Since Black Friday the fight for iGaming expansion has been waged at state houses across the country. But that all changed in 2014 when Sheldon Adelson made it his personal mission to ban online gambling.
Considering how important this issue is, and how thoroughly it dominated the headlines toward the end of the year, you might be surprised to find this at #7, particularly considering how many columns I wrote on this in 2014, but there is a reason for that. With online gambling already legalized in three states, and several other states in the process of sorting out iGaming legislation, Adelson’s crusade was something of a fool’s errand.
A lot of people would have placed RAWA and Adelson’s efforts to ban online gambling a bit higher, but all along it seemed like a long shot. There were a few scares along the way, but in the end it was much as I expected early on, much ado about nothing.
Still, you have to give him credit; Adelson put up a hell of a fight in 2014.
He certainly helped delay legislation in certain states (how much credit he should get for this is debatable) and he had everyone sweating a potential online gambling ban being added to the Cromnibus spending bill that was passed in the Lame Duck, like an all-in tournament player with Pocket Kings fading an Ace on the river.
Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling
Soon after Adelson launched his online crusade he created the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, or CSIG for short.
CSIG employed several well-known lobbyists as co-chairs:
Former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb
Former New York Governor George Pataki
The trio was later joined by former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown as well.
CSIG spent most of the year creating little watched YouTube videos that seemed better fitted to Cold War era ads, and penning op-eds attacking online gambling on several different fronts.
The CSIG chairs proved quite ineffective (at least publicly) and by the end of the year Adelson was using lobbyist Fabien Nunez to get his message out, saving the CSIG chairs for scripted videos and softball interviews.
Adelson’s biggest achievement in 2014 was the introduction of the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA) in both houses of Congress. The bills, which would effectively ban most forms of online gambling at the federal level, came into being in March, and although they were never officially connected, were believed to be written by Adelson lobbyists/lawyers.
The two RAWA bills were introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) respectively, and gained modest support – RAWA in the House of Representatives managed to gain 18 cosponsors, while in the Senate RAWA managed to attract 4 cosponsors.
Newsweek was a tipping point
Adelson was never specifically linked to the Newsweek article that painted online poker as one of society’s biggest ills, but the column had his and his lobbyists fingerprints all over it, including a number of quotes from RAWA sponsor Jason Chaffetz, and citing Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling group.
However, the column may have done more harm than good to his cause, as anger, incredulity, and sadness were just some of the reactions Newsweek’s “expose” on online gambling caused in the poker community and beyond.
The Newsweek article managed to take online gambling from a backburner issue to the forefront. The debate even gained the attention of several libertarian groups, and almost immediately the fight went from being one of Adelson against the online poker community, to Adelson vs. the world.
Everyone from CEI (CEI’s Michelle Minton penned a finely researched paper on the intent of the Wire Act that was in my opinion one of the biggest game-changers in this debate), to state legislators, to Ron Paul, to Grover Norquist called out Adelson’s efforts to ban iGaming, and the mainstream press took note of this seeming divide in Republican politics. Most of these groups and individuals already quietly opposed an iGaming ban, but the Newsweek article, coupled with RAWA legislation sitting in Congress, turned this into a high profile issue with numerous editorials and papers written on online gambling.
The AGA split
A side story to the whole Adelson online gambling ban storyline was the AGA retreating from the online gambling fight.
In December of 2013, Geoff Freeman was sitting before Congress calling for legalization and people were listening, now a year later the AGA avoids online gambling questions like Bill Belichek being asked about injuries.
The reason the AGA shifted positions from favoring legalization to no position had everything to do with the rift online gambling was causing between several powerful AGA members – most notably MGM and Caesars (who favor online gambling) and Sheldon Adelson (who opposed it).
During the whole online gambling debate the fact that the AGA shifted course and decided to bow out of the debate was one of the most underreported stories in my opinion.