In Las Vegas, politics is recognized as the casino industry’s highest stakes game. Many of the online casino and Las Vegas strip’s biggest names, including Wynn Resorts, Red Rock Resorts and the Las Vegas Sands -- have ties to Republicans. Some influence their party of choice through donations while in others, executives engage in high-profile political involvement (i.e. Sheldon Adelson of the Las Vegas Sands).
In recent years, there’s been a significant population shift. Growing communities of Asians and Latinos are transforming Nevada politics, turning the traditionally conservative state in a more liberal direction. MGM Resorts International Chief Executive Office Jim Murren has spoken out about the issue, saying “On the issues we care deeply about at a corporate level -- diversity and inclusion, sustainability, community engagement -- we have found more of an alignment with the current Democratic officials.”
Murren is a registered Republican but says that he supports former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 primary race. In 2016 he endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In recent elections, Nevada has been a swing state. Now, Democrats are focusing their energies on turning it solidly blue. In 2016 Nevada was a Clinton state and the state supported Barak Obama in 2008 and 2012. The current governor is a Democrat and both Nevada U.S. Senators are Democrats. The Democratic party also holds three of the state’s four congressional districts as well as both houses of the state legislature.
Nevada’s presidential caucus is one of the first in the nation – it will be held in February 2020, third in the country after the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
While Sheldon Adelson’s connections with the Republican party attract the most notice, Nevada’s two largest employers have actually given more to the Democratic party and Democratic candidates than they’ve given to Republicans.
MGM International and Caesars Entertainment Corp have been big contributors to the Democratic party -- since 2009, MGM has donated $404,690 -- twice as much as it gave to Republicans. Almost $800,000 has been donated to the Democrats from Caesars, compared with donations totaling $449,821 for the GOP.
Casinos are definitely keeping their eye on the Democratic party’s successes in recent Nevada elections. The casinos see that state Democrats are increasingly aligning their policies and support of issues with the interests of the state’s gambling establishments.
Representative Dina Titus, whose district includes the Las Vegas Strip, said “You start talking about building walls and Muslim bans and that starts to cut into their growing market, which is based on international tourism.” Titus noted that the state’s population, along with the industry’s workforce, is changing rapidly and that, as a result, Las Vegas’ unions -- a potent force in Nevada -- are playing an ever-increasing role in state politics.
Sheldon Adelson’s support of the Republican party balances the shift towards the Democrats – he, along with his wife Miriam, have given $205.8 million to super-PACs that support Trump and Republican House and Senate candidates. The Las Vegas Sands, which Adelson runs, has channeled $344,132 to federal politicians since 2009 – almost all of it going to Republican candidates and conservative causes.
At Caesars Entertainment, the company is supporting both Republican and Democratic candidates who are in tune with casino operators’ interests. Richard Broome, executive vice president for communications and government relations at Caesars, noted that Caesars supported both Dean Heller, a GOP senator who lost his seat in the 2018 elections, and Republican Brian Sandoval, the former governor.
“We believe there’s strong recognition among all elected officials in Nevada of the importance of tourism, gaming and hospitality to the state’s economy and jobs,” Broome said. “We’re able to work effectively across both sides, and we’ve found that politicians on both sides are supportive of our issues.”
Susie Lee, a Democratic representative who represents a district located just south of Las Vegas, said she thinks Nevada is still potentially a swing state. “I don’t view what happened in 2018 as a sign that we are a completely blue state yet,” Lee said. “Nevada voters are not shy about switching votes if they believe there’s a candidate who’s going to deliver for them.”
Lee is still undecided about which Democratic candidate to support in next year’s elections. “I’m focused on who calls me and asks about the needs of my district,” she said. “When they call, they go up in my estimation.”
Murren, of MGM International, said that his company maintains a commitment to bipartisanship. This, despite the fact that his company seems to be tilting toward the Democrats in its campaign contributions. MGM recently hired former governor Sandoval as its president of global gaming development. In addition, the company funds a public policy institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Former House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, are co-chairs.
Sig Rogich. Rogich is a Las Vegas-based Republican political consultant who served as an aide to President George H.W. Bush says that Nevada is becoming bluer. This shift is a result of casinos’ responsiveness to demographic and other factors. Rogich believes that, like Nevada voters, the casinos are most closely attuned to politicians who share their interests.
“I don’t think the casinos are choosing sides, per se, but I do think they know who has their interests at heart,” Rogich said. “It’s mostly defined by how well their special interests have been met.”