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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz
 

Casino CEOs could become political husbands in Nevada congressional races

23 September 2015

Dan Lee and Jim Murren might be bumping into each other in unfamiliar settings.

Lee, CEO of regional casino company Full House Resorts, and Murren, chairman and CEO of MGM Resorts International, could soon be also known as political husbands. Their wives are potential candidates for two Nevada congressional seats.

Susie Lee has joined the crowded Democratic contest seeking a spot in the race for Congressional District 4. Heather Murren would easily be the front-runner if she enters the sparse Democratic field in the 3rd Congressional District.

We're not sure if this what American Gaming Association CEO Geoff Freeman had in mind exactly when the organization launched its Gaming Votes political outreach program.

The Washington, D.C.-based trade group is working to educate casino industry employees, vendors and other stakeholders on candidate positions on gaming, and to ensure candidates understand the industry's economic contributions.

On Tuesday, the AGA named a longtime Democratic congressional staffer to oversee government relations and added former Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford as a strategic communications consultant.

Gaming has made its way into the discussion in the presidential campaign. Governors of three of the largest casino states are seeking the GOP nomination. Meanwhile, questions on whether or not billionaire Donald Trump lobbied former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush about opening a casino the state became a heated debate moment between the two candidates.

Now, the gaming industry could be front and center in Nevada's two most competitive congressional races with two casino industry CEO wives potentially in the mix.

But they won't be running on their husbands' last names.

Susie Lee was the founding executive director of a Las Vegas homeless shelter for single women, families, and single parents with children; she launched the highly successful After-School All Stars program, and has been board president of Communities in Schools since 2010. Heather Murren was a respected Wall Street research analyst before moving to Las Vegas. She founded the Nevada Cancer Institute and she served as a congressional appointed member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2009.

Susie Lee has a tough path to Capitol Hill. She has to prevail in a Democratic primary that includes a current state senator and two former state lawmakers. The winner faces incumbent Republican Rep. Crescent Hardy in the November 2016 election.

In CD3, where incumbent Rep. Joe Heck is giving up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate, Heather Murren would jump to the top of the Democratic field. Retiring U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., embraced her candidacy, saying she was "exactly the type of person Nevada needs representing them."

The trouble is that she's still on the fence about running. Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius first reported that Murren talked with Democratic leadership about the campaign. Political pundit Jon Ralston said it might take a month before she decides to take the plunge.

"I have always felt an obligation and also a desire to serve, help people, to make change, to do something meaningful in my life," she told Ralston last week.

A month before Heather Murren's name surfaced, Jim Murren appeared on the list of more than 100 host committee members for a fundraiser benefiting State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, who is considered CD3's Republican front-runner. The suggested contribution was $1,000.

Awkward.

Dan Lee and Jim Murren have been politically active over the years. Jim Murren appeared in television commercials in 2010 touting how Reid "saved" the CityCenter project. Both CEOs run publicly traded companies with significant holdings outside Nevada. They need to find time to support their candidate/wives. Also, they need to be prepared to become an issue in their wives' races.

Allow me to provide some counsel.

My wife was 25-year elected judge in Las Vegas and Clark County. I've walked door-to-door and attended numerous meet-the-candidate forms where the candidates out-numbered the actual voters. I've fixed my share of roadside political signs and I always carried extra copies of my wife's campaign brochures.

I've also been brought up as a campaign "issue." One of my wife's opponents said she received favorable press treatment because "her husband owned the Review-Journal." (This has to be news to the GateHouse Media folks.)

Welcome to the political jungle, guys.

Howard Stutz's Inside Gaming column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Find on Twitter: @howardstutz
Casino CEOs could become political husbands in Nevada congressional races is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.