Casino companies try to deal with Wire Act

February 20, 2019 3:00 AM
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The top bosses at major casino companies strain to sound like thoughtful, mild-mannered adults as they devise the strategies to deal with the Justice Department’s effort to prop up the Wire Act of 1961 and make it look like something other than what it is... the product of out-dated thinking.

Reading between the spoken lines of recent comments, I think some them have been tempted to throw a Trump-like tantrum or two. But their better instincts kick in and stop them short of crossing the line. Instead, they take some deep breaths and summon the best political fixers.

Caesars executive vice president Jan Jones Blackhurst, the former Las Vegas mayor who has also walked the governmental affairs beat for Harrah’s which is now part of Caesars. She got right to the point in my recent recent conversation with her.

Reacting to MGM CEO Jim Murren’s condemnation of the DOJ’s defense of the Wire Act a couple of days earlier — he had said it was “full of fuzzy thinking... poorly written” - Blackhurst blurted, “We are in lock step with MGM on this.”

She added during our phone conversation that it was “difficult to understand” how anyone with a sound understanding of all facts related to the various forms of legal online gaming could apply the nearly 60-year-old piece of legislation to the world as it is now. It’s like trying to win the Indianapolis 500 with a Model T.

Other industry executives not as willing as Murren and Blackhurst to be identified in print have similar feelings, one of them saying, “Public preferences are what brings change. Changing tastes redraws the lines that define us.”

He’s right. Look at what’s happened with marijuana.

Another industry executive asked rhetorically: “Is there a casino owner anywhere who in the early ‘60s might have imagined something like the Internet? And computers? We’ve got them everywhere. When’s the last time anyone asked to borrow your slide rule?”

Blackhurst added: “The Wire Act was a fine defense against illegal gambling. But what we (Caesars and others) are doing is the result of court decisions and state regulations.”

It was a point Murren hammered home as he was talking with financial analysts during last week’s conference call: “It is perplexing, very perplexing.”

Now there’s an understatement if I ever heard one. Although I have no idea if he retreated to his office and tossed a trash can across the room. 

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