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What is multibillionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson thinking?

Apr 1, 2014 3:08 AM

What is multibillionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson thinking? Does he genuinely believe Internet gaming represents a moral equivalent of the black plague? Does he believe he can make it go away?

He’s willing to sink millions into a cause, win or lose. That was established when he spent more than $90 million trying to make several 2012 Republican presidential hopefuls look like the winners they weren’t.

That action established his big spender credentials and it was music to the ears of influence peddlers who have been lining up to discuss strategies for giving the Las Vegas Sands CEO what he wants – an end to Internet gambling in the U.S. for everyone.

That’s foolishness, of course, because it does not take much to derail legislative action since Congress has a hard time getting anything done. But what Adelson can do is slow movement toward the unifying federal regulatory action Internet gaming proponents would like to see passed.

Having the benefit of a perspective available to few other people, thanks to a bulging bankroll, Adelson may believe the lessons about human nature provided by America’s brief experiment with prohibition do not apply to what’s happening now.

Technology and discretionary spending tendencies driven by pop culture have created scenarios that brim with irony. For instance, poker players in Nevada will eventually be able to smoke marijuana as they slouch at their laptop computer screens over a hold ’em game.

None of this was in sight when Adelson opened the Venetian on the Strip. Adelson has so far not indicated any opposition to the marijuana. It’s the Internet thing that brings on his dark moods.

And neither does he appear to have a significant issue with gambling in general. He just wants it done in one of his casinos. Adelson’s Venetian and Palazzo were the first of the major Strip properties to offer mobile gaming.

What Adelson prefers now is to see if he can turn back the calendar to a simpler time when gamblers had to actually come to a casino – preferably one he owns.

A century or so ago, Adelson might have been cast in the role of a wealthy owner of a carriage business or chain of blacksmith shops railing against the threat the new horseless carriages posed to morals and habits of that time.

Political conservatives of the type Adelson prefers usually lean toward less government interference in just about everything. I suppose the gambling business is his exception. It’s not like Internet gaming is going to go away. It’s here to stay, putting down roots in jurisdictions around the world over the last 10-15 years.

Professional poker player Mike Sexton remembers the phone call he got during the early weeks of 2001. Would he fly to India where a group was assembling the pieces of what would become PartyPoker. The company went public several years later with a capitalization of some nine billion dollars.

It was a success story that got a lot of attention.

Sexton listened to the spiel that was laid out for him in that first call and said, yes, it would be his pleasure to go to India, a country he had never previously visited.

The rest, as has often been said, is history. Internet gaming is legal and regulated in three U.S. states and assorted countries around the world. Other states are likely to join Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware. There’s strong interest in Illinois. One of the holdups there is some necessary decisions about the expansion of existing casinos.

My point: Internet gaming’s future may take shape more slowly than some proponents hope but it is not about to go away.

Adelson might not be getting the growls from competitors if he had taken the approach to Internet gaming favored by MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren and Wynn Resorts boss Steve Wynn.

Their position is that whatever business opportunities Internet gaming eventually offers, they are not visible yet. So they will remain on the sidelines for the moment as interested spectators.

Wynn has said on multiple occasions that his company’s focus remains on brick and mortar creations, offering experiences people will want to visit. How do you interpret that outlook on a computer screen, he has asked rhetorically. But he was just as quick to note he owes it to shareholders to seriously explore genuine business opportunities.

Caesars Entertainment is convinced it has a tight grip on opportunity with its Internet brand based on the World Series of Poker.

“We’re committed,” Executive VP Jan Jones-Blackhurst said several days ago, “even though some of us in this business are of a different mind.”

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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