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Policy: Law

A casino mogul and Baptists team up against online gambling

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Politics,Timothy P. Carney,Columnists,Gambling,Campaign Finance,Lindsey Graham,Law,Technology,Sheldon Adelson,Internet

Lindsey Graham is a Southern Baptist. Last month, the senator from South Carolina proposed gambling legislation that was written by a lobbyist for casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who was raising money for Graham's reelection in South Carolina -- where two-thirds of Republican primary voters identify as evangelical or born-again Christians.

The Southern Baptist Convention, through its resolutions, has condemned gambling as “immoral,” “harmful,” and “devastating.” In the words of a 1996 resolution, the SBC has “frequently stated its opposition to the gambling industry.”

If it looks a bit hypocritical to fight against gambling with gambling money, it's nothing new.

So, naturally, a reporter asked Graham about this Adelson-crafted bill. “I would say that Sheldon has aligned himself with most Baptists in South Carolina,” Graham replied. And he was right. The Baptists and the casino magnate are on the same side: They want to ban Internet gambling. It's a classic tale of how regulation and the political economy work to expand government and help big businesses with political connections.

The Graham-Adelson alliance echoes a parable told by economist Bruce Yandle called "The Baptist and the Bootlegger." The central figure in Yandle's story was an early-20th century Southern politician seeking a winning issue and a source of campaign funds. So he took up Prohibition, which brought the Baptist preacher onboard his campaign. It also earned the financial backing of the illegal rumrunners, who needed Prohibition to shut down their competitors: bars and legitimate liquor stores.

Adelson, like Yandle’s bootlegger, is using anti-gambling sentiment to boost his gambling profits. Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands corporation, one of the leading casino companies in the world. Internet gambling competes with casino gambling. While other casino companies have found ways to profit from Internet gambling, Adelson is trying to kill online gaming — using government.

“My moral standard compels me to speak out on this issue," Adelson says. "I don't see any compelling reason for the government to allow people to gamble on the Internet.” And the mogul is using some proverbial Baptists as foot soldiers for his cause. Adelson launched the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which employs former senators and governors and runs ads warning that terrorists could use Internet poker to launder money.

Las Vegas Sands has beefed up its K Street roster, hiring the lobbying firm run by former Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln. The first salvo in this fight were the bills introduced by Graham and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in March. One of Sands' lobbyists -- Darryl Nirenberg, then at Patton Boggs, now at Steptoe & Johnson -- wrote the first draft of the bill, The Hill reported.

In April, Adelson and his wife Miriam hosted a Las Vegas fundraiser for Graham, who faces conservative primary challengers in his bid for re-election.

So Graham gets both the big money and the moral high ground. If it looks a bit hypocritical to fight against gambling with gambling money, it’s nothing new.

Infamous Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pulled this same trick. In 2002, the Louisiana Coushatta tribe hired Abramoff to block the nearby Jena Band of Choctaws from opening a casino because the Coushattas feared it would compete with their own casino.

So Abramoff brought in Ralph Reed, founder of the Christian Coalition, to campaign against the Jena’s new casino. Reed created the Committee Against Gambling Expansion, which brought in dozens of pastors to rail against the new casino — all on the dime of a competing casino.

Whenever you see someone pushing a regulation for the environment, children or public health, it’s a good idea to sniff out the bootlegger funding the campaign.

Natural gas moguls Aubrey McClendon and T. Boone Pickens gave to the Sierra Club and the liberal Center for American Progress, respectively, to fund those groups' campaigns against coal.

Citizens for Health, a Washington-based non-profit, bankrolled its recent campaign against corn syrup with money from the Sugar Association.

Democratic lobbyist Steve Ricchetti (now a “counselor” to Vice President Joe Biden) ran a group in 2005 called Coalition for American Priorities, which supported the estate tax as a “moral” issue. The life insurance lobby bankrolled the coalition. The estate tax creates demand for the estate-planning tools life insurers sell.

When the group Women in Government pushed Texas Gov. Rick Perry to mandate the HPV vaccine, WIG was funded by Merck, which sold the vaccine.

Adelson’s Baptist-and-bootleggers play is getting more negative attention than these ploys normally do. Maybe it’s because Adelson is a top GOP donor. Part of it is a well-funded effort by other casinos — who support Internet gambling — to spread the word about Adelson’s role.

Indeed, a casino mogul and a Baptist teaming up catches the eye — but it’s standard fare in Washington.

Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.
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