File under Hypocrisy 101.
Sheldon Adelson, the CEO and Chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns some of the largest casinos in the world including the Venetian in Las Vegas, is "morally opposed" to online gambling. Adelson is the 8th wealthiest man in America, and the 16th wealthiest man in the world. His wealth is only relevant because he got wealthy through the casino business and is now engaged in what is likely blatant protectionism under the guise of moral opposition to an incredibly slight variation of an industry he's been involved with for the majority of his adult life:
Last week, Adelson went to Asia to lobby for legalization of casinos in Japan and Vietnam. Las Vegas Sands is also pushing for a casino site in Miami, should Florida legalize gaming.
Before heading to Asia, Adelson visited Washington, D.C., to tell Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., and American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. of his opposition to Internet poker legalization. He reportedly told them he doesn't believe technology can prevent underage gamblers from betting online, and that he is "morally opposed" to Internet gaming.
Strip rivals visited with Adelson recently to try to change his opinion toward a potential industry that many believe is worth more than $5 billion annually in gaming revenues.
The arguments fell on deaf ears.
Most major casino companies have deals in place with online gaming providers to start up U.S.-based Internet poker websites catering to Americans if Congress approves online poker legislation.
Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said the company's board of directors has not yet developed a strategy for Internet gaming, so Adelson's sentiments are his personal views.
But let's face reality. The board is not going to oppose the company's chairman, chief executive officer and majority shareholder on this issue.
Apparently its possible to say that with a straight face. Adelson claims that his opposition is over concerns that minors will be able to access internet gambling services and that the technology to prevent them from accessing online gambling services isn't sufficient.
This is a distraction. While it would be difficult to completely prevent children from potentially accessing online gambling services (i.e., if they stole their parents banking information), preventing all but the most technocratic of minors from engaging in online gambling would be easy: require credit/debit cards or e-check funding, as well as an some official form of identification to prove your age. Ironically, its probably easier for a minor to access online gambling sites in the present than it would be under state or federal legislation.
It is repeatedly noted that Adelson's view is "personal" and not an official stance of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which remains "neutral" and remains a member of the American Gaming Association, which has publicly supported legalization of online poker.
As one of the wealthiest men in America, Adelson has the ear of Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who he met with recently to share his feelings:
Kyl, the second-ranking Republican leader in the Senate, declined to discuss the details of the conversation. But he said Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate who has been a generous supporter of Republican causes, had his ear.
"I always listen to Sheldon," Kyl said in a brief interview. "He is a very bright guy, very well motivated and I always find what he says is very interesting."
Kyl reportedly is engaged with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in negotiations over a bill that would legalize online poker and establish regulations that would allow states to issue licenses for companies to set up virtual poker rooms.
Most of the Las Vegas casino industry has expressed eagerness to get online, viewing it as a lucrative new revenue stream and one that can be regulated effectively.
But Adelson publicly has broken ranks, telling leaders of the industry's government affairs arm, the American Gaming Association, that he doesn't believe technology has advanced to prevent underage gamblers from participating.
It's unclear the extent to which Adelson influences Jon Kyl, who has recently shifted from opposing online poker to neutral/ possibly supporting it. Some appear convinced that this is a death blow to the likelihood that federal legislation will appear in the near future.
Finally, an astute poker player noted that Las Vegas Sands Corp. has made no progress on preparing for federal legislation, betting that this might have something to do with Adelson's suddenly discovered moral opposition to an industry he has spent his entire life in:
Before the U.S. Department of Justice cut off Americans' access to three of the world's largest Internet poker websites through a nine-count federal indictment in April, Tracy had been an online professional poker player. He suggested Adelson's view is sour grapes.
"He is in opposition because all of his industry ducks are not in a row yet to compete in a new market," Tracy said. "I think he is trying to block competitors from getting a bill through."
Many other casinos have already started preparing for it.
Many rumors have been spread about online poker legislation that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is working on behind the scenes, though nothing has appeared yet. Reid made a similar attempt to pass legislation during the 2010 lame duck session, though was unsuccessful.
Poker players were hopeful that legislation might have ended up in the legislation put forth by the Super Committee, or attached to an omnibus bill at the end of the year. As of now, there is no indication that poker legislation will be in appropriations legislation or the payroll tax cut bill. Thousands of Americans who wish to play poker online from the comfort of their own homes have had their hopes dashed, and will continue to watch 2012 in disgust, as 3-4 high ranking politicians have near complete control over the economic freedom of millions of Americans.