Continued from page 1

The two sides of the debate have hired big guns to help them work with state officials and with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The American Gaming Association, which supports the expansion of online gambling, has hired President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, Jim Messina, to help with its grass-roots campaigns and to promote online gambling.

The American Gaming Association estimates the U.S. online gambling market at $4 billion to $6 billion. With that kind of money at stake, it’s not surprising that both sides are spending heavily.

The Adelson-helmed Las Vegas Sands has paid $220,000 to retain the services of two of Washington’s top lobbying firms — Patton Boggs and Husch Blackwell — to help with the effort, according to OpenSecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the money in U.S. politics. Mr. Adelson’s money also has helped finance the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, which last week released a letter from the FBI warning of the dangers of lifting the federal ban.

“The FBI has said definitively that sophisticated technologies can be employed by terrorist groups and criminal organizations to move money undetected, conceal their physical locations, and entangle unwitting online players,” said former New York Gov. George E. Pataki, who was hired by Mr. Adelson as coalition co-chairman.

The Christian Coalition, meanwhile, budgeted less than $40,000 over the past two years for its lobbying efforts, according to OpenSecrets.com, and welcomes Mr. Adelson’s efforts.

Roberta Coombs, Christian Coalition president, said her group relies primarily on its grass-roots army to get lawmakers to realize that online gambling hurts families. Still, she said, she is happy that Mr. Adelson has entered the fight.

“I think it is great that he has come and joined the team,” Mrs. Coombs said. “He has the resources to help lobby this.”

The American Gaming Association also spent more than $2 million on lobbying efforts over the first three quarters of 2013 and $2.5 million in 2012. Caesars Entertainment spent nearly $4.7 million over that same period, while MGM Resorts International doled out more than $1 million.

Taken together, gambling interests spent more than $34 million on its 2012 lobbying efforts.

Mr. Bernal said Mr. Messina’s involvement is a reminder that the battle over online gambling is set against the backdrop of the 2012 election. “You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger donor today than gambling interests,” he said.

Indeed, the casino and gaming industry funneled more than $3.6 million to Democrats and about $3.5 million to Republicans in the 2012 elections, according to OpenSecrets.com.

The fight is critical to some high-profile operations — most notably, Caesars.

Caesars is bordering on bankruptcy,” Mr. Bernal said. “To try to salvage that investment, they are lobbying heavily to get online gambling. This is not a public uprising to have casinos on everyone’s cellphones and in everyone’s bedroom.”

Gary Thompson, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, said online gambling is one of the ways in which the company plans to address its financial challenges. The casino chain, he said, supports “regulation over prohibition” and Mr. Adelson is making a bad bet.

Story Continues →