Vegas, Macau and the Albatross of Image

Sheldon Adelson’s support for Mitt Romney has transformed the Las Vegas/Macau casino mogul into the media’s favorite stick with which to beat the presumptive Republican presidential nominee—and it may prove to be an effective one.

One recent example is a blog item by The New Yorker’s China correspondent, Evan Osnos. The piece updates Adelson’s long-running legal battle with former executive Steve Jacobs, then segues to the recent attack on Ng Man-sun, an investor in Macau’s Greek Mythology casino, which is not owned by Adelson. No direct connection is drawn between the story’s two elements, but everyone gets a little dirty by association. More potentially damaging is the recent Pro Publica/Frontline investigation into whether Adelson’s payments to a Macau lawyer and legislator violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In national political journalism, Las Vegas remains a stand-in for all sorts of unsavory interests. But its place as the favorite synecdoche for shadiness may be eclipsed by Macau, the mere mention of which tars everyone in splashing range. It’s got gambling, prostitution and gangland violence. Hence the ease with which the association game plays out: Romney-Adelson-Macau-Evil.

What’s remarkable is that Las Vegas is unmentioned in the Osnos story and (aside from that pesky corporate name “Las Vegas Sands”) only a bit player in the Pro Publica piece. What’s frustrating is that it’s there, anyway, hovering in the consciousness of a nation that loves to connect us with the dark side.