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Hillary Racks Up Gambling Lobby Support

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LAS VEGAS -- On the eve of the crucial Nevada Democratic Presidential Debate, set for Thursday night, candidate Hillary Clinton has racked up the public endorsement of some of the state's most influential gambling industry executives and advocates.

The Clinton campaign has unveiled the formation of the Nevada Business Leadership Council led by Jan Jones, a former Las Vegas Mayor and a current top executive of and lobbyist for national gambling mega-corporation Harrah's Entertainment.

Harrah's operates more than two dozen casinos nationwide, including the landmark Rio in Las Vegas.

Also prominent among the new pro-Hillary business group is Phil Satre, former chairman and CEO of Harrah's and a veteran leader in the Vegas gambling industry. CEO Howard Lefkowitz, Henry Terry, Executive Director of Human Resources of Playlv Gaming Operations, and Punam Mather, a Senior Vice President at the casino-owning MGM Mirage Corp. MGM Mirage operates and own a series of mega-resort casinos including the Bellagio, Mirage and the MGM Grand.

There was a time when gambling money could taint a political campaign, Las Vegas-based historian Michael Green told the HuffPost. But those days are long gone. 'It was former Senator Paul Laxalt who once quipped that in Nevada turning down money from the gambling industry would be like refusing support from GM in Detroit."

"The larger gaming corporations are enormous industries that provide not only huge infusions of campaign cash but also votes," Green said. "Their money buys you TV ads, campaign staff, and direct mail and while I don't want to suggest a direct connection, let's just say that thousands of casino employees suddenly become very aware of who their bosses would like you to support in the ballot box."

Clinton's high-visibility foray into the gaming-dominated Nevada business community pairs up with the significant stack of endorsements she has already collected from the state's Democratic political establishment. Her statewide campaign is led by Rory Reid, son of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and current chair of the powerful Clark County Commission which encompasses the greater Las Vegas metropolitan area.

The announcement of the new surge of gaming support for Clinton while significant doesn't represent a necessarily unified view of the industry. The larger casino corporations have a tradition of spreading around their political contributions, effectively hedging their bets. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire proprietor of The Venetian hotel and casino is a major supporter and funder of GOP causes and candidates. Elaine Wynn, wife of gambling mogul Steve Wynn and Director of the sparkling Wynn casino, joined the Barack Obama campaign last summer. In 1996, the gambling industry gave so much cash to Republican candidate Bob Dole that he became known as "Vegas Bob."

No question, however, that Senator Clinton -- whose aura of inevitability in capturing the Democratic nominaiton has recently been dimmed-- is escalating her efforts to line up key support groups here in the Silver State whose January 19 caucuses will be among the first three in the nation.

"Business has been a cornerstone of the Clinton campaign, and Senator Clinton has been remarkable in terms of finding the balance between supporting organized labor and still recongnizing the importance of building a strong business community," Harrah's exec Jones told reporters in a conference call announcing the formation of the business council.

Endorsement of organized labor, representing nearly 15% of Nevada workers, has also been zealously sought by the rival Democratic candidates. But to date, the two most powerful unions -- the Culinary Workers and the Service Employees-- have yet to give the nod to any single candidate,