According to a new report from Bloomberg, the Las Vegas Sands chairman has been actively lobbying the US Department of Justice to revisit a 2011 memo that paved the way for states to legalize and regulate iGaming. (So far, only New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware have moved to take such a step. Illinois and Pennsylvania have a chance to join those states this year.)
That lobbying led to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from any consideration of online gambling at the federal level, according to Bloomberg.
First, the Sessions recusal on iGaming
The Bloomberg report focused on the Sessions angle. Sessions, of course, already famously recused himself from anything to do with investigations dealing with possible Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
Here’s the key part of the story on the recusal:
The Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling hired Charles Cooper, a longtime friend of Sessions, last month to lobby Justice Department officials. This month, Sessions announced that he, too, had hired Cooper — as his personal lawyer amid an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
At one point, Cooper had been the front-runner to be the US Solicitor General under Sessions.
But the bigger takeaway for iGaming proponents is that a lobbying effort that could send online gambling back to the dark ages in the US apparently has real legs.
Rolling back online gambling laws?
Some people scoffed at the idea that the administration of President Donald Trump — who used to be in the casino industry — would be against any form of gambling.
I spoke with 2 of the largest online gaming operators today who disagree completely with this opinion: https://t.co/oyICH3E3BX
— Brian Balsbaugh (@Balsbaugh) November 11, 2016
But early in the Trump presidency, there’s been little evidence he is a friend of expanded gaming:
- The acting Solicitor General told the US Supreme Court that it shouldn’t take up the NJ sports betting case. SCOTUS disagreed and took the case up anyway.
- Donations by Adelson to Trump were linked with hoping to influence policy on two of Adelson’s favorite issues: online gambling and Israel.
- Rumors swirled this spring that Sessions was considering revisiting the DOJ position that allows for state-regulated iGaming.
That last point is the most important. Not only could such an opinion stop expansion of iGaming across the US, it could also mean the states that already do have it would have to stop allowing it.
Adelson’s fight against iGaming is dumb
The bottom line: Adelson is waging a war against online gambling that shouldn’t even be fought.
Adelson worries that the proliferation of online gambling would hurt his land-based casinos’ revenue. This is a ridiculous position to hold for someone who has made tons of money from casinos, and from someone who doesn’t understand the future of gaming. Most land-based casinos — other than those run by Adelson — realize that iGaming helps, not hurts, casinos.
Here’s one of the funny parts: Adelson can look to Nevada for evidence that mobile and online wagering doesn’t hurt land-based gaming. A white paper on the prospects of iGaming in Illinois paints the picture:
Nevada provides another compelling case study for the impact of adding an online component to a land-based gambling product. As the accompanying chart shows, sports betting has enjoyed dramatic growth since the introduction of mobile sports wagering in 2011.
As more and more properties embraced mobile sports betting, revenue continued to rise. There is little reason to believe that mobile sports betting has had anything but a complementary effect on total sports betting revenue in Nevada.
Adelson can continue to spend money on a silly campaign trying to stop something that would actually help his underlying business. No matter what, it’s clear that Adelson acting as a foil to online gambling expansion efforts isn’t going to stop any time soon.