Louisiana Bill Seeks To Bring Back Unlimited Gambling Political Contributions

Erik Gibbs

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A Louisiana bill seeks to overturn the longstanding ban on casino campaign contributions in the state. Presented by state Sen. Thomas Pressly and backed by PENN Entertainment, the initiative comes at a time when campaign finance reform is a hot-button issue, and it has reignited a fiery debate about the role of money in politics.

The current law restricts PAC donations, depending on the category. These caps apply to the combined primary and general elections for a candidate. The proposed legislation would remove these caps entirely, allowing unlimited sums from political action committees.

Sen. Pressly has argued that the current restrictions compel candidates to create multiple PACs to accept cash, thereby complicating the tracking of donations. By lifting the ban, the senator contends that the public would have a clearer view of who is contributing to election efforts.

The senator’s proposal has cleared initial hurdles, winning the backing of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee without objection and is now headed for a full House debate. The Senate has already supported the measure in a 29-5 vote. This swift legislative progress suggests that there is significant support for the bill, but it remains to be seen how it will fare in the broader political arena.

Concerns over undue influence

Proponents of the bill argue that lifting the ban, which has been in place for decades, would lead to greater transparency in campaign financing. They claim that the current system, which allows casinos to contribute to federal groups that can then spend on state races, is opaque and makes it difficult to trace the flow of money. By lifting the ban, they assert that contributions would be direct and more easily monitored.

Opponents, however, are raising alarms about the potential for increased corruption and undue influence by the gambling industry. They point to Louisiana’s history with gambling-related political scandals as a cautionary tale.

Notably, in 2000, former Gov. Edwin Edwards was convicted of extorting applicants for lucrative riverboat casino licenses. He is just one of several high-profile politicians who have landed in trouble for their questionable relationships with the gambling industry.

Casinos help drive political campaigns

While casinos are currently prohibited from making direct contributions to state politicians or campaigns, they can donate to federal groups such as the Democratic and Republican governors’ associations. These groups can then spend freely on state races, a practice that some in Louisiana argue circumvents the spirit of the ban.

Data from OpenSecrets.com shows where some of the money from gambling operators goes. So far in 2024, the casino/gambling ecosystem has given $295,600 — $154,100 to Democratic PACs and $141,500 to Republican PACs at the national level.

Open Secrets also reveals more from 2023:

MGM Resorts International

  • $15,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee
  • $15,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
  • $10,000 to the campaigns of various state legislators who support gambling-friendly policies

Caesars Entertainment

  • $50,000 to the Democratic Governors Association
  • $50,000 to the Republican Governors Association
  • $5,000 each to various state-level candidates and committees

Wynn Resorts

  • $1 million to the Senate Leadership Fund
  • $500,000 to America First Action, a super PAC aligned with Republican candidates
  • $50,000 to the Nevada Republican Party

Penn National Gaming

  • $30,000 to the Republican Governors Association
  • $30,000 to the Democratic Governors Association
  • $20,000 to various state legislative campaigns

Sands earns a spot by itself

Las Vegas Sands (LVS) has long been a huge supporter of politicians and political measures. This hasn’t slowed following the death of the company’s founder, Sheldon Adelson, in 2021 and the passing of control to his widow, Miriam.

Las Vegas Sands Corporation

  • $5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC supporting Senate Republicans
  • $2 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, supporting Republican candidates for the House
  • $100,000 to the Republican Governors Association

LVS is also working heavily to bring casinos to Texas. Estimates range from $6.3 million on lobbying alone to a total spend exceeding $10 million when you factor in advertising campaigns, according to the Texas Tribune, and it now has a new tool. A newly established committee, the Texas Defense PAC, has amassed $9 million in funds. This amount was contributed directly by Adelson, who provided the donation this month.

The Texas Defense PAC is backing GOP state legislators as they fend off primary challenges from candidates labeled as “far-right” and “extreme” by mainstream Republicans. The PAC has distributed $400,000 each to state Representatives Frederick Frazier, Justin Holland, and John Kuempel.