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SPOTLIGHT
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Gambling magnate is the emperor of avarice

Published on -12/26/2012, 8:46 AM

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The essence of greed? Simple. Greed amounts to taking more than you need when you already have enough -- and others don't.

Who among us, by this yardstick, rate as our greediest? Those who have the wherewithal to take whatever they want -- and deny others the basics they need.

In the United States today, unfortunately, we abound in these sorts of greedy people. Many of them dart in and out of the executive suites that sit high atop America's most elegant corporate towers. Year in and year out, these greedy execs grab ungodly rewards for their own labor -- and deny their employees anything close to decent compensation for theirs.

The Institute for Policy Studies' online weekly on excess and inequality, Too Much, has been compiling an annual list of America's top 10 greedy grabbers since 2008. The greediest of them all this year? That turned out to be a particularly tough call.

After all, who's greedier: a fast-food corporation's CEO who takes home over 500 times the paycheck of his minimum-wage workers -- while he's lobbying whole-hog against a minimum wage increase? Or a private-equity billionaire who specializes in savaging worker pensions?

But this year's top-ranking Too Much greedy grabber of 2012, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, more than held his own against this stiff competition.

Adelson started 2012 as one of the world's richest men. Forbes puts his personal net worth at $20.5 billion. What can you do with more than $20 billion? For starters, you can spend $150 million on an election.

Adelson did just that in 2012. No American invested more in politicking this year than he did. The 79-year-old became, as Time magazine notes, "the public face of what critics cast as a plutocrat class trying to buy U.S. elections."

Get used to that face. Adelson told the Wall Street Journal earlier this month that he plans to spend at least twice as much on his favorite candidates the next time around.

How does anyone get rich enough to plop that much money on pols? The bulk of Adelson's wealth comes from the Las Vegas Sands, the world's largest casino company. Adelson, the Sands chief exec and top shareholder, essentially treats the company as his own personal ATM. He even outsources to himself.

In 2009, for instance, Adelson had his Sands empire rent corporate jets from two outside companies. The controlling owner of the outside companies: Sheldon Adelson. The transactions netted Adelson $7.45 million.

Just last month, Adelson had the Sands declare a special dividend for stockholders. He'll personally collect $1.2 billion from this distribution -- and pay only a 15 percent federal income tax on it.

On Jan. 1, with the likely expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, the dividend tax rate will jump from that 15 percent to 35 percent.

The Sands dividend quickie will save Adelson nearly a quarter-billion in taxes.

But the real key to Adelson's billions has to be his manic hostility to unions. His flagship casino, the Venetian, currently operates as the only nonunion major casino in Las Vegas. Of the 40,000 Sands workers worldwide, not one is working under a union contract. And Adelson aims to keep things that way.

Last year, 130 security guards at Adelson's new casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had a different idea. They voted to organize a union. Adelson's Sands management predictably refused to recognize the union.

The National Labor Relations Board subsequently found Sands guilty of an unfair labor practice and ordered the company to start bargaining. Sands chose instead to start tying up the case in the federal courts.

The security guards make $13 an hour. They think Adelson and his Sands empire can afford to share some wealth. Adelson will willingly share nothing. Who could possibly expect anything else -- from 2012's greediest American?

OtherWords columnist Sam Pizzigati is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. His latest book is "The Rich Don't Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class."

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