THE FIGHT: Adelson Trolls the Online Gaming Community

Lawmakers in statehouses across the country are beginning to wind down their legislative activities as their respective elective bodies go on summer recess. Unfortunately, since New Jersey’s landmark passage of full online gaming in late February, there hasn’t been any other major victory in THE FIGHT to regulate online poker.

Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson had a lot to say this week.

Among all the other challenges online gaming faces, the activity continues to suffer from perception problems. Those problems came into full focus this week when Sheldon Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., authored a curious op-ed for (of all places) Forbes. He labeled online gaming as “fool’s gold”, “a societal train wreck” and a “plague” on society.

Adelson followed that op-ed with an even more bizarre appearance on Bloomberg News yesterday. Unfortunately the full 25 minutes of the interview – in which Adelson boasts about fighting in the Korean War, complains that his two teenage children are “hooked” on TV and claims that “poker is one of the most addictive” casino games – has already disappeared from the Bloomberg site. Highlights are available on YouTube.

For informed members of the online gaming community, the obvious takeaway from Adelson’s bizarre rants is either that he hasn’t done any homework since 2006 (when he was in favor of online gaming) or that he’s throwing up a smokescreen.

They know that it’s simple to debunk Adelson’s concerns about underage and problem gaming given advances in, and regulatory requirements for, age-verification, player-identification and self-exclusion technology.

They will point out that he’s making a distinction without a difference between online gaming and brick-and-mortar gaming (not to mention a mountain out of a molehill) when he complains that “young adults [who] are suffering under nearly a trillion dollars of student debt” may be tempted to gamble their way out of that debt.

And they’ll quickly question his statistics on the impact of online gaming on live gaming operations in Europe when he can’t even cite the studies by name and conveniently ignore the effects of the Great Recession on discretionary spending like travel.

They might even laugh when Adelson expresses concern that the impact of online gaming “on other commercial casinos, Native American casinos, and racetrack-casinos across the land could be substantial and even lead to their eventual demise.” That’s bad for LVS Corp. how, exactly? Does he have a soft spot in his heart for the Morongo Band of Mission Indians? Fond memories of Yonkers Raceway?

Last but not least, they would be infuriated by his claims about online poker, which are either gross ignorance or skillful trolling:

“That skill base [of poker] is, in my opinion, just a bunch of baloney. To get a card is not skill base. I know people say it is skill based, but it’s just so they can categorize it in a certain segment. … [P]oker, in my opinion, would become one of the most addictive games. People do not get addicted to necessarily playing blackjack. They get addicted for the game.”

All of this raises one obvious question about Adelson’s rants: why should we care?

We should care because, as I mentioned at the top, most of the country is uninformed or badly misinformed about online gaming. Adelson’s rants represent the worst of that misinformation. They are fuel for misguided efforts by so-called family values groups to pour even more money into opposing online gaming legalization. They could shape opinions of lay citizens and politicians who have neither the time nor the inclination to do their own research on the topic. And the worst sin of all – they’re just flat out wrong.

As a general rule, I’m all for ignoring Sheldon Adelson. I’ve ignored him for most of the last two years, ever since he started on his anti-online gaming tirade, except to note that he spent $100 million trying to buy a Republican presidential win. Generally speaking, as long as he keeps his wallet shut, I’m happy to let him say whatever he wants to say – but only so long as the online gaming community continues to do everything it can to educate citizens and politicians on the real issues, challenges, benefits and pitfalls of online gaming.

THE FIGHT isn’t going to be won by relying on the public’s base level of online gaming knowledge. Adelson’s comments are proof of that.

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Kevin McGrady

Legislative and Politics Beat Writer: Kevin McGrady practiced corporate law in New York City for eight years before moving to Las Vegas in 2008 to join the gaming industry. Kevin is a graduate of New York University and Columbia University School of Law.
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