Push to inject casino business into the presidential campaign is a savvy one By Aaron Stanley June 23, 2015 at 7:42 am Assuming you haven’t been living on another planet during the past six months, you know the 2016 presidential election cycle is underway earlier than ever. The presidential race is getting more entertaining by the day, as candidates and interest groups rush to jump in, lest they miss the party altogether. A slow drip of embarrassing revelations about Hillary Clinton provides constant talk show fodder, and wackier and more obscure characters continue to join the Republican field. Hillary and Jeb Bush formally launched their candidacies last week, to no one’s surprise. They were quickly overshadowed by former casino mogul Donald Trump’s bombastic announcement speech, which left the country astounded and the CNN anchors trying desperately to contain their laughter: echos of David Spade in the famous Matt Foley motivational speaker skit from Saturday Night Live, two decades ago. Not to be left out, the American Gaming Association also injected itself into the campaign, sending open letters to all of the presidential hopefuls. The letters stressed the economic impact of casinos across the country, and specifically in Nevada – a key swing state which was also the fastest growing state over the past census period. It is difficult to predict how receptive a candidate such as Democrat Bernie Sanders might be toward the casino business, amid the frenzy of a presidential campaign. Still, AGA’s move is savvy in highlighting that their product is a crucial component of the local economies in the key swing states. Have no doubt: the road to the White House in 2016 will travel through casino states, and candidates must perform well in these battleground states if they are serious about winning. Certainly, some of the candidates have no desire, or, at least, expectation of actually being elected; they are using the campaign as an opportunity to grandstand, boost book sales, or otherwise push their own agenda. For example, the self-described socialist Mr. Sanders’ interest in the gaming industry, at the moment, appears to be limited to bashing Sheldon Adelson. Nonetheless, there is merit in getting embedded in the conversation, especially this early on in the cycle, when candidates are still hashing out their platforms and the debate agendas are under construction. Larry Sabato, a political scientist and prominent election forecaster at the University of Virginia, has identified seven true “toss-up” states – states that can just as easily be won by a Republican or a Democrat in the 2016 presidential election. Of those, five – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio and Nevada – are states that allow commercial gaming in some form. New Hampshire and Virginia are the two abstainers – though New Hampshire looks to be on its way to authorizing casinos later this year. The economic impact of casinos is clearly visible in these six (including New Hampshire) swing states which have gaming. Each year, 334 casinos pay out roughly $8.5 billion in wages and benefits to nearly 200,000 employees, and contribute $1.6 billion in state and local taxes, according to data compiled by the AGA. Because these six gaming swing states control 72 electoral votes, they will be real estate in high demand for the next 17 months. According to Mr. Sabato’s electoral map, Democrats will need to win just 23 votes beyond the 247 he projects them to hold to hit the magic 270 vote threshold. Republicans, on the other hand, only hold 206 projected votes, meaning that they must win at least five out of the six gaming states to defeat Hillary, who, barring a complete disaster, will be the Democratic nominee. Four of these states also play a critical role in the candidate selection process: Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada among the first states to hold primary elections. However, there are indications that the national parties are trying to realign the weight given to some of these early voters, in an attempt to produce a more electable nominee. This was evidenced by Iowa abolishing its futile straw poll, which in the past had elevated fringe candidates with no shot at winning a national election. Nonetheless, state primaries are the best opportunities to get candidates to take stances on issues that are important to the local economies. Also, the industry will have another chance to loom large in the national political radar when the Republicans and Democrats hold their 2016 national conventions in Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively. Of course, just because casinos are located in primary states does not mean that candidates will put aside all other priorities to laud the merits of casino gambling. This is where the AGA’s strategy of focusing on Nevada comes into play. Unlike other states, casino gaming, along with its related sectors, is the economic engine of Nevada. To prove victorious here, candidates will need to do more than just rail against Mr. Adelson; they really should address the casino industry’s agenda in a substantive way. Despite it only having six electoral votes, Nevada has become an increasingly important state politically. It has voted for 24 of the last 25 presidential winners, and is home to a rapidly growing population of Hispanics, whom both parties consider to be a key voting block. Circling back, many of these Hispanics are employed by – you guessed it – casinos. So, as we can see, if the AGA continues to play its cards right, casino gaming might become – for the first time – a national issue on the presidential campaign.