Tuesday’s congressional hearing in Washington DC on the pros and cons of federally legalised online poker produced little in the way of new arguments or emotional fireworks as those for and against the concept delivered their presentations and answered questions from the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade.
The hearing will hopefully have been left with a balanced if inconclusive view following arguments put forward by the Poker Players Alliance, the American Gaming Association and Texas Representative Joe Barton, who has an interest in promoting his bill HR2666 calling for an online-poker only federal solution.
The big-bucks anti-online gambling campaign of Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson appeared to make little headway as presenter Andrew Abboud again traversed the already well-trodden ground of anti-online gambling argument, suggesting that internet gambling was a bridge too far for the gambling industry, was morally wrong and should be stopped by an updated Wire Act.
Interestingly, a senior member of the committee suggested that it could be seen as hypocritical for a company so successful in land gambling to object to online gambling on moral grounds, especially in promoting prohibition when the Las Vegas Sands Venetian website advertises a mobile sports betting app that allows wagering anywhere in Nevada.
John Pappas, executive director of the Poker Players Alliance action group, delivered a professional argument for the federal legalisation of online poker only, albeit once again covering familiar ground, whilst new American Gaming Association CEO Geoff Freeman presented the familiar AGA position in favour of the online poker option only, perhaps more forcefully than usual and with up to date statistics.
Representative Barton unintentionally captured the imagination of many reporters on the event when he introduced a religious note, commenting jokingly on the difficulties of attending the hearing in a raging snowstorm and saying: “I will say as a practicing Christian that God does give men and women free will, and I think that we ought to have a law that represents free will in this issue.”
It distracted a number of reporters who apparently interpreted his statement as a suggestion that God favoured federally regulated online poker!
Joining Abboud in attacking online gambling was Stop Predatory Gambling national director Les Bernal, whilst witnesses such as academicians Professor Rachel Volberg and Professor Kurt Eggert were more or less neutral in presenting their factual concerns on problem gambling and the legal implications of legalising online poker.
Several observers singled out one of Abboud’s comments which emphasised the many billions of dollars that have been invested in US bricks and mortar casinos as indicating that his employer’s main fear of online gambling is competition.
For the legalised online gambling lobby, the performances of Freeman and Pappas were commendable; they had prepared well, clearly anticipating almost all of the objections and fears that have so often been expressed by antagonists, and they produced evidence to counter them.
There is little chance of concrete action in Congress on online gambling this year, but the arguments have again been turned over with largely positive results, and that is useful in light of Adelson’s new and much publicised initiative against legalisation.
But as Pappas cautioned after the hearing, Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling is not going to go away, it’s well funded and organised, and remains a threat.