John Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance appeared before the House of Representatives on Tuesday, speaking at a subcommittee hearing on internet poker and online casino gambling. Talking about improved regulation and intelligent protective measures that could be put in place to verify age and location, as well as answering any other questions subcommittee members had regarding other consumer and public protection issues, Pappas was informed and confident in his arguments.
However, not everyone was impressed by Pappas’ positions. At the forefront of those still rallying against online gambling is Las Vegas Sands. And confirming that CEO Sheldon Adelson was serious when he threatened that Sands would do “whatever it takes” to stop internet gambling proliferation (and protect their market share), a representative of Sands, Andrew Abboud, fought hard to demonize online poker in front of the subcommittee. Noting its supposed targeting of children, inadequate consumer protection and insufficient measures to prevent and minimize problem gambling, Abboud’s cautioning seemed to fall on somewhat deaf ears though – with subcommittee members interrupting to query why online gambling was such a threat when Las Vegas Sands already provided mobile casino games to its customers on property.
In response to allegations of hypocrisy from Democrats and Republicans alike, Abboud stumbled to refocus on the “human interaction” that physical casinos provide, unlike their online competitors. This response was met with accusations of filibustering.
A similar subcommittee meeting took place two years ago, but at that time those in support of online poker just could not gain footing in terms of governmental support for the wildly different online gaming market. Since that time, three states have legalized online gambling – with New Jersey being the most recent – and the landscape has changed greatly. A marked improvement from committee meetings this summer, which called out online gambling’s possible connections to terrorism, money laundering and even human trafficking, this week’s meeting ended more positively. And while federal approval or endorsement of online gambling may still be a ways off, the issues surrounding the regulation of internet gambling seem to at least be getting a fairer analysis in recent weeks.
Just two years ago, Congress was quite supportive of what was known as Black Friday in the industry – when the Justice Department cracked down on the online poker market, closing up three top sites on the same day. More recently though, especially in this economic climate, politicians seem at least more willing to listen to proponents’ arguments. With American residents accounting for 15% of international revenues (and all that money going to offshore companies), and with analysts predicting that online gambling could become a nearly $10 billion industry by 2020 – equivalent to the annual revenue of Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined – proponents’ voices are getting harder to ignore.