Las Vegas Sun

August 27, 2016

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Letter from Washington:

Adelson puts damper on efforts to legalize Internet gambling

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Kin Cheung / AP

Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., is against online gambling because he doesn’t believe young people can be prevented from making wagers, a spokesman said Wednesday. Adelson is shown here at a news conference for the opening of the Venetian Macao Resort Hotel on Aug. 28, 2007.

Washington -- The revelation last week that one of Nevada’s most prominent casino owners, Las Vegas Sands Corp.’s Sheldon Adelson, is opposed to legalizing online poker sent a cross-country shock wave through the online poker community. The question asked most often: Will this hurt the chances that Congress will pass a bill?

Maybe a little. But what is more likely to kill the prospect of an online poker bill is the lack of a viable online poker bill.

Earlier this year, poker lobbyists identified the sweet spot on the congressional calendar for such legislation as anytime before the end of 2011, before all political considerations became entirely subsumed by the presidential election. (The Republican primary season starts with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3.)

But then Sen. Jon Kyl, the Republicans’ No. 2 guy in the U.S. Senate and the pro-poker community’s No. 1 target lawmaker needed to strike a deal, got appointed to Sen. Harry Reid’s debt reduction supercommittee.

Then, Kyl shunned the idea of incorporating online poker into the government’s efforts to come up with $1.2 trillion in debt reductions, even though taxes on the new industry are expected to be a revenue-generator for the federal government.

Now, Kyl is shunning entreaties to say what he told Adelson about the prospects for legalizing online poker.

“I’m not going to talk about meetings I have with people,” Kyl said when approached by the Sun last week. “He’s a friend of mine. I met with him, period.”

Kyl has never been a fan of legalizing online poker. He crusaded against it for years before the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act was passed in 2006, and after that, was one of the most outspoken members of Congress pressuring the government to enforce it.

But this year, Kyl signaled a willingness to talk about the gaming regulation and enforcement. And since, he’s been the other half of the handshake with Harry Reid that needs to happen if poker stands a chance of clearing Congress.

Beyond that, there really isn’t another option this Congress. A House bill backed by Texas Rep. Joe Barton and Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley ran aground almost before it could set sail. The reasons: some of the bill’s enforcement provisions and an unfortunate alliance between its chief backer, the Poker Players Alliance, and the online poker operators — Full Tilt, PokerStars, and Ultimate Poker — recently indicted in federal court on charges of money laundering to circumvent the federal online gaming ban.

(The PPA has vehemently and repeatedly disavowed the association, which is financial in nature.)

In fact, since it was introduced, Berkley — who remains a staunch advocate of legalizing online poker — hasn’t angled for her bill at all. But she’s not the only one who’s remaining strangely silent.

Since Adelson came to Washington to deliver his anti-online poker opinion to Kyl and Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association, the usual suspects are staying suspiciously silent — in contrast to their usual boosterism of a poker bill — declining opportunities to comment on the record about the chances that online poker legislation will make it onto the calendar in the coming year.

For those listening carefully, that means maybe it won’t.

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