More than a century later we still have the poor with us, of course, and the rich, not to mention the unspeakably super-duper-rich – many of whom comport themselves in ways that likewise provoke public concern, especially in an era of growing inequality and impoverishment.
National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason believes the time has come to revive a somewhat less charitable tradition that he and his late colleague, the great progressive journalist Jack Newfield, established at The Village Voice during an earlier era of avarice: “The Greediest Cases.”
This holiday season we will feature a series of profiles of America’s Greediest Cases, and we encourage readers to nominate deserving public figures in the worlds of business, government, media, entertainment, and sports who exemplify the grasping materialism and rank hypocrisy of our time.
No list of America’s greediest would be complete without the nation’s 11th richest man, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, who serves as chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, is worth an estimated $28.5 billion. While he has profited quite handsomely from gambling, however, he is not eager to share the wealth that the industry has bestowed upon him. That’s why a man who made more than $25 billion from casinos in the past three years alone has become the public face and the checkbook of the anti-online gaming lobby.
According to Adelson, gambling online — currently legal in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey, and being debated in at least a half-dozen other states — is “a societal train wreck waiting to happen.” That’s how the 80-year-old casino mogul described it in a June column for Forbes, in which he declared that “as a father, grandfather, citizen and patriot of this great country, I am adamantly opposed to the legalization and proliferation of online casino gaming.”
In that overwrought essay, Adelson lays out his moral opposition to the industry, terming it “a toxin which all good people ought to resist,” and warning that it could bring a “plague” to American society by allowing “underage children” or “people betting under the influence of drugs” to pick up gambling and ruin their financial futures. Of course, if this sounds like something that could also happen at one of Adelson’s brick-and-mortar casinos, that’s because it is.
Adelson insists that he could make even more money from online gambling — boasting that his popular brands “would be very effective competitors in this market place” — but it is simply not worth the moral cost.
This may be a good time to mention that Adelson earned the vast majority of his wealth through his casinos in Macau –where he allegedly gained licenses for those establishments with help from organized crime, and by using his vast political connections to kill congressional legislation that would have punished China for human rights abuses. It will always be difficult for Sheldon Adelson to claim the moral high ground, but on questions of gambling it is basically impossible. Instead, common sense suggests that Adelson is less concerned with protecting the poor addict who could “click [his] mouse and lose [his] house,” as he put it in his Forbes op-ed, and more concerned with exerting his influence on any reform that affects the gambling industry.
Even if Adelson’s motivations in his crusade against online gambling are pure, it’s not hard to find other reasons to include him among the “greediest cases.” After all, this is a man once sued by his own children, who alleged that he defrauded them by convincing them to sell him their shares in his company for just half of their true value (the younger Adelsons lost that case, although Adelson also lost a motion attempting to saddle his sons with deposition costs).
Adelson’s extensive involvement in the 2012 election may represent the clearest example of his greed. Although he spent over $100 million supporting various Republican candidates last year, he was once a Democrat. In fact, even as he was spending the GDP of a small country in an effort to elect Republicans, Adelson confided to the Wall Street Journal that he is “basically a social liberal,” who supports stem-cell research, a woman’s right to choose, comprehensive immigration reform, and even “socialized-like health care.”
Why then is he so committed to electing politicians who would wage war against his deeply held beliefs? According to Adelson, it’s because of the Republican Party’s stronger commitment to charity and to the state of Israel. But others aren’t so sure; former Adelson employee (and U.S. Representative) Shelly Berkley (D-NV) claims Adelson once told her that “old Democrats were with the union and he wanted to break the back of the union, consequently he had to break the back of the Democrats.”
Moreover, the billionaire has a strong personal financial incentive to support Republicans. According to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund, Adelson could have received a $2 billion tax cut had Mitt Romney been elected president and enacted his tax plan. That’s apparently more than enough to buy his silence on reproductive rights or health care reform (not to mention a great return on his $100 million investment).
And although Romney lost, there’s no need to pity Adelson. Even without his chosen candidate in the White House, he has managed to dodge about $2.8 billion in gift taxes since 2010 by aggressively exploiting the little-known GRAT loophole. Indeed, no matter who wins the presidency — or the battle over online gambling, for that matter — Sheldon Adelson is going to do just fine.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons