House Subcommittee Hears Both Sides in Federal Online Gambling Debate

Posted on: December 15, 2013, 05:30h. 

Last updated on: November 30, 2021, 10:35h.

Sheldon Adelson American Gaming Association federal gamblng regulation
The always indignant Sheldon Adelson squared off against the American Gaming Association at a recent House subcommittee hearing (Image: Mother Jones)

It was Adelson vs. the American Gaming Association last week, as a Congressional subcommittee convened in Washington, D.C. to share views regarding online gambling. If you’ve been following us at all of late, you’ll know that Sheldon Adelson – the billionaire casino mogul chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corporation who is adamantly anti-online gambling – is not shy about expressing his views on the topic, and has already sunk millions into creating opposition via ad campaigns and a website warning that gambling on the Internet could cause you to have two heads and start speaking in tongues.

Okay, a bit of hyperbole there, but for sure, Adelson is no friend of Internet gaming, which he sees as the downfall of society as we know it.

Jumping Into the Ring

And in the other corner, the American Gaming Association (AGA) – the established lobbying arm for many casino industry giants – was extolling the virtues of and need for federal regulations of Internet casino sites. AGA chief executive Geoff Freeman told the legislators that the Internet – and gambling on it – is here to stay, as witnessed by the now legal state positions in Nevada, Delaware and most recently New Jersey, all of which now have some form of  regulated gambling online. Freeman said that the next step in this process would be to establish universal federal requirements and standards that each state and each site would also have to adhere to.

“It’s not often an industry comes to you asking for regulation,” noted Freeman to the subcommittee. “The gaming industry is coming to you today. The prohibition of online gaming has not and will not work. The government cannot put the Internet back into the bottle. The demand for online gaming will only continue to grow.”

Backing Freeman’s viewpoint was John Pappas, who heads up the Poker Player Alliance, which represents the interests of some 1.2 million American poker players.

But Sands senior vice president Andrew Abboud had another viewpoint to express, on behalf of his impassioned employer.

“Internet gambling takes gambling too far,” said Abboud, who added that the casino industry “rushed to the marketplace” when the U.S. Department of Justice reinterpreted the 1961 Federal Wire Act in 2011, allowing the legal online gaming industry to be officially born at last.

“Just because we can doesn’t mean we should,” said Abboud. He added that issues surrounding underage gambling, addictive behavior potentials and the undermining of the land casino industry were all at stake and had not been sufficiently considered before moving forward.

Echoing Abboud’s comments was Les Bernal, who heads up the group Stop Predatory Gambling, an advocacy group that bills itself as an “American declaration on government and gambling.”

Subcommittee Not Likely to Take Action

Both of these comments were addressed to the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee. An earlier hearing on the topic, held by the Senate at the beginning of 2013, went nowhere. And according to the chair of last week’s subcommittee meeting, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), not much has changed since. Terry said there remains “absolutely no” consensus regarding which direction Congress should, or is likely, to go.

“There is really nothing on the agenda next for this,” Terry told the press, following the hearing. “We are going to see how things are evolving in Nevada and New Jersey and other states.

“Is there really something that forces the feds to get into this right now? And I don’t think a case was really made,” Terry added, also noting that he doesn’t believe the feds can get involved effectively with issues such as privacy and security. “I don’t know how you can do that,” he said.