In Nevada, the political heavyweights are slugging it out in 2020 election

In Nevada, the political heavyweights are slugging it out in 2020 election

  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports
September 23, 2020 11:30 PM
  • John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports

Campaign 2020 has me feeling a little out of breath.

It’s not just the coronavirus pandemic blues, or the nation crossing the awful threshold of 200,000 COVID-19-related deaths. It’s the daily slugfest taking place in the presidential race, and the role casino giants and related industry-dependent entities are playing that have me sprinting to keep up.

It’s no secret that Nevada is a laboratory for American politics at the highest level. Its importance far outweighs its six electoral votes. But the state represents different things to different people.

The Democrats want to paint it blue because in many ways it represents the face of the party itself. It’s also a plays that organized labor, most specifically UNITE-HERE’s Culinary Union Local 226, has a reputation for delivering the vote for Democrats. A close relationship with organized labor was an essential element former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s historic modernization of the state party. Culinary represents 60,000 workers, most of them punching clocks at the casino-hotels.

Culinary continues to work its voter canvassing and registration even as it made public its 2020 candidate endorsements this week. To little surprise, it’s the Democratic Party slate, but lest anyone wonder whether the arms of the rank-and-file will be twisted, the official announcement adds, “Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote or not is public. VOTE!”

It’s a formidable machine, and a voter registration advantage, but it’s not monolithic. Candidates still have to do the work, and in a wobbly new world of mask-wearing, social distancing, and high anxiety, some political observers will be left to wonder whether traditional retail campaigning will be effective, or even possible, as November rapidly approaches.

Culinary Workers Local 226 members marching in Las Vegas

If politics really were just a high-stakes poker game, casino titans and Republican Party mega-donors Sheldon and Dr. Miriam Adelson, Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta of Station Casinos, Treasure Island and Circus Circus owner Phil Ruffin, and former gaming mogul Steve Wynn would make just about anyone’s final table. Of the bunch, of course, the Adelsons – majority owners of Las Vegas Sands Corp. – play at a whole other level. And we’ve recently learned that they officially plan to put more contributions – $50 million, by multiple reports – behind the president with the clock ticking.

Following a contentious phone call between Trump and Adelson, which raised speculation that the casino magnate wasn’t going to go all-in for the man he helped make a king in 2016, Adelson advisor Andy Abboud assured the anxious that Sheldon and Miriam are “110-percent behind the president.”

As CNBC reported last week, the Las Vegas Sands CEO is prepared to spend from $20 million to $50 million to help Trump defeat former Vice President Joe Biden. Which isn’t chump change and will reportedly feed the coffers of Trump super PAC Preserve America. But in a campaign in which Biden has been mightily boosted financially by small donors and billionaires alike and has outraised Trump in the process, some are bound to wonder whether Adelson’s tighter grip on his checkbook is a sign of a shaken faith in the incumbent’s ability to pull off another victory.

Even the hearts of the avid Trump supporters in the casino industry had to skip a beat when it was reported, first in The New York Times, that the Trump campaign had managed to lose its $200 million financial advantage over Biden. Team Trump has spent more than $800 million of the $1.1 billion it’s raised since 2019, and the president continues to trail in most polls.

The president’s recent campaign stop in Southern Nevada, well attended but criticized nationally for the failure of many attendees to social distance, found him holding court in a Henderson machinery manufacturing warehouse. But if he pulls off a comeback in 2020 don’t be surprised if his Las Vegas casino pals set aside a day of celebration in his honor.

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.