Sheldon Adelson is concerned about problem gambling. He’s also concerned about underage gambling, international terrorists using gambling operations to move and hide money, jobs being lost to competition from other gambling outfits and, of course, the threat to the public interest posed by additional gambling outlets hitting the market.
These are all familiar concerns, shared by other Americans. But they are odd coming from Adelson because he’s worth about $30 billion as of April, good for eight richest in the country and 16th in the world – and nearly all that money came from gambling.
Adelson, 84, is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, which owns the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, and is the parent company of Venetian Macao Limited, which operates the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
He also owns newspapers in Israel and Las Vegas and is a prominent Republican donor, but his business is gambling. And if something comes along he perceives as a threat to that business, he is not above pointing out the personal and societal problems the products and services that made him rich have caused.
His casinos and others of the land-based variety have worked with state regulators, he said, to address the less desirable side effects of the industry – problem gambling, crime associated with it, potential for money laundering and fraud. But if online gambling were allowed, he says, there would be no controls on problem gambling, money laundering and so forth.
Adelson sees online gambling as a threat – in part because his competitors in land-based casinos are considering getting into it – and he’s willing to go to some trouble to fight it.
He’s engaged in Michigan, where a representative of an Astroturf organization funded by Adelson testified before the legislature on the addictive behavior and harm to children gambling can cause.
He battled valiantly in Pennsylvania, where he owns the Sands Bethlehem casino, but lost when the governor signed legislation on Oct. 25 legalizing online gambling.
The new law allows online slot machines, table gamers and poker, as well as fantasy sports, sports betting if federal law ever allows, online lottery, video gaming at track stops and tablet gaming in airports. It authorizes up to 10 satellite casinos in rural communities, which Adelson also opposes.
He still holds out hope of stopping it – the first games are not expected to begin until mid-2018. But given the cash-strapped state collected a $1 million fee in the first two days the law was in effect, it will be difficult to convince lawmakers to revisit the issue.
His other hope to fight online gambling is the Restoration of America’s Wire Act. In 2011, the Justice Department reversed longstanding policy and said it would interpret the Interstate Wire Act to allow states to decide whether to legalize online gambling. Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada began to offer online gambling in 2013, and now other states are considering taking the step.
RAWA, which would restore the former interpretation of the Wire Act and make online gambling illegal again in all states, would not seem a priority for Congress. But it has the kind of quirky combination of support that sometimes can pull off the improbable. Moderate Lindsey Graham usually carries this legislation in the Senate; leadership on the issue in the House has ranged from social conservatives such as Trent Franks of Arizona to Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who embodies the party’s moderate, pro-business wing.
And Adelson has purchased more than a fair hearing. Republicans may well not enjoy a majority in the Senate today if not for Adelson giving more than $13 million to candidates, the party and other entities, during the midterm election of 2014. He wrote a $5 million check to help fund President Trump’s inauguration.
The truth is this is a smokescreen. States that already have online gambling have proven methods to prevent minors or people from other states from participating in their games. Casinos may have come up with ways to spot problem gamblers, but so would online gambling companies, who would have electronic records of the use and money spent by their customers.
Besides, as Michelle Minton of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute points out, about 1 percent of gamblers develop an addiction, and this is consistent no matter what forms of gambling are offered.
The federal government does not need to regulate online gambling. The states that have it are not imploding. Let the states decide for themselves. If a man with $30 billion is the person to protect here, and if it’s so important he be protected that we trample the 10th Amendment, then let our representatives in Washington explain why. If nothing else, it should be interesting.