Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson gambled more than $54 million on Tuesday's elections. And he lost.
The quixotic chairman of the Las Vegas Sands gaming company rose to the top of campaign giving in 2012, gaining notoriety for almost single-handedly staking the campaign of Republican primary contender Newt Gingrich and then continuing to make audacious contributions once Gingrich dropped out – with millions more going to GOP nominee Mitt Romney and two superPACs supporting his bid.
Tuesday, he emerged as arguably the single biggest loser of the campaign, financially speaking. In addition to investing in Gingrich and Romney, Adelson and his relatives donated to the U.S. House campaigns of Rep. Allan West of Florida and New Jersey Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and the Senate runs of Virginia's George Allen, Florida's Connie Mack, and Texas's David Dewhurst. All lost. (Dewhurst never made it past the primary.) His sole consolation was helping fund the defeat of hometown nemesis Shelley Berkley, who lost her bid for a U.S. Senate seat.
Not that Adelson's likely to feel much of a sting. Adelson, 79, owns 49 percent of the Las Vegas Sands casino company, of which he is chairman. The company's operations in Macau and elsewhere in Asia have made it the world's leading gambling operation. His estimated net worth is north of $20.5 billion.
Throughout the campaign, there was widespread speculation about his motives for donating so much this cycle. Adelson is a major supporter of Israel and Israel-related causes. He has also been embroiled in a controversy surrounding his company's sizeable operation in Macau, a Chinese island that has outpaced Las Vegas as a source of gambling revenue.
ABC News previously reported that Adelson's company has been the subject of a criminal investigation for the last year by the Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission for alleged bribery of foreign officials, according to corporate documents. A separate civil lawsuit filed by a former Sands executive has further alleged that Adelson ordered him to keep quiet about the casinos' purported "involvement with Chinese organized crime groups." Adelson has publicly dismissed the allegations as frivolous.
In its filings with the SEC, Adelson's company says it became aware of the investigation in February 2011. The company said it "intends to cooperate with the investigation." At a gaming forum in 2011, Adelson said the lawsuit "is not a serious case" and that the federal investigations would find no wrongdoing. "When the smoke clears, I am 1,000 percent positive that there won't be any fire below it."
Sands corporate spokesman Ron Reese did not return messages left at his office Wednesday.
If Adelson's goal in donating so much to the 2012 campaigns was to open a channel of access to high-level federal officials (he has denied he is seeking access), experts said he is now safe in assuming that effort has failed.
"I don't think he has bridges to the Obama administration," said Bill Allison, who follows campaign giving for the Sunlight Foundation.
"One reason we always think people give, especially that much money, is they want access," Allison said. "They want an appointment or an ambassadorship. They want the ability to pick up the phone and call the White House. He definitely won't have that. He has cut himself off by coming out so strongly on one side."
But will he be subject to reprisals, having put so much money behind an effort to defeat President Obama?
A White House spokesman responded to that question succinctly: "No."
Allison said he does not believe Adelson's lost wager will dissuade future wealthy political enthusiasts from throwing large amounts of money behind a political candidate.
"I have no doubt," Allison said, "that some other billionaire will feel like he can make a huge impact on the political system with a small fraction of his fortune."