Mark Cuban backs Biden. Why was he so keen to sell the Mavs to Trump megadonors?

<span>Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks are currently playing in the Western Conference finals. </span><span>Photograph: Adam Davis/EPA</span>
Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks are currently playing in the Western Conference finals. Photograph: Adam Davis/EPA

In another era it might have been hailed as a laudable example of bipartisan bridge-building – a Republican megadonor partnering with a staunchly anti-Donald Trump entrepreneur.

But in today’s politically polarised environment it looks odd, or even hypocritical: Mark Cuban selling the Dallas Mavericks, who are currently flying high in the NBA playoffs, to Miriam Adelson, perhaps the Trumpiest billionaire of them all.

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At the end of last year, Cuban, who has called Trump a “snake oil salesperson” and pledged to vote for Joe Biden over Trump even if Biden were on his deathbed, offloaded a majority stake in the NBA team for a reported $3.5bn to the Adelson and Dumont families, controllers of the Las Vegas Sands casino company.

Adelson is the widow of Sheldon Adelson, a gambling tycoon and munificent patron of right-wing causes who died in 2021. He was the largest donor to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, giving $25m. He added $5m for the inauguration festivities, a record such individual contribution.

The Adelsons spent over $91m in support of Trump’s failed re-election effort in 2020, Politico tallied, as part of a long-term half-a-billion dollar spending spree on Republican causes. Miriam Adelson recently dined with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, Politico reported in March. In 2018 Trump awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honour, alongside posthumous decorations for Babe Ruth, Elvis Presley and the conservative supreme court justice Antonin Scalia.

Why would Cuban unite with a family that has arguably done more than any other in the donor class to advance the interests of a man he feels is loathsome and bad for America? Well, like any successful entrepreneur, Cuban is flexible.

Cuban and Trump have a long history of mutual antipathy dating back to their days as blustery, duelling reality TV stars with a blunt social media presence; Trump has called Cuban “dopey”, among other insults. Their rivalry predictably intensified when Cuban mulled launching his own White House bid. But Cuban is no inveterate Democrat: in 2017 he said he would run as a “Republican before Democrat and most likely Independent” and earlier said that the nascent Trump campaign was “probably the best thing to happen to politics in a long time” because of the real estate mogul’s “honest answers”.

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Cuban has long been friendly with the Adelsons, who saluted him in 2017 with an In Pursuit of Excellence Award at a gala in Las Vegas. And they offered him a tempting deal. The sale price represents a vast profit for Cuban, who bought the Mavericks in 2000 for $285m. He also retains considerable influence in the day-to-day running of the franchise, preserving a 27% stake and control of basketball operations and acting as alternate governor.

More than anything, the sale is a big bet on the future direction of Texas politics and puts the Mavericks at the vanguard of the latest money-making strategies embraced by major league franchises as they diversify income streams at the intersection of sports, real estate and gambling.

Another politically-fungible owner, Steve Cohen of the New York Mets, gave $1m to the Trump inauguration fund. More recently he has been hanging out with and donating to the campaign of New York’s Democratic governor, Kathy Hochul, as he seeks approval for a massive entertainment district anchored by a casino next to the Mets’ ballpark.

New York is one of 38 states where sports betting is legal, following a 2018 US supreme court decision that struck down a federal ban. Among the exceptions: Texas. Should that change the Adelsons and Cuban will be poised to take advantage, with the Mavericks handily situated in the fourth-biggest urban area in the country, in the nation’s second-most populous state.

The company that built the Venetian resort in Las Vegas appears to envision something similarly grandiose for Dallas. “If you look at destination resorts and casinos, the casino part of it is tiny, relative to the whole bigger destination aspect of it. Could you imagine building the Venetian in Dallas, Texas? That would just change everything,” Cuban told the Associated Press.

