Poker players up ante in fight with Adelson over online gambling

Professional poker players are warring with Sheldon Adelson over the casino magnate’s vocal push to keep online gambling illegal.

Adelson, who has contributed tens of millions to Republican super-PACs, has called the “game of skill” argument for legalizing online poker a “bunch of baloney” and pleaded with lawmakers to stop Internet gambling before it’s too late.

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His comments are drawing fierce pushback from the Poker Players Alliance (PPA), which is at the forefront of the drive for legislation that would legalize the card game online.

“The best way for the PPA to respond to these attacks is redouble our own efforts and explain to lawmakers why the opinions of Mr. Adelson and the Sands Corp. are wrong,” said John Pappas, PPA’s executive director.

The Poker Players Alliance has waged a guerilla campaign against Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. by encouraging players to flood the company with critical tweets and Facebook posts.

Not to be outdone, Sands has launched a website called stopinternetgambling.com that is aimed at drumming up grassroots opposition against state and federal legislation looking to legalize online gaming.

“ ‘Click your mouse and lose your house’ isn’t a marketing slogan for Internet gambling advocates. But it should be,” reads the website.

The crossfire comes as Congress begins to consider legislation that would legalize online gaming.

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) introduced a bill last month that would legitimize online gambling and create a new Treasury Department office to oversee the industry.

“Sheldon Adelson is a good and longtime friend. We just have a honest disagreement on this issue,” King said in a statement.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) plans to introduce legislation to legalize online poker sometime in July, according to an aide, while Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) is working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on poker legislation for the upper chamber, according to Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith.

The uptick in legislative activity has caught the attention of Adelson, an influential donor who helped bankroll a pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC during the 2012 campaign.

Adelson says his opposition to online gambling is not motivated by money because casinos are only a small part of his business empire.

“Money is not a consideration with me,” Adelson told Bloomberg TV last month. “If you just look at where I stand in Forbes rating, No. 15 in the world, making $200 million extra is not an incentive for me.”

Instead, he’s made the case against online gaming on the grounds that it is dangerously addictive.

“Look, I’m a father, grandfather. I do not want my children — I’m a veteran of the Korean War. I do not want my children to have the opportunity to become addicted to gaming. And poker, in my opinion, would become one of the most addictive games,” Adelson told Bloomberg.

Online gambling is already legal in some parts of the country thanks to a 2011 Justice Department ruling that held the Wire Act can only ban online sports betting on. In response, New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada signed off on some form of online gaming, and other states might follow suit.
Adelson is calling for Congress to reverse the tide.

“I strongly urge Congress to either rewrite the Federal Wire Act, or pass new legislation making Internet gaming illegal nationwide,” Adelson wrote in a Forbes op-ed.

Pappas of the poker alliance questioned why Adelson is suddenly making “full-press offensive” against online gambling when it’s already legal in Nevada.

He said poker players have been outraged by his comments.

“I think a lot of poker players feel that the general attacks against online gambling are dumbfounding while the attacks on the game of poker as not a game of skill, a lot of players personally took offense to that,” Pappas said.  

Nolan Dalla, a long-time poker insider, has called for a five-day boycott of the poker room at The Venetian, one of Adelson’s glamorous casino properties, beginning on July 22.

“Let’s show Adelson that the poker community will not sit passively and remain silent while he trashes our game and denies us our rights,” Dalla wrote on his website last week.

The poker alliance has not joined the call for boycott, but Pappas said players are fully capable of taking their business elsewhere during stops in Sin City.

“Our membership is pretty bright, and they know that they have plenty of options when it comes playing poker in Las Vegas. It’s not our place to tell them whether to play poker at The Venetian or not,” Pappas said.

The poker players are going up against a formidable foe in Adelson, who has become one of the most powerful figures in Republican politics.

During the 2012 campaign, Adelson and his wife, Miriam, gave nearly $92 million to super-PACs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Those contributions boosted the political fortunes of a number of GOP lawmakers, including many in the House.

Adelson’s casino company also wields a powerful Washington lobbying team that includes the firms Husch Blackwell and Patton Boggs. Las Vegas Sands has spent $70,000 on lobbying so far this year, disclosure forms show.

But Adelson’s position is weakened by the fact that other major players in the casino industry are firmly behind online poker.

The American Gaming Association, of which Sands Corp. is a member, has supported legalizing the game in the past. The group said it is reviewing King’s legislation.

“Internet poker is likely here to stay. The AGA supports federal action to set minimum regulatory standards and protect consumers. We’re confident that appropriate safeguards will be established,” said Geoff Freeman, AGA’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Pappas said he’s hopeful the casino trade group will find a way to bring Adelson onboard with legalized poker. 

“The American Gaming Association and his counterparts at the major casino companies may be the better messenger to sit down with Mr. Adelson and talk him through the benefits of regulation,” Pappas said.