Sheldon Adelson: Poker Enemy #1
Online poker has had a steep uphill climb to gain social legitimacy over the past decade. Anti-gambling and religious groups have always decried any sort of gambling, especially online gambling, by constantly charging that it will lead to unstoppable gambling addictions without providing any evidence or statistics to back up their claims.
Online poker was originally under attack from traditional casino groups who worried that online gambling might detract from land-based gambling. However, in recent years, in brick and mortar casinos have been leading the effort to legalize online poker since they believe it can be a significant source of additional revenue for them as well as drive people to land-based casinos who want to try "the real thing."
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Finally, online poker has had been under fire from state and national governments that do not want outside interested to take away from their gambling monopolies. This is particularly the case in Europe.
While all of these groups have been a thorn in poker's side, there has been no single face (except for Bill Frist) that truly was poker's enemy #1 at the time. This seems to have changed, and that enemy now (at least for US players) is Sheldon Adelson.
Why Adelson Is Opposed to Online Poker
To be clear, Adelson is opposed to all online gambling, not just online poker. The fact that he doesn't differentiate between casino-style gambling and poker almost immediately should decrease his credibility, as the two are totally different animals.
Adelson primarily claims that online poker is too accessible to those that are underage and problem gamblers. He also believes it will threaten traditional land-based casinos and cost jobs in that area (notice how these billionaires try to hide their self-interest by always seeming to act like they care about other people's jobs). He wrote an op-ed in Forbes laying out his opposition to online gambling.
He says he's been willing to spend 'whatever it takes' to defeat online gambling measures in the US. He's worth about $27 billion, so his threats should certainly be taken seriously.
Why Adelson is Wrong
Adelson's claims are thinly backed up by any actual evidence. First, his claims that it will affect the land-based industry is pretty much justifying all those that believe he's really just looking out for his own business. However, even his statistics there are misleading. He cites Europe that shows a growth in online revenues compared to flat land-based revenues. While that may be the case for the past year, land-based casinos saw a huge boom in the US between 2004-2008 due to online poker since many people tried poker out online and decided to go to the casino for the real thing. There have been tens of thousands of jobs created in the land-based poker industry due to the poker boom that online poker generated. So while his arguments may apply to casino-style online gambling, they do not apply to online poker.
He then says that a lot of the traditional safeguards do not apply to online poker and someone could lose too much money too easily. Again, he doesn't answer any of these points:
1. Sites can have built-in safeguards so that a person is limited in how much they deposit a day. That doesn't exist in land-based casinos.
2. Underage gamblers generally don't have access to credit cards and other banking instruments to play online. Those that are 18+ may have that, but they would still likely need ID to get a withdrawal at least. Some states are also requiring people to setup or verify their accounts at land-based casinos which would solve this issue as well.
3. People are shit-faced drunk and lose money all the time in casinos, and the casinos certainly encourage that with free drinks. Furthermore, online poker is a skill-based game that is likely too difficult and annoying for someone that is under the influence of drugs to even want to play.
How Much of a Threat is Adelson?
Given Adelson's personal wealth and his vow to defeat online poker, many in the industry are worrying that he can derail the industry's legalization efforts in the United States. I'm not too worried though.
It would be one thing if Adelson was a loveable billionaire who's had a lot of successful political causes in the past. However, it's quite the opposite. He practically bankrolled Newt Gingrich's efforts to win the Republican nomination for President in 2012, and that failed miserably. When Newt lost, Adelson put a lot of money in Romney, which again failed miserably.
Adelson's close ties with the more right-wing of the Republican party means his arguments will fall on deaf ears for Democrats in state and national governments. Since most of the US states that will likely legalize poker are the more liberal states that are dominated by Democrats, it means he can spend all the money he wants to try to convince a group of people that have a predisposition against him.
Anytime someone worth tens of billions of dollars makes it his personal mission to ruin the game you love, you have to take him seriously. However, luckily for US poker players, they could not have much of a better billionaire enemy than Sheldon Adelson.
Having the spokesman for the opposition to online poker be nothing more than a self-interested billionaire that always backs the right wing is not going to convince those in the center and the left that the legalization train shouldn't keep on going.