magnate, helped bankroll. The trio has something else in common: All are possible candidates in the 2016 presidential election. And as it happens, Adelson is casting for a presidential candidate on whom to shower his millions of dollars in campaign cash. In 2012, Adelson almost single-handedly bankrolled the group behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Two years before the next presidential election, he invited other prospective 2016 candidates to his Venetian resort and casino for an event hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition. The guests included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
"I'm going to see him tonight for sure," Bush said of Adelson as he hurried from an engagement at a Las Vegas school on Thursday. He was scheduled to speak at an evening event for GOP donors, none more prolific than Adelson.
The debate over online gambling has divided the political class and Las Vegas' casino industry. While Adelson is a staunch opponent, other casino leaders support what they view as an inevitable shift that could bring billions of dollars in new profits.
The American Gaming Association, the nation's largest gambling trade group, recently hired President Barack Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, to help build support for online gambling. Association CEO Geoff Freeman penned an op-ed earlier in the year noting that Americans spent $3 billion on "illegal, unregulated offshore gaming sites" last year before any states legalized online gambling.
A shift to legalize the practice, he says, would help control the black market and give states access to new jobs and tax revenue. Meanwhile, the three governors made very public their positions on Internet gambling in a way Adelson is likely to know about them.
The letters from Perry, Haley and Jindal preceded the introduction Wednesday of legislation in both chambers of Congress to ban most forms of online gambling. In December 2011, the Justice Department said that only sports betting is barred by a federal law known as the Wire Act, reversing years of precedence. So far, only Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada have established Internet gambling since that opinion was released. California, Mississippi and others are considering joining them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"Congress needs to step in now and call a timeout," Perry and Haley wrote in their letters. "Allowing Internet gaming to invade the homes of every American family, and to be piped into our dens, living rooms, workplaces and even our kids' bedrooms and dorm rooms, is a major decision," they added. "We must carefully examine the short- and long-term social and economic consequences before Internet gambling spreads."
Jindal beat Perry and Haley to the punch last month with an opinion piece saying "that putting a casino in the pocket of practically every American will exploit society's most vulnerable, threatening to saddle the poor and disadvantaged with spiraling debt."
A spokeswoman for Perry said the governor has not discussed Internet gambling with Adelson. "Gov. Perry has long been opposed to expanding the footprint of any gambling in Texas," the governor's spokeswoman, Lucy Nashed, said in an email.
Haley still has an election for governor to get through this year before talking presidential politics. Her staff pointed out previous times she had voiced opposition to gambling. "Gov. Haley has long opposed expanding gambling of any kind in South Carolina and this effort is no different," spokesman Doug Mayer said. "This is about the Obama administration reinterpreting decades' worth of legal precedent, and South Carolinians deserve to have a change of this magnitude debated and decided by their elected representatives - not forced upon them by a lawyer."
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Las Vegas contributed to this report.