With the Mavericks, Miriam Adelson is poised to be a Texas political powerhouse. Will it help her legalize casinos?

Miriam Adelson delivers a keynote speech at the Texas Association of Business Policy Conference on Dec. 7, 2023, in Austin.
Miriam Adelson delivers a keynote speech at the Texas Association of Business Policy Conference on Dec. 7, 2023, in Austin. Credit: Julius Shieh/The Texas Tribune
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

From her perch in Las Vegas, Miriam Adelson was already a force to be reckoned with in Texas, donating millions of dollars to Republicans and rallying their support for Israel.

But with her impending purchase of the Dallas Mavericks, she is about to reach new stratospheric heights.

The deal puts one of the richest women in the world closer than ever to the center of Texas business and politics — and it comes as Las Vegas Sands, the gaming empire started by her late husband Sheldon Adelson, continues its push to legalize casinos in Texas. It’s a cause she has in common with Mark Cuban, the current owner of the Mavericks, who wants to make Dallas a top casino destination.

The Adelson family confirmed late last month they were selling $2 billion in Las Vegas Sands stock to buy a majority stake in the Mavericks from Cuban, who is expected to retain control of basketball operations. The family hopes to close the deal by the end of the year.

Miriam Adelson wasted little time reaching out to the state’s business leaders since news of the deal broke, visiting Austin on Thursday to address the Texas Association of Business, the state’s largest business lobby. While she largely spoke about Israel and its war against Hamas, she wove in a reference to the highly anticipated deal.

“Look closer and you’ll find that Israelis and Texans have a deep affinity,” she said. “It runs deeper than business, though commercial ties between Texas and Israel are truly booming. And it even runs deeper than basketball, though my family are huge fans of the Dallas Mavericks.”

Adelson has not commented on what the sale could mean for the future of gaming in Texas, but Cuban has said the prospect of a “future resort casino” played a role in his decision to sell.

Legalized casinos have faced an uphill battle at the Legislature since Sands began an intense lobbying push for them in 2020. A Sands-backed bill reached the floor of the Texas House during the regular session earlier this year, though it could not muster the two-thirds majority needed to advance out of the chamber.

In the Senate, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has repeatedly said there is not enough support, and he has already downplayed the idea that the Mavericks deal gives new momentum to expand gaming.

“I don’t think them buying a majority stake in the Dallas Mavericks impacts that other issue at all — two totally separate issues,” Patrick said in a Dallas TV interview Friday. “People who want to build casinos in Texas have simply not been able to wrangle the votes from the members.”

Alan Feldman, a gaming expert at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said one “could easily articulate two different objectives from” the Mavericks deal.

“The first is that I have to believe … [it] is in and of itself a very good deal for everyone,” Feldman said. “The other possible outcome does relate to the politics of casino gambling in Texas, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that this … enhances the entire argument and brings it into a clearer focus.”

Professional sports team owners occupy rarefied space in Texas politics. Owners like Tilman Fertitta (Houston Rockets) and Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) are especially close with GOP leaders — Fertitta chaired the 2023 inaugural committee and has been spotted sitting courtside with Patrick. But in a sign of the limits of their influence, they too have lobbied for more gaming in Texas, with little to show for it so far.

The Adelsons

With a net worth estimated at over $32 billion, Miriam Adelson, 78, ranks as the fifth richest woman in the country, according to Forbes. A doctor by trade, she has also founded substance abuse research centers and clinics.

Her late husband, Sheldon Adelson, was the founder, CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands. She is the majority shareholder, while her son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, is its president and chief operating officer.

While Sheldon Adelson was far more visible in politics than his wife before he died, they both had risen in prominence in Texas politics in recent years. The couple collectively gave $4.5 million to the Republican effort to retain control of the Texas House in 2020.

After Sheldon Adelson’s death in January 2021, Miriam Adelson remained a major giver to Texas Republicans. She provided $2.3 million for a political action committee to support pro-gaming lawmakers in 2022, and she wrote a $1 million check to Abbott’s reelection campaign later that year. Abbott has indicated that he is open to legalizing casinos.

But Abbott’s history with the Adelsons goes further back. When he flew to Israel in 2016 and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was on a plane belonging to Sheldon Adelson.

Three months after her husband’s death in 2021, Miriam Adelson was back in Texas. She met separately with Patrick and Abbott, whose office said they discussed her husband’s legacy and Israel.

Less than a year later, Miriam Adelson was onstage as Abbott was inaugurated for his third term outside the Capitol. Days later, she sat front row at a pro-Israel conference in Austin where Abbott spoke and repeatedly lauded the Adelsons from the stage.

In her speech Thursday, Adelson spoke at length about the Israel-Hamas war, saying “what Israel suffered on October 7 was like 20 9/11′s” to the United States. She praised Texas for standing firmly behind Israel and gave special mention to Abbott, who made a surprise trip to Israel in the aftermath of the attack.

“This is a critical time for Israel,” Miriam Adelson said. “The support must be loud and clear, and now nowhere has it been more so than right here in Texas. … From the top office of my dear friend, Governor Abbott, and all the way down to ordinary churchgoers … Texans have turned out for Israel.”

Adelson received a standing ovation when she finished and mingled in a back hall for about 15 minutes before departing.

State of gaming in Texas

The Mavericks deal is unfolding against the backdrop of a push to expand gaming in Texas that has made slow progress at the Legislature. Sands first unleashed an army of lobbyists at the Capitol for the 2021 regular session and could not get its bill out of a House committee.

The company made a bigger stride during the regular session earlier this year, getting its bill to the House floor. But it fell short of the 100 votes it needed to pass off the floor — a higher threshold than usual because it would require a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

Still, the big obstacle remains the Senate, where Patrick has consistently said there is not enough support, especially among Republicans. But even as he dismissed the prospects of legalized casinos in the recent interview, Patrick offered praise for Miriam Adelson personally, saying: “I like her a lot. I’ve met her a number of times. She’s a delightful lady.”

Patrick has declined to provide his personal stance on casinos. But the rest of the so-called “Big Three” — Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan — have said they are open to it if it can be done in the high-quality way that Sands wants.

There has been a separate lobbying effort to legalize sports betting in Texas, though it has not made it much farther at the Capitol. It narrowly advanced out of the House this year, but the Patrick-led Senate declined to consider it.

To some gaming experts, it is only a matter of time before Texas has more gaming options. A top Sands executive, Andy Abboud, told a Texas trade group in 2020 that the state is the “biggest plum still waiting” for casino gambling, and Feldman, the UNLV expert, said that has “probably become only more true.”

“I just don’t know how much longer Texas politicians can stand around watching the tail lights leaving the state,” Feldman said.

Disclosure: Texas Association of Business has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.