The United States House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing yesterday to discuss HB 2666, the Poker Freedom Act, introduced by staunch poker supporter Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). As it turned out, there was not much discussion of the actual bill, but rather general questions and answers about the safety of internet gambling. The most entertaining and satisfying development to poker players, though, may have been how the Las Vegas Sands Corporation was exposed.
One of the panel members to testify was Andy Abboud, Vice President of Government Relations and Community Development at Las Vegas Sands Corp. His boss is Sheldon Adelson, the man with bottomless pockets who is on a crusade to make sure the day comes when not one red cent can ever be spent on internet gambling in the United States. Abboud was obviously in the anti-internet poker camp on the panel.
Now, we don’t know with 100 percent certainty that Abboud truly believed everything he was saying; he could have been there because Adelson threatened to banish him to Outer Mongolia should he refuse. But he was there and he certainly began the proceedings with passion. In his opening statement, he pulled out his phone (and did so on several other occasions), imploring the members of the subcommittee to consider how dangerous it could be if every mobile phone was turned into a casino. He conjured up images of children running rampant with their parents’ credit cards, piling up thousands of dollars in gambling losses. Think of the children. Think of the children.
But it was during that opening statement that the Sands agenda began to appear. Before trying to scare the Congresspeople with the “casino in every hand” routine, he talked about how his company is currently in discussions with Florida to bring a resort casino to the state. In one breath, he said how Sands wants to spend billions of dollars on a brick and mortar destination and how internet gaming is something to be feared. It is not a stretch to see why.
Then it started getting good. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D – IL) pointed out that the Venetian, which is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corp., touts mobile gaming on its website. “Mobile Casino Gaming is available to you on property during your stay, and you can even play from your room!” the site says. “These games and many others are available to you on your smartphone and tablet-NO TABLE REQUIRED™.”
To that end, Rep. Schakowsky told Abboud, “It feels to me…a little hypocritical.”
Later, Abboud talked about how brick and mortar casinos provide thousands of jobs. While he didn’t explicitly say that online gambling would hurt those jobs, it was the obvious implication (and likely not a justifiable opinion, at that). He made this statement after Rep. Peter Welch (D – VT) asked him about consumer protections. Abboud made it known that his opinion was that consumers, particularly children, could not be properly protected, but even when Welch asked him to suppose that technology could offer the best protection, Abboud still said that online gambling should not exist.
Then Barton got his turn. He revisted Rep. Schakowsky’s point, putting the Venetian’s website on a screen for all to see. He also pulled up a page that advertises the ability for Venetian customers to bet on sports from anywhere in the state of Nevada. “What you’re advertising here…is the same thing that we’re talking about in my bill for poker only, it’s just a matter of how wide the geography is…” Barton commented.
At this point, it looked as if Abboud was getting flustered. Not so much in his outward appearance – he remained collected – but in his answers, which started to ramble. His passion began to wane. After saying how live poker is better because you can look your opponent in the eye (irrelevant to the hearing), he began to bloviate:
It is also about the location. That is a very controlled environment, in a regulated state, in a regulated casino, that can only be done within the four walls of our building. You have to go up…to the cage, fill out the application, have an eyeball to eyeball experience. Make sure you aren’t on the self exclusion list, make sure we don’t think you have had too much to drink…
That is where Rep. Barton cut him off to get back to the point at hand. “What your company is advertising here, except for the geography, is the same thing my bill does.”
At no point in the hearing to Abboud present any evidence that consumers, particularly those more vulnerable such as children and problem gamblers, could not be adequately protected by technology in internet gambling. His only solution was a blanket ban. He even tried to reason that a regulated online gambling (or online poker only) environment would actually drive people to illegal sites because those sites, not operating under strict regulations, could undercut the regulated sites and offer a cheaper product. It is a theory that makes no sense to anyone with any experience at all in the industry.
What Abboud did provide evidence of was his company’s fear that online gambling would hurt Las Vegas Sands. Never mind that virtually all of the company’s competitors are eager to get online and are itching for a regulated industry. Abboud may have looked like he was trying to protect children, but he was really out to protect himself and Sheldon Adelson.