When you wager in a casino along the Las Vegas Strip, you have to place your bet before the roulette wheel is spun, the dice are thrown or the slot machine arm is pulled.
The casinos themselves, though, play by different rules. They get to make bets after the outcome is determined. How else to explain the huge amount of “campaign” contributions that Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo received from casino operators following his narrow win in November for governor over Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak?
In the period from November 9–the day after Election Day–to December 31, Republican Lombardo received nearly $2 million in contributions, according to his report filed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. By my New to Las Vegas count, more than a quarter of that came from prominent Las Vegas casino interests–many making campaign contributions for the first time this election cycle.
This form of influence peddling–other than bribery, what else can it be called once the campaign is already over?–is legal under Nevada law, and probably the laws of most other states, too, and is nothing new. But in a unique economy like that of Las Vegas, where cheating at a game of chance is a felony carrying up to a five-year prison sentence, and can get someone banned from a facility for life, it seems downright unsporting to allow such late wagers.
The list of casino establishments (corporate giving is legal in Nevada state races) that coughed up the maximum $10,000 amount to Lombardo’s campaign after Sisolak conceded is a Who’s Who of the gambling elite here. Among them: Bally’s, Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts, Bellagio, Paris Las Vegas, Main Street Casino, Flamingo, Luxor, California Hotel, Mandalay Bay (from which a single gunman killed 60 and caused injuries to more than 800 others during a 2017 incident on Lombardo’s watch as sheriff), Venetian, Rio, Planet Hollywood, Fremont Hotel and Harrah’s. The many members of the Fertitta family behind a plethora of wagering establishments collectively coughed up more than $100,000.
Nevada law already acknowledges the corrosive influence of political contributions and their timing. According to the official State of Nevada Campaign Guide 2022, the governor and legislators “may not solicit or accept” campaign contributions within 30 days of the start or end of a regular legislative session. In Nevada the legislature regularly meets only in odd-numbered years for 120 days starting on the first Monday in February, so the ban on taking cash this year runs from January 7 to July 5.
That time frame would cover the period in which casino interests might ask Lombardo to veto any undesirable legislation passed by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. So it was important for the casinos to move sooner pursuant to their notions of good government, sound legislation–and maybe to secure access to ears.
To be fair, a lot of other important businesses or their political action committees got on the Lombardo bandwagon after his win. Among them: NV Energy (the statewide electric utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway), Union Pacific (which now owns the railroad that originally made Las Vegas), FedEx, Wells Fargo, Cox Communications (a local cable and Internet provider) and a host of special interest trade groups with matters before the state government. But the largess of the casino sector appears to have dwarfed everyone.
On the Strip, the house always has the advantage.