LAS VEGAS (AP) — In this battleground state, divisions along the politically split Las Vegas Strip aren’t as bright as the lights. But they are there, inside board rooms and executive offices.
Casino mogul Steve Wynn is hosting Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate at his Wynn Las Vegas resort-casino. And while he dined with the Clintons socially earlier this year, he’s no fan of President Barack Obama. He abhors the president’s health care plan, has offered advice to Republican presidential candidates and financially supported the party’s candidates and political action committees in the past.
Wynn Resorts spokesman Michael Weaver confirmed that Wynn has spoken with nearly every Republican candidate at some point, suggesting to Donald Trump that a third-party run would be unwise and that deporting 13 million people would be an irrational undertaking.
New Jersey Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie appears to be Wynn’s only beneficiary of this election cycle, so far. This year, Wynn donated $5,000 to Christie’s political action committee Leadership Matters for America and later $25,000 to super-PAC America Leads, which is supporting Christie’s candidacy.
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The 73-year-old casino CEO and chairman, worth $2.5 billion according to Forbes, has left open the possibility he could support a Democratic candidate for president, telling Nevada political pundit Jon Ralston during a televised interview in May that “there’s a chance I’ll support anybody.”
Wynn has donated to federal Democratic causes here and there, including the New Jersey Democratic State Committee in 2002 and to Vice President Joe Biden during his campaign in 2007. But, more often, he supports Republican groups and candidates. He and his wife, Andrea, have donated a combined $173,800 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the last three years.
So how did Wynn become host to the first Democratic presidential debate? CNN called Wynn Resorts.
Weaver said CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston first reached out to the resort-casino company’s government relations executive, Ulrico Izaguirre. CNN didn’t return an email seeking comment.
Izaguirre joined Wynn Resorts less than a year ago from Caesars Entertainment and sits on the board of Mi Familia Vota, which mobilizes voters on immigration issues and supported the president’s executive order to defer deportations of the parents of legal citizens. Izaguirre was a White House aide to Vice President Al Gore in 1999 and ran Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign in Arizona and New Mexico.
“Ours is a team of great diversity, representing every race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and political philosophy,” Wynn said in a statement at the time the debate was announced. “To have the privilege of being intimately involved in the American political process by hosting this debate is a moment of great pride and excitement for all of us.”
Weaver said 1 percent of Wynn Resorts’ 25,000 employees will be watching from the theater’s audience.
Outside, across the street, are two more billionaire casino moguls with strong political persuasions, one a friend of Trump’s, the other a friend to Republican candidates looking for a bank account boost.
In one corner is Sheldon Adelson, the Republican super-donor worth $25.6 billion who owns The Venetian and The Palazzo. He and his wife spent more than $100 million to back presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and later Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
In the other corner is Phil Ruffin, owner of the Treasure Island casino-hotel, Trump’s billionaire best friend who hosted the Republican candidate at his pirate-themed property last week.
Don’t expect to see Ruffin in the debate crowd Tuesday.
“I just hope it brings us some business,” he said. “I’ll watch it on TV.”