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3 things you don’t know about Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson speaks to hospitality students at UNLV on May 5, 2014 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Sheldon Adelson speaks to hospitality students at UNLV on May 5 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Sheldon Adelson, may be best known for committing $100 million to Republican presidential candidates in 2012, but he has also built strong bridges to Democrats. That's one of several surprises that emerged this week about the man Forbes Magazine calculates is the ninth wealthiest person on the planet. Here are three things that have emerged in the last couple days that you may not have know about Adelson:

1. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has a soft spot for Adelson. In an interview with NBC News this week, the majority leader noted that Adelson was once a Democrat and made the case that there is a big difference between Adelson and the billionaire Koch brothers, who come in for regular vilification from Reid. (Among many other things, Reid claims the Koch brothers are seeking to influence climate and other policy for their own financial benefit.)

When the topic turned to the billionaire from Reid's home state of Nevada, where Adelson runs the Las Vegas Sands Corp., Reid said:  "I know Sheldon Adelson. He's not in this for money. He's got money. He's in it because he has certain ideological views. Now, Sheldon Adelson's social views are in keeping with the Democrats on choice, on all kinds of things. He just got a beef with organized labor a few years ago. And he previously was a Democrat."

Like politicians everywhere, Reid is kind to the big employers in his home state. But Adelson's current battle against fellow casino owners over online gambling has put Reid and other Nevada politicians in a tight spot. Reid is caught between rival casinos and has recently issued statements taking a compromise view: He favors legalizing online poker but no other forms of gambling. He has not endorsed any specific legislation this cycle. Still, Adelson sources say the GOP donor has such a good relationship with Reid he picks up the phone and calls him occasionally.

2. Sheldon wants to control sin, when possible. In an interview broadcast by Bloomberg Television Thursday, Adelson talked about the need to regulate illegal activities like prostitution, drug abuse and gambling by minors.

"Why don't we legalize prostitution?  It's happening all over the place anyway. Why don't we legalize drug addiction? It's happening all over the place anyway," he asked rhetorically during a conversation with Bloomberg's Betty Liu. "Wherever we can control it, we should control it.  Those kinds of things, sins, the sin activity should be controlled."  In the interview, Sheldon elaborated his opposition to online gambling, the subject of a Washington Post front page story Thursday. "I'm saying, coming from the business, I want to make money from those who can afford it. I can't tell over the internet who is underage. I can't tell who's got financial difficulties. I can't tell who is not gaming responsibly. I can't tell if money is being laundering. I can in the casino."

3. Sheldon is building and financing bridges to Democrats. The eighty-year-old casino entrepreneur became a household world in 2012 after his lavish spending during  the presidential election year ($93 million by the conservative tally of the Center for Responsive Politics). Now, Sheldon wants to reach out to Democrats. As the Washington Post reported today, Adelson has expanded his stable of Democratic consultants to include California's charismatic former Democratic Assembly leader Fabian Nunez and former Clinton adviser Chris Lehane.  As he combats other casinos seeking to legalize online gambling, Adelson needs more  help in Washington (where his lawyers provided the initial draft of a bill that would outlaw online gambling, pre-empting state efforts to legalize it). He has also already hired former Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln. Given Washington gridlock, he is investing more at the state level, where rival gambling companies are pushing for legalization. The following states are actively considering legislative proposals -- in Pennsylvania, New York, and Illinois. The concept has already been approved in Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey.

Tom Hamburger covers the intersection of money and politics for The Washington Post.

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