Casino Group Backtracks on Online Gambling After Members Split on Issue

The American Gaming Association, which had previously supported regulating online gambling, announced Wednesday that it would step back from the fight, as factions within the industry disagree on the issue—notably, a powerful political donor.

It was an issue for which the American Gaming Association (AGA) was ready to fight the good fight.

Ultimately, though, the association found the voices within its own industry too divided on online gambling, and demurred on playing a bigger role in the battle, which has until recently mostly occurred on the state level.

This is despite the association’s efforts to boost its staffing presence in Washington in anticipation of a larger clash over the issue. But a budding conflict involving one of the world’s richest men made online gambling “an issue that the association cannot lead on,” according to the group’s CEO. More details:

The snipers in this industry are of the highest quality, and if you let that be the focus, we’ll kill each other.

A powerful voice of opposition: While many elements of the industry support online gambling, some key figures—most notably, political power player Sheldon Adelson—do not. Adelson, a prominent Republican donor and multibillionaire who founded the Las Vegas Sands Corp. in 1988, has taken a tough stance against online gambling. He launched a political action group on the issue, The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, earlier this year and sees internet-based forms of gambling as predatory. “I am in favor of gambling,” Adelson recently said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “But I am not in favor of exploiting the world’s most vulnerable people.” Two bills backed by Adelson’s group are making their way through the House and Senate, respectively.

Choosing to fold: Despite the pockets of opposition, several major chains support legalizing online gambling, mostly in an effort to regulate an industry that was continuing unchecked on the black market and surging overseas. But with Adelson on AGA’s board, the situation has become challenging for the association: The Times noted that Adelson had threatened to step down from the board, putting the association in a tight spot. Ultimately, AGA CEO Geoff Freeman said the industry group decided to back down from its stance. “One of the things I’ve learned in this industry is we are extraordinarily competent at shooting at one another,” Freeman told The Wall Street Journal of the decision. “The snipers in this industry are of the highest quality, and if you let that be the focus, we’ll kill each other.” The association will instead focus its energies on less divisive issues, such as money laundering.

Even without AGA playing a role in the issue, other groups remain active. The National Governors Association recently voiced opposition to the Adelson-backed online-gambling legislation, citing states’ rights concerns. And the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) has promised to keep the fight going, despite knowing that it’s going up against the world’s 11th-richest man, whose net worth is around $36 billion.

“We don’t make a habit of picking fights with billionaires,” PPA Executive Director John Pappas told The Washington Post. “But in this case, I think we’ll win, because millions of Americans who want to play online will oppose this legislation, along with dozens and dozens of states that want the freedom to authorize any kind of gaming they see fit.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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