Ahead of Nov. 8 election

Nevada's gaming industry bets on the gubernatorial race with donations for both candidates totaling $1.6M+

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak (left) and Republican candidate Joe Lombardo.
2022-08-09
Reading time 3:35 min

Nevada’s casino and gaming industry is playing both sides in the state governor’s race, with stakeholders donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the two candidates running for the role. State campaign finance reports show contributions to both incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak and Joe Lombardo – his Republican challenger –  that amount to more than $1.6 million when combined. The contributions come ahead of the election, to take place on November 8.

Between his campaign and his largest political action committee, Sisolak is taking the most from casinos and their executives: about $943,000 since 2021, reports Las Vegas Review-Journal. However, the industry is also betting on Lombardo. The Clark County sheriff’s campaign and PAC have taken about $730,000 since last year.

For the most part, the gaming industry tends to be pro-incumbent, in particular when the experience has been generally regarded as positive in the prior term. But while casinos tend to agree on candidates in legislative races, opinions can differ when it comes to the governor, U.S. Senate and statewide races – and in this case, major firms are donating to both candidates, a common practice in the largest elections. A number of cases exemplify this tactic.

For instance, Phil Ruffin, owner of Treasure Island and Circus Circus, has personally donated $10,000 each to Sisolak and Lombardo. But including donations from properties he owns, he has given more to Sisolak – $30,000 since last year – than to Lombardo, having donated just $10,000 to the Republican candidate. 


Gov. Steve Sisolak

But Sisolak’s largest casino backer by far is The Venetian. The venue, operated by asset management giant Apollo Global Management, has donated $40,000 to the incumbent Gov.’s campaign, plus an additional $210,000 to his affiliated PAC, Home Means Nevada, reports Review-Journal.

The Venetian’s contribution takes the first place by a long shot, at more than double the donations when compared to the next largest donor, Caesars Entertainment. That company has given $90,000 since 2021, between its many subsidiary companies and casinos.

As for Lombardo, most of the money from the gaming industry comes from Golden Entertainment. The operator of The Strat and a number of other venues has donated $20,000 to the Republican candidate’s campaign and $70,000 to his Stronger Nevada PAC. It is followed by Boyd Gaming, which gave $30,000 to his campaign – but that operator has also given $40,000 to Sisolak.

But while most casino organizations are giving to both candidates, preferences can still be seen, especially among larger casino companies. Firms such as MGM, Caesars, Boyd and Station Casinos have contributed more to Sisolak than Lombardo. Station, for instance, has donated $80,000 to Sisolak, but nothing to his challenger.


Nevada's and Vegas' gaming industries are playing their part in the race

The same also applies to Wynn Las Vegas, which donated a total of $15,000 to Sisolak in 2020 and 2021, but gave nothing to Lombardo. And as for Resorts World, while the company did give $10,000 to Lombardo, it contributed triple to Sisolak, donating him $30,000.

Contributions are also coming from independent casinos, such as El Cortez. The downtown venue is playing both sides, having donated $10,000 to each candidate, as did the Ellis Island casino. The Longhorn Casino has also applied this strategy, giving $5,000 to both sides.

Influential gaming families are also doing their part. The Marnell family, original owners of The M casino, gave the sheriff $50,000 and Sisolak $10,000; while the Herbst family – owner of the Terrible’s gas station chain and the now-closed Jean casino – donated $50,000 to Lombardo and $10,000 to Sisolak. 

As for other gaming families, the Ensigns – including former U.S. Sen. John Ensign –, who own casinos in West Wendover, gave Lombardo $20,000; while Dr. Miriam Adelson of Las Vegas Sands donated $10,000 as well to that candidate.


Republican candidate Joe Lombardo

However, the sheriff’s biggest backer does not operate in the gaming industry but in the hotel sector. Budget Suites hotel chain owner Robert Bigelow has given Lombardo and his PACs nearly $5.7 million - that is, by far, the most of any single donor to a candidate this cycle. He hasn’t given Sisolak any money, though.

All in all, Sisolak retains a large fundraising advantage over his competitor, having raised $1.7 million in Q2 of 2022, against Lombardo’s $782,000. Furthermore, Sisolak has $10.9 million on hand, while Lombardo has $1.2 million, a large difference partly explained by Sisolak being the incumbent, which implies he had more time to raise money than his opponent, who had to fight through the primary field.

But while Sisolak’s lead in terms of donations is clear, Lombardo’s prior experience as Clark County sheriff is a large advantage over any other challenger the incumbent Gov. could have faced, Nevada political consultant Billy Vassiliadis told Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“If Lombardo hadn’t been the sheriff, I don’t know if any other opponent would have done as well with getting money from the casino industry,” the expert said, remarking that donations from the gaming industry are mostly reliant on personal relationships.

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