Amidst the expansion of Internet gambling in America, some people remain firmly against the concept of free public access to financial games of chance at home. The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG), for example, thinks online gambling is evil and wants to stop it completely. Surprisingly, the efforts of the CSIG are led not by a grass roots left-wing or right-wing group. Instead, they are led by a single bigwig casino executive. That executive is Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
Adelson, an 80-year-old billionaire who earned his fortune from years of diligent work in the gambling industry, has made it clear that he wants to apply his piles of money toward the dismantling of Internet gambling. Over the course of his lifetime, Adelson has been involved in many projects, from political campaigns to charities to entrepreneurship. In fact, the business mogul's executive team has helped establish multiple casinos in the U.S., China, and Singapore. In spite of these magnificent accomplishments, Andy Abboud, the billionaire's top adviser, says he has never seen his colleague so “passionate” about an issue as he is the topic of Internet gambling.
Children and Online Gambling
One of the primary ways the CSIG tries to to reach out to people is through a campaign that pits Internet gambling against child welfare. The Coalition made a controversial move last December when it posted a photo of a child on its Facebook page. The image depicts the child, about 10 years old, sitting entranced in front of a computer. The caption reads: “Internet gambling poses a threat to kids.” A blurb attached to the photo claims that the Internet gambling industry is trying to “draw the younger generation into gambling.”
Critics automatically jumped on the Coalition's Facebook post, arguing that the caption was not based in fact. Commenters raged against Adelson, calling the post a “gross exaggeration” and accusing the Coalition of “fear mongering.” Still, the Coalition stuck to its guns, saying that in a brick-and-mortar casino a person can be “eyeballed” to make sure they are of age, but that the “same protections are . . . not available . . . over the Internet.”
The Coalition has expressed concern not just for young children, but for college kids as well. In a December 17 Facebook post, the Coalition allured to a "nightmare scenario" in which every college dorm room, living room, and pants pocket would be a potential hub for dangerous Internet gambling "if Congress doesn't act now."
Crime and Online Gambling
The Coalition has also used the possibility of increased crime as a platform against Internet betting. The group recently cited a letter to a congressman from an FBI agent on its Facebook page regarding online casinos and money laundering. In the letter, the agent concedes that online casinos are “vulnerable to a wide array of criminal schemes.” The agent goes on to explain that online casinos, along with U.S. banks and brick-and-mortar casinos, are often unwitting conduits for criminal money laundering. He also warns that more criminal activity could occur if legalized gambling spreads to more states. Currently, online gaming is legal only in Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey. Anyway, as this page can explain, this problem is well-known too in land-based casinos.
Critics expressed annoyance at the Coalition's linkage of online gambling to crime, defending their right to make choices for themselves and stating that “licensing and regulation” is the way to combat such crimes. One slick and snarky commenter referred back to a 2012 incident in which the Las Vegas Sands, Adelson's casino, was the subject of a criminal money laundering investigation (read here). Adelson himself was not named in any of the charges.
Working the “Job Killing” Angle
Most recently, the Coalition posted a link on its Facebook page to an article about how legalized online gaming could “kill jobs” in Colorado. The article discusses the possibility that the state's thriving brick-and-mortar casino industry could fall prey to job loss if online gambling becomes legal. The legalization of Internet betting games is, in fact, on the legislative table for Colorado this year and could become a reality soon. A draft to legalize Internet poker was crafted late during the last congressional session. Many expect it to pass in 2014.
Adelson has said that he is willing to spend “whatever it takes” to eradicate legalized gaming online. He has linked this sentiment to his “moral standard,” implying that his conscience cannot abide by the swirling legal changes in today's American gambling landscape. Adelson defended his position by writing an article for Forbes last June stating that people would be devastated by the new legalization, that online gambling is “fool's gold” and people could lose their homes. One of the Coalition's slogans is, in fact, "Click your mouse and lose your house."
An Ulterior Motive?
The billionaire recognizes that some people will see an ulterior motive in his negative attitude toward online legalization and the establishment of the Coalition. Indeed, some jaded onlookers have surmised that Adelson is simply trying to protect the empire he spent his life building. The Coalition's Facebook post linking online gaming to Colorado job loss could be seen as supporting evidence for this viewpoint. No one can deny the possibility that brick-and-mortar casinos would lose money if betting over the Internet becomes more popular than, say, taking day trips to casinos. At this point in his career, it is easy to fathom that Adelson wouldn't want the empire he's worked so hard to build to crumble due to the reversal of a federal ban.
Whatever his true motivations are, Adelson continues to use his money to fight what appears to be a sweeping trend in America. Colorado is not the only state that stands to legalize online gaming in the near future. Legislators in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, and Mississippi are also looking to take the plunge into legal online wagering. If legalization snowballs as many people expect it to do, Adelson may soon find that he and his Coalition have even more work to do.