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The Growing Influence of Sheldon Adelson

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(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In this May 23, 2017, file photo, Sheldon Adelson, right, talks with Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, before a speech by President Donald Trump at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Sheldon Adelson is one of the most recognizable names in the casino industry as the CEO of Las Vegas Sands, and he’s also a powerful political player.  

Adelson contributed more than $83 million to the 2016 election, at least $20 million of that went to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. He remains one of the largest donors to the Republican party.  

And he may have hit the jackpot when Trump was elected President.  

A new report from ProPublica shows President Trump may have had Adelson's business interests in mind during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in February 2017.

The Japanese media were the first to report that Trump had brought up Adelson's company's bid for a casino in Japan during that meeting at the president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

“This is something that would be very unusual for the U.S. president to bring up the business interest of a major donor with a foreign head of state,” ProPublica reporter Justin Elliot told KNPR's State of Nevada.

Adelson, and many other casino companies, have long awaited the chance to open a casino in the Japanese market. The Abe administration pushed through the casino legislation despite opposition from the majority of the Japanese people.

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Abe opponents have used the meeting with President Trump against him, accusing him of tailoring the casino legislation to Adelson and Trump.

Elliott said it is not typical for a president to advocate for a specific donor like it appears he did with Abe.

“The interest of the Las Vegas Sand is not the same as the interest of the United States of America when it comes to policy when it comes to an important country like Japan,” he said.

Elliot says it is not exactly clear what President Trump said to Prime Minister Abe and what was asked for specifically.

What is clear is the influence that Adelson seems to have had in the decision by the Trump administration to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“He’s actually said publically that he’s a one-issue guy and that issue is Israel," Elliot said of Adelson.

Adelson is known to have a very conservative and hard-line view of affairs in the Palestinian -Israeli conflict. It is also believed he was a key driver in moving the embassy.

Elliot pointed out that Adelson and his wife were front and center during the embassy's opening ceremony alongside several heads of state and important government officials.

Elliot says there are very few citizens that have the kind of access to President Trump that Sheldon Adelson does. He says the casino boss has visited the White House several times and calls the president often.

He also pointed out that Adelson's companies received specific benefits in the tax overhaul passed by Congress last year.

“The tax law obviously benefitted all corporations by lowering the tax rate but Sands actually got some sort of particular benefits involving foreign tax credits,” he said.

However, the relationship between Adelson and President Trump has not always been this cozy. During the 2016 election campaign, Adelson did not put his money and support behind the Trump campaign right away.

Instead, he waited until Trump had all but wrapped up the nomination before he decided to give him money and support. 

In fact, at one point, Elliot said the president tweeted that Adelson was donating to Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign so he could have a puppet he could manipulate.

“The relationship seems to have completely changed since then whether they’re friends it is very hard to say, but what we can say for sure is that they have a quite close working relationship," he said.

 

Guests

Justin Elliot, reporter, ProPublica 

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