2014 has seen perhaps the greatest battle over online gaming and poker in the brief history of the industry. While the previous year saw three states – Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware – enact historic legislation that regulated the industry for its citizens, the first five months of this year has seen the battle go back and forth between the factions. The latest decision by one of the prime movers in the game is at once stunning as it is gutless.
On Wednesday, the American Gaming Association – the group that represents the casino industry – issued an about-face in its position regarding online gaming and poker. Barely months removed from an endorsement of federal regulation of such activity, the AGA announced that they would no longer support any legalization attempts, whether on a federal level or on a state-by-state basis. Citing disagreements amongst their membership, the AGA decided that it was better to drop the issue rather than work to mediate an agreement between said membership or, without that, side with the majority faction.
In remarks to the Wall Street Journal’s Kate O’Keeffe, the Chief Executive Officer of the AGA, Geoff Freeman, stated the reasoning behind the decision. Because of disagreement amongst the membership of the group, online gaming “is not an issue we can lead on,” he said. He further went on to say that, “One of the things I’ve learned in this industry is we are extraordinarily competent at shooting at one another.”
The position now taken by the AGA is directly opposite what they have espoused for almost the last year. In August of 2013, Freeman expressed that a federal solution to the online gaming and poker question was the best method for proceeding on the subject. In hearings in Congress last December, Freeman himself testified that prohibition of online gaming and poker “wouldn’t work,” saying, “The government cannot put the internet back in the bottle.” In January, he wrote an op/ed that furthered that stance, expressing the previous thoughts of a regulated online industry rather than a ban on it.
There’s a simple solution for that, Mr. Freeman…that is the factor of majority rule, but the AGA is too gutless to enforce that.
The decision by the AGA is firmly rooted in the beliefs of one owner of one company that makes up their membership: the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and its owner and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson. As everyone well knows, the LVSC and Adelson have been the ONLY force behind a prohibition of online gaming and poker on both a federal and state level. With an estimated net worth of around $40 billion, Adelson has vowed to stop online gaming and poker “by whatever means necessary.” Apparently he got into the pocket of the AGA with the threat of leaving the organization.
The other members of the AGA – such groups as Caesars Entertainment, Boyd Gaming, MGM Resorts (and the list goes on) – have been ones who have stepped up and embraced online gaming and poker as another revenue outlet. These companies aren’t to be left out either when it comes to the blame on his subject, however; none of them have spoken up about the decision by the AGA, THEIR leadership group, and the one they believed would help them pursue regulation of the industry. In a way, they are perhaps as guilty and gutless as the AGA is in this change of stance regarding the situation.
What happened to following the request of a majority of your membership, Mr. Freeman? Even Steve Wynn, who has indicated support for Adelson’s efforts, walks an Azrael-like line with his Wynn Resorts operating an online gaming site in New Jersey. The entirety of your company is willing to have the online gaming and poker industry regulated, either by the federal government or the individual states, yet you decide to back away from the fight because of one man, one company? That’s not leadership, that’s kowtowing.
Without the AGA as a major player in the online gaming and poker fight, the future of the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection (C4COP) has also come into question. The C4COP was created earlier this year by the AGA as a countermeasure to the Adelson-led LVSC’s creation, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG). Headed by former Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack (herself questionable in motivations), the C4COP had made middling attempts at refuting some of the rhetoric from the CSIG. As of today, the website for the C4COP is still active, but no information about members of the group is available.
The AGA has significantly dropped the ball on this subject simply because of the stance of ONE of its members. The gutless response of stepping out of the fight instead of adhering to the wishes of virtually all of its members is reprehensible not only to those companies but also to the general casino public. If pleasant days in the office were what he was looking for, perhaps Geoff Freeman should have stayed in the travel industry, his previous job.