On the precipice of change in America, transition continues in gaming industry By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports November 4, 2020 at 8:00 pm The first question spread like a grassland fire through the gaming industry. Was Las Vegas Sands in serious talks to sell its Strip properties? The second question packed even more heat: Was casino industry titan and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson really going to retire? Hard to fathom. Almost impossible, in fact. It doesn’t take much of a factual spark to create a firestorm of speculation in the casino business, where the rumor mill spins faster than any roulette wheel. But there was more to it than that. Now more intriguing questions have started flying, some of them pretty breathless. But that’s to be expected. After all, Adelson is no ordinary operator. At 87, he’s an industry colossus who has reshaped the gaming landscape, ventured to once-distant Macau, and created some of the world’s grandest casino palaces. In the process, he’s remade the idea of the convention business in his own image. Give or take a few million, Forbes estimates Adelson’s net worth at $32 billion. He’s used his billions to have a historic, and often highly controversial, impact on the Republican Party and the state of Israel. His financial sponsorship of Donald Trump was instrumental in creating a U.S. President. His many millions kept Trump in the great 2020 poker game with former Vice President Joe Biden. But the United States is a country in transition. So is legalized gaming in America as an industry – and it always has been. The difference between casino companies and more traditional and less flamboyant businesses is that they tend to live in the exclamation points of their marketing and have so often been led by larger-than-life characters. I remember a time few in the casino crowd imagined that gaming in its various forms would expand to a majority of states, and then hop across the planet as other nations became intrigued by the phenomenon. Back then, the titans of industry held sway and, yes, had their share of back channels into the halls of political power in Washington. Las Vegas Chairman Sheldon Adelson I also remember thinking that casino men such as Benny Binion and Moe Dalitz would always define the game. And then they were gone. Mention those names to Las Vegas visitors these days and you’re likely to get a blank stare. But times and players change. Just a few years ago, if you had taken a poll – not a political one, thank goodness – of the biggest names in the gaming industry, Steve Wynn likely would have topped the list. He was style and substance personified. Then in a matter of months he became mired in a sexual misconduct scandal and was gone from the landscape – literally had his name taken off buildings as if it were graffiti. But times change. And now, according to multiple and increasingly specific news reports, the king of the Las Vegas Sands may be preparing to depart the stage. Whether the company’s operation ends up in the hands of a competitor or a real estate investment trust matters less than the idea that Adelson’s singular pugnacious personality will make its exit. Unlike Kirk Kerkorian, whose great presence was felt more than seen, Adelson has put his personal stamp on everything – even when he was trying to remain behind the curtain. Suffice to say that when you’re willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to push your political agenda here and abroad, there’s no curtain large enough to conceal you. Adelson’s influence on American politics at all levels is only beginning to be fully understood. These days his name and influence are also mentioned in association with the private surveillance and investigation of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. I suspect Adelson’s name will fascinate journalists, historians, and others for many years to come. There’s so much mythmaking in the casino industry that it’s easy to forget that its leaders are just people – but most intriguing ones. And the intrigue continues as we head into a new era. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.