We have thrown the phrase “crony capitalism” around on this site many a time, but hoo boy, what ProPublica reported last week takes it to another level. According to Justin Elliott, United States President Donald Trump spoke directly to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about the possibility of Las Vegas Sands Corp. founder and CEO Sheldon Adelson being awarded one of Japan’s casino licenses.
Casino gambling has been a contentious issue in Japan for a long time, with political back-and-forth going on since the beginning of this century. Prime Minister Abe was the first foreign leader to visit with Donald Trump after he was elected President in November 2016. Members of the State Department, who normally would have been privy to their conversations, were not present, so what went on is unknown. What is known, though, is that Abe’s coalition in the Japanese government got a casino bill passed in December 2016. Most experts believe the result and the meeting were at least somewhat related.
It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know
Fast-forward slightly to February 2017. Sheldon Adelson – who had contributed a combined $25 million to Trump’s campaign and inauguration – had dinner with now-President Trump and the White House, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Prime Minister Abe visited Trump that same day.
The following day, Adelson and a few CEOs, some of which were from the gaming industry, had breakfast with Shinzo Abe, who was in Washington, D.C. to meet with Trump. Abe’s next meal was lunch with Trump, pro golfer Ernie Els, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. After a golf outing, Abe and Trump headed to Mar-a-Lago. It was then that Trump made an overture to Abe, recommending that Sheldon Adelson’s company be granted one of just three available Japanese casino licenses.
One of Elliott’s sources, who has knowledge of the conversation, said, “It was totally brought up out of the blue. They were a little incredulous that he would be so brazen. Abe didn’t really respond, and said thank you for the information.”
As we well know, Sheldon Adelson is no stranger to using high level government officials to advance his business interests. Pissed off that the Department of Justice clarified that the Wire Act applied only to sports betting back in 2011, Adelson has fought to stop online poker in the U.S. ever since. He and his legal team drew up the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a bill which aims to make the incorrect interpretation of the Wire Act – that it makes all online gambling illegal – law.
Adelson is a billionaire, one of the richest people in the world, and he has used his wealth to manipulate Republican politicians through donations to campaigns. He has been able to get Senator Lindsey Graham to introduce RAWA in the Senate and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz to introduce it in the House of Representatives. It is a brazen effort in crony capitalism, a billionaire businessman using politicians to mold laws to his liking. Climbing the ladder to use Trump to advocate for him is another level entirely.