Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson agreed to cut a $5-million check to the Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich's campaign late last week as a "last act of loyalty" to an old friend. But Adelson plans to spend many millions more than that -- no matter the eventual GOP nominee -- to defeat President Obama, two close associates tells NBC News.
One of the associates said that Adelson's contributions to the anti-Obama cause may be greater "by a factor of five" than the donation he made last Friday. That suggests he may give as much as $25 million to GOP Super PACs gearing up to run attack TV ads against Obama.
"This is about a 20-year friendship with Newt," said one associate, who asked not to be identified but who has participated in discussions about the $5-million contribution Adelson made to Winning Our Future, the pro-Gingrich Super PAC. "He wanted to do something to help his friend who needs his help."
"But in his mind, whatever fallout there comes from this will be more than made up by the support he brings to the table" for the fall campaign, the associate added. "He has made clear he'll spend whatever it takes to defeat Barack Obama and support whoever is the nominee."
Adelson "agonized over" the contribution, said a second source close to the casino magnate, in part because he knew that Mitt Romney's campaign would be "pissed."
But Adelson understood that "Newt's got to perform well" in South Carolina and "in a time of need, he felt he had an obligation to help his friend," the second source said.
The $5-million donation by Adelson is the largest known donation yet to so-called "Super PACs"-- groups that can take unlimited funds from wealthy donors and corporations. It dramatically illustrates the outside role that billionaire donors are having in shaping the GOP race.
After receiving the money from Adelson on Friday, Winning Our Future immediately made a $3.4 million ad buy in South Carolina in order to run blistering attacks on Romney's record as chief executive of Bain Capital, accusing him of reaping millions of dollars in profits by buying up companies and shutting down their factories. The ads will be based on clips from a 27-minute film, "King of Bain: When Mitt Romney Came to Town," that describes the GOP front-runner as a "predatory corporate raider."
Whether Adelson's contributions for the presidential race reach $25 million, or even exceed that, there is little question he has the resources to make such donations. The 77-year-old chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands Corp. -- who personally owns more than 40% of the stock of the international gambling firm -- is currently ranked as the eighth-richest American by Forbes Magazine, with a net worth of $21.5 billion.
A longtime generous GOP donor, he has been especially close to Gingrich, having given the former speaker's political organization more than $7 million in the last five years and making one of his jets available to fly Gingrich around the country to speaking engagements.
Adelson is also controversial: He has been involved in ferocious battles with labor unions in Las Vegas over his efforts to build non-union casinos. His worldwide gambling firm is currently under criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly paying bribes to Chinese officials to secure a casino license in Macau. (The firm has adamantly denied the charges and said they stem from unfounded allegations made by a "disgruntled former employee.")
He is also a staunch backer of Israel and owns a newspaper in that country -- a publication that has featured Gingrich on its front page. After Gingrich recently stirred controversy by saying the Palestinians were an "invented" people," Adelson rushed to his defense telling a pro-Israeli group, "Read the history of those who call themselves Palestinians and you will see why" Gingrich said what he did.
Ron Reese, a spokesman for Las Vegas Sands, declined to comment on Adelson's contribution on Monday.
The first Adelson associate acknowledged he was surprised to see that Adelson's money is being used to fund ads based on the film about Romney and Bain Capital. The movie features interviews with workers who lost their jobs and had their homes foreclosed allegedly because of Bain Capital's actions aimed at boosting the profits of the companies.
Adelson's own fights with union workers in Las Vegas -- and boost his own company's profits -- become so fierce that he was forced to retain full time security because of threats he received from the workers whose jobs were being jeopardized, the associate said.
"The whole thing is ironic," said the associate.