“The advantage is what can you build and where and you need to have somebody who’s really, really good at that. Patrick [Dumont, Miriam Adelson’s son-in-law and president of Las Vegas Sands] and Miriam, they’re the best in the world at what they do,” he added. “When you get a world-class partner who can come in and grow your revenue base and you’re not dependent on things that you were in the past, that’s a huge win.”

Though there are no guarantees in the real-estate and casino sectors – as Trump could confirm – expansion should provide the Mavericks with new and daily sources of income, reducing reliance on ticket sales and media rights as player salaries soar while the market for regional TV rights is in turmoil.

Casinos and sportsbooks are likely to become tempting additions to now-ubiquitous mixed-used development plans for shops, restaurants, hotels and apartments among team owners who view sports as a property play and seek to monetise land around their stadiums.

“I think this is kind of the next step, opening the door for legalizing gambling in a state like Texas then being at the forefront – since you already own an NBA team in Texas – to develop and integrate that sports team with a casino, a resort,” says Stephen Shapiro, a professor in the Department of Sport and Entertainment Management at the University of South Carolina.

“Some of the barriers between sport and gambling, between the sport leagues and teams and the sport gambling industry have come down, and that’s why you’re seeing these opportunities.”

The St Louis Cardinals have explored adding a sportsbook to their Ballpark Village development next to Busch Stadium should Missouri legalise sports betting, according to the Columbia Missourian. Another MLB team, the Oakland Athletics, aim to move to Las Vegas and have partnered with the gaming company Bally’s to develop a site on the Strip that would house a ballpark and a casino resort. The Ilitch family, who run the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings, already own a casino-hotel in Detroit.

Cuban told the Dallas Morning News he wants to build a new arena “in the middle of a resort and casino”. The team’s lease on its current home, the American Airlines Center, expires in 2031. That gives Cuban and Adelson a few years to persuade Texas lawmakers – and then Texas voters, who would need to approve a constitutional amendment – before negotiating for a new venue with civic leaders.

Adelson is estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of over $30bn to Cuban’s $5.4bn. Amid a high-powered years-long lobbying effort, she has spent over $4m this year on a political action committee, Texas Sands PAC. In 2022 Adelson gave $1m to the successful re-election campaign of Greg Abbott, Texas’ Republican governor.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and ex-Republican presidential hopeful, has acted as a spokesman for an industry advocacy group, the Texas Sports Betting Alliance, whose partners include leading gambling firms and professional sports teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Rockets and Houston Astros. The Rockets are run by another Vegas casino-owning billionaire, Tilman Fertitta, whose interests include the Golden Nugget chain, while the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones, has tried to build a casino in Arkansas.

Yet previous efforts to convince the Republican-dominated and increasingly ideologically extreme Texas legislature to legalise gambling have failed, and the state has lately run a budget surplus, meaning anti-wagering lawmakers are unlikely to shelve their opposition on the basis that legalised gaming is a valuable source of tax revenue.

But the ongoing normalisation and growing popularity of gambling across the US puts pressure on Texas and the other holdouts to fall in line and lobbying efforts are sure to intensify ahead of the next state legislative session, which begins in January.

This is where Cuban needs Adelson. Logically, a push led by a well-connected billionaire with real-estate and gambling expertise, impeccable right-wing bona fides and a history of largesse towards the Republican Party has a better chance of persuading sceptical conservatives than one spearheaded by the unconventional, Trump-averse, Biden-backing star of Shark Tank.

“It’s a partnership,” Cuban told the AP. “They’re not basketball people. I’m not real estate people. That’s why I did it. I could have gotten more money from somebody else. I’ve known these guys for a long time. They’re great at the things I’m not good at.”

Equally, since sports franchises are widely viewed not as mere businesses but as beloved community assets, linking with the Mavericks could prove uniquely useful for the casino tycoons.

“I feel like having a sports team already provides credibility and legitimacy within the market that maybe the Adelsons wouldn’t have,” Shapiro says. “I certainly could see them being able to leverage the brand and the relationship that the brand already has with the community to open the doors for opportunity that maybe wouldn’t have existed otherwise.”