Casino Tycoons Stack Chips For McCain

By: CBS
By: CBS

(CBS) Las Vegas embraces 36 million people a year, each looking to get lucky - and get rich.

But the casinos aren't nearly so welcoming when it comes to Washington regulations - and in Campaign '08, they're leaving nothing to chance, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports.

You might not know it, but America’s gambling obsession has become a major force in the U.S. economy. All that money pouring into casinos and wagered in sports betting amounts to $85 billion a year.

And the handful of tycoons, who control the gambling industry, are playing an unprecedented role: putting all their money behind Sen. John McCain in Nevada, a key battleground state.

McCain's Vegas team of five includes billionaires Sheldon Adelson, of Las Vegas Sands and longtime Democrat Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts. They're acting as "bundlers," mega-fundraisers who, critics say, get special access.

One of their posh events last June carried a $1,000 ante; $10,000 got donors into a VIP reception with McCain; and $33,000 bought access to an even more exclusive reception.

The casino bosses wouldn't talk to us, so we got the scoop from Ray Poirier, of "Gaming Today."

“What’s different about this presidential election that would motivate them to get that heavily involved?” Attkisson asked.

"I don’t think they’ve encountered this kind of concern in the past," Poirier said.

Poirier says they worry Obama would be a big regulator - and cost them billions.

"It could bring problems with unions; it could bring problems with taxes," he said.

As for McCain - he too was once viewed as hostile to gambling after he tried to ban sports betting. He failed after the gaming industry flooded Congress with campaign donations.

"This is all about money!" McCain said in 2001. "This is all about $10 million in campaign contributions by the gambling industry."

Today, McCain is accepting donations from some of the same players. His office didn't return our calls, but according to federal records, his gaming-related donations reach $2 million dollars or more.

In contrast, Obama's gotten between $50,000 and $100,000 from one fundraiser with casino interests - the wife of resort owner Steve Wynn.

Like Vegas, politics is always a gamble. But it seems gambling industry honchos are hoping to better their odds by increasing John McCain's.

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