Sheldon Adelson gained a lot of national attention during the 2012 election for his massive financial support of Newt Gingrich. The source of Adelson’s wealth was also a prominent topic of discussion in the media, given that he runs a number of casinos around the world. Now Adelson is back in the news, this time leading the charge to stop online gambling from taking hold in the United States.
Andy Abboud, senior vice president of government relations for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation — whose CEO is Republican and pro-Israel mega-donor Sheldon Adelson — gave a presentation on the dangers of online gambling at a Nov. 10 meeting of the RAGA.
His presentation included poll results suggesting Americans oppose online gambling; technical warnings that it can be manipulated; and even a glimpse of an unusual campaign against the practice with the slogan that “online gambling just takes gambling too far” — a remarkable departure for an industry that typically insists its business be called “gaming” not “gambling.”
At the same event, David J. Satz, senior vice president of government affairs for one of Adelson’s competitors, Caesar’s Entertainment Corporation, also made a presentation to the RAGA on Nov. 10 in favor of tightly regulated, legal online gambling.
Adelson’s presentation seemed to focus on social protection issues, claiming that the technology was too open to abuse where consumers could be ripped off. He also said that it would be more difficult to keep children from being involved and nearly impossible to stop people who were too inebriated to make responsible decisions about wagering from playing, all of which can be better handled at land based casinos such as his.
If you’re finding yourself feeling a bit cynical and wondering if Adelson might just have some ulterior motive in his opposition, your suspicions might not be too far off base.
But Adelson also thinks that online gambling is “suicidal” for the U.S. casino industry in the long run and will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. In the short-term, Adelson predicts that U.S. casinos could make money from their branded offerings online, but that non-branded web sites would quickly saturate the market with financial incentives that casino-branded offerings would inevitably need to match to stay competitive, eating away at their profit margins. At the same time, Adelson claims, the casinos would be cannibalizing their existing land-based businesses, eventually hurting their revenues and making them vulnerable.
Obviously, none of this makes the two arguments mutually exclusive. One could, I suppose, have concerns about the effects of online gambling on various people and still be worried about their own business profitability. But somehow I don’t think his objections would be quite this strenuous if the home of online gambling could be restricted to Vegas.
While realizing that gambling addicts may have even easier ways to wreck their lives if online poker becomes widely available in the US, I don’t find it a very compelling argument. People are responsible for their own decisions, and just as a drug addict will eventually find a way to get their hands on that next hit, a gambler will find a game someplace. During the relatively brief time that online gaming sites like PokerStars were up and running for Americans with real money games, I’ll admit that I was playing there. I found it enjoyable and never had more than a hundred bucks tied up in it. (When they shut down access, they kept my $67.00 but I’ll just have to live with that.) People asked me more than once why I used the site, pointing out how easy it would be for the owners to rig the software and rip off the users. My attitude was, of course the game is rigged. But you win sometimes anyway and it’s fun.
Frankly, I think if there’s a regulated version of online poker going through established American gaming companies, there’s at least a slight chance of it being more honest and above board. But given how much money is at stake and the inevitable questions which will arise regarding how easily the federal government can get their hands in the pockets of the players and the owners, I wouldn’t call this plan a sure thing.
For more on this, here’s a video of Chuck Todd interviewing some of Adelson’s representatives on the subject.