Friends of Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino operator who is reportedly pumping millions of dollars into Newt Gingrich’s super PAC that released the over-the-top hit piece on Bain Capital yesterday, continue to express concern about the controversy’s impact on the major Republican donor. A longtime friend and colleague of Gingrich’s said of the anti-Bain attack, “I am sick about it. I can’t believe he’s doing it.” As for Adelson, the colleague blurted out, “I don’t know a better capitalist than Sheldon Adelson.”

Indeed, Adelson and Gingrich’s well-known close personal relationship was forged during labor unrest in the 1990s. A person with knowledge of the gaming industry says, “Sheldon really doesn’t like unions.” It was in those confrontations that the two become close personal friends, as the New York Times reports:

The relationship between Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Adelson dates to the mid-1990s and first centered on their common animosity for labor unions.

Mr. Adelson was building his newest resort casino, the Venetian, and became embroiled in a battle with a local culinary union trying to organize his employees. The conflict soured further when Mr. Adelson helped finance a campaign in Nevada to pass legislation curtailing the ability of labor unions to automatically deduct money from members to finance political activities.

Aides to Mr. Adelson turned to Mr. Gingrich — known for his criticism of labor unions — for advice, said George Harris, who worked for Mr. Adelson at the time. Aides to Mr. Gingrich, then the House speaker, helped Mr. Adelson hone his antiunion pitch, and Mr. Gingrich was invited to Las Vegas to speak and be honored with a fund-raiser.

It is ironic that Adelson’s money is now being used to pay for film that attacks ruthless corporations and paints employees as helpless victims of corporate greed.

His colleagues in the gaming industry want to make it perfectly clear this is a personal venture by Adelson. I spoke with Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, as to whether Adelson’s bankrolling of Gingrich made industry heads nervous. He said, “ Everyone in the industry knows Sheldon has a personal relationship with Newt. [Adelson’s super PAC dollars] in no way represent the interest of the gaming industry.”

Meanwhile, a consensus seems to be forming in GOP circles that if Romney is to be the nominee the Bain issue would have to surface sooner rather than later. Perhaps they are trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but several political operatives agreed that while catastrophic for Gingrich’s prospects, it might play out just fine for Romney.

Tony Fratto, a former Bush official who now operates his own consulting and communications firm told me, “It’s best for Gov. Romney and the party that . . . [Gingrich] chose New Hampshire to blow up, so there’s no chance of the GOP being saddled with with a Gingrich candidacy. The additional benefit to Romney is that we’ll have the Bain/private equity debate now in January instead of in the late-summer and fall. By the time the Obama campaign tries to raise it, voters will wonder why the president is raising an old issue.” As for Gingrich himself, Fratto said, “There’s nothing surprising about Gingrich’s self-immolation. Anyone who spent any time around Gingrich knew it was just a matter of time.”

Another Republican insider who is neutral in the race and agreed only to speak on background told me yesterday, “My wife and I watched [Romney’s New Hampshire] speech. It was the best speech he’s ever given. I think it has him fired up.”

Regardless of his intentions, Gingrich, fueled by gambling money, has embarked in an anti-Bain, anti-Romney vendetta that is widely scorned in his own party. It’s brought unwelcome visibility and criticism of his backer. And moreover, it may have finally been the key to juicing Romney up and providing him with an emotional issue — defense of the free market from leftist slurs — that will allow him to connect with the base.