Please Be Nice to Sheldon

Sheldon Adelson (l.) sometimes gets some bad press but when you examine his influence, it may just be a blip. Longtime gaming observer Richard Schuetz suggests that Nevada residents reconsider who loves them best.

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Please Be Nice to Sheldon

We don’t have the homeboys.”—Elaine Wynn at the Mob Museum, 2014

The transformation is almost complete. Kirk is gone, Barron is gone, Bill has really slowed down, the Hughes folks are gone, Benny is gone, Jack is gone, Steve is gone, and Bill Harrah has long been spinning in his grave for what that Harvard kid did to Harrah’s. The new guys brought us a different industry of REITs, hedge funds, private equity, financial engineering and the like that would dazzle and amaze even Siegfried and Roy. It is as if the COVID-19 virus arrived simply to put Las Vegas (AKA the City) out of its misery.

Let’s start with some definitions. The boys were the boys, and they started the industry in Las Vegas. They were very good at what they did, albeit very bad accountants. They could just never get the tax forms right, but they were good operators because they had been in the business for a long time in such places as Chicago, Cleveland and New York, to mention just three. The boys were also very good at taking care of the City, but they had to go because they were just bringing too much heat on Nevada. They annoyed people like J. Edgar, Estes, and Robert. Yes, they had to go.

They were replaced by the homeboys, a group who could be cleaned up for licensing and who could work to legitimize the industry. The homeboys inherited the role of taking care of the City from the boys, and they did a good job too, and that was the point of Ms. Wynn’s quote of 2014. Both the boys and the homeboys, aside from running the casinos in the City, also acted as a shadow government and managed to keep a bunch of self-important politicians from ever doing something really stupid. It now appears the only one left to take care of Las Vegas is Sheldon.

The most valuable thing that Nevada Governor Sisolak could have done once the pandemic struck Las Vegas would have been to hire Rudy Giuliani as his liaison with the federal government and have the Attorney General of the state of Nevada initiate an investigation into Hunter Biden. Had this happened, it is my guess the state of Nevada would have been front and center in getting support from the federal government. It would have had all of the test kits, PPE, ventilators, hospital beds and whatever else it could have ever wanted. Hell, there would probably be a large Navy hospital ship being drug up I-15, heading toward Lake Las Vegas. But this solution, while probably optimal for the future of the City, was just not realistic.

Unfortunately, Governor Sisolak is a Democratic governor in a swing state, and President Trump does not favor Democratic governors, as a rule, and really does not have much time for Democratic governors in swing states. If the governor of the state looks ineffective, that could aid a Republican candidate for president at the next election and it seems quite clear that President Trump certainly desires at least one more term.

Without the boys or the homeboys to help him out when the pandemic hit Nevada, Governor Sisolak jumped out with a plan, and a big piece of that plan was to appoint Jim Murren to head up a task force to work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the state. This decision was interesting. A few hours before his appointment to the task force, Mr. Murren had been chairman of MGM and had recently flown to meet President Trump at the White House to talk about potential financial relief for the hospitality industry. What made this meeting interesting was that Mr. Murren was the recent beneficiary of more than $50 million in severance and stock sales from the MGM, and he was going to meet with a billionaire president who earlier in his life had not repaid many lenders as part of multiple casino bankruptcies. These two people met to discuss how they could best use our tax dollars. Can’t make this stuff up.

I do suppose the Governor felt a certain attachment to Mr. Murren, for according to the Nevada Independent, companies and individuals linked to MGM Resorts International, gave by far and away the largest amount to the Governor by a process whereby: “…companies and individuals legally circumvented the system by using multiple, sometimes obscure subdivisions to donate.” Not the best optics.

Mr. Murren also has that other little issue which is a part of his legacy, and that is he was chairman of MGM as it opted to sue 1,000 victims who were involved in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, a shooting that took place from an MGM property. While maybe the folks in Nevada thought this was a resume builder in sound business/legal strategy, the rest of the planet found this somewhat troubling. It does seem curious that Governor Sisolak would hire a guy to represent the victims of this crisis who is known around the world for suing victims of a crisis. Again, curious optics.

Another detail that is probably important to understand about Mr. Murren is that for the 2016 election he made much of the notion that he was a life-long Republican, but he was endorsing Hillary Clinton for president; and this made the national press. My guess is that the Trump folks knew about this fact as Mr. Murren flew back to the White House to ask the president for help.

My belief is that if Mr. Murren is smart, and I will assume he is, he will position himself to take credit for any good things that happen to Nevada, with the understanding that anything good that happens in Nevada will probably happen because of Sheldon Adelson.

I understand that Mr. Murren is a big deal, but Sheldon is THE MAN. For instance:

  • When Mr. Adelson wanted to change press coverage in Las Vegas, he paid $140 million for the Las Vegas Review Journal. Mr. Murren and the MGM were able to scrape together a bit less than $1 million to give to the Nevada Independent, a digital online news platform.
  • When Mr. Adelson wanted a U.S. embassy to move in Israel, it moved. I don’t know of any government building that Mr. Murren has moved.
  • When Mr. Adelson felt that the Wire Act interpretation was off base, the U.S. Department of Justice reinterpreted it. The MGM would benefit if this interpretation had not changed, but that did not seem to matter to anyone at the DOJ.
  • When one looks at pictures of President Trump’s Inauguration, Mr. & Mrs. Adelson are in the picture. I cannot find Jim Murren.
  • When Jim Murren wanted a politician to represent his company in its bid for a Japanese casino site, he hired Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. President Trump personally visited with Japanese Prime Minister Abe about Mr. Adelson’s Sands proposal in Japan.

In all fairness to Mr. Murren, he probably does dress better than Mr. Adelson.

Sheldon Adelson is the largest contributor to Republicans and Republican causes in the entire history of the world. Full stop

It was John F. Kennedy who argued that: “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” For anything good that happens in Nevada during this era of this crisis, I am confident that Governor Sisolak, Mr. Murren, the American Gaming Association, and a slew of others will be there to take credit, and that is to be expected. But the reality of the world is quite simple in Nevada, and that is that if the federal government is going to do anything for the state of Nevada, Mr. Adelson would most certainly be aware.

I would suggest that Governor Sisolak, Mr. Murren, the AGA folks, and anyone else who cares about Nevada start naming buildings, statues, boulevards, streets, parks and schools after the Adelsons. Who knows, it just might help.

For the sake of Las Vegas, please be nice to Sheldon.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.