Vegas Casino Mogul Death Bed Donation
Gives Glimpse on Texas Capitol Strategy

Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside
January 18, 2021

Former Las Vegas resident Sheldon Adelson - an international gaming magnate whose company is spearheading a resurrected push for casinos in Texas - had been too weak to give a deposition in a legal case two years ago as a result of deteriorating health that ended when he died last week.

But that didn't stop the GOP's number one donor in America from cutting a $25,000 check as a contribution before he died last week to Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan back in December when he was just another state representative.

While Adelson left the world the day before Phelan's election to the powerful leadership post, he probably would have been proud of the Beaumont lawmaker's ascension to the dais if he'd been around to witness it as one of the few bright spots for the Republicans in Texas or beyond far in 2021.

The donation to Phelan was tantamount to a fancy restaurant tip by Adelson standards compared to the $500,000 that he'd doled out to Texas Governor Greg Abbott the week before the general election in November in two separate payments. But the new speaker already owed Adelson a significant debt of gratitude for making the Texan's rise to power possible with millions of dollars that he poured last fall into the GOPs successful defense of its majority in the state Capitol's west wing last fall.

Adelson had contributed $15,000 to Republican Rick Perry when he was the governor in 2007. But Adelson didn't become a donor at the state level in Texas again until he gave Attorney General Ken Paxton $10,000 several days before the general election in 2018.

Adelson's sudden interest in Texas politics in his life's final stages doesn't appear to have been a coincidence with the company that his wife controls now on the verge of a full-court press at the statehouse in Austin for an expansion of gambling with the legalization of casinos like those he arguably built into the world's best.

The Las Vegas Sands Corporation is anchored by the luxurious Venetian and Palazzo resorts and casinos that are connected in a complex that's ranked as the second largest hotel in the world. The massive sister towers of gold on the Sin City strip were the only Vegas hotels that didn't lay workers off during the first four months of the coronavirus pandemic when Adelson appealed without success to his competitors there to do the same.

But they were built by gamblers who've had a Midas touch and are gambling big now on their ability to sell state lawmakers on major league casinos as a spark plug for a Texas economy in a world after the COVID-19 crisis.

The Sands has enlisted several dozen high-powered lobbyists for the Texas statehouse blitz on a team that Gavin Massingill is leading after a stint on Republican Dennis Bonnen's staff when he'd been the House speaker before passing the gavel to Phelan last week.

After planning to pitch casinos as a solution to a record state budget deficit, the Sands hasn't appeared to be daunted by a new state revenue forecast that's dramatically better than it had been in recent months.

The size of the individual contributions to Abbott and Phelan could be a sign of where the late tycoon's team thinks it needs to focus most at a Capitol where conservative Republicans had proven to be an insurmountable roadblock to casinos.

Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have been the most prominent obstacles in the eyes of gambling advocates in Texas. The key to casinos in Texas appears to be turning both of them.




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