Sheldon Adelson, the wealthy casino mogul and political donor, doesn’t have a leg to stand on if he plans to fight against online gambling. The Washington Post reports that Adelson intends to roll out a state-by-state campaign to ban Internet betting services—ostensibly because such websites are “a danger to children, the poor and others who could be exploited by easy access to Internet betting.” What’s not clear is how Adelson’s own casino empire doesn’t pose such a danger.
The Justice Department and numerous states, including Chris Christie’s New Jersey, are moving ahead on easing restrictions or altogether legalizing Internet gambling. That’s not to say that gaming and betting will be a libertarian dream come true—the services will be subject to voluminous regulations. But if Sheldon Adelson had his way, they wouldn’t exist at all.
Adelson is going into this pet project of his with the same verve and loose purse-strings he exhibited in the 2012 presidential campaign. “Advisers to Adelson say he is intensely focused on the coming battle and talks about it every day with his staff. He has about two dozen experts working nearly full time on the issue” reports the Post. His rollout for 2014 includes a group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, lobbyists in state capitols and in Washington, and the services of spokespersons such as former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and former New York Governor George Pataki.
Critics from within both the online gambling industry and brick-and-mortar casinos call Adelson’s efforts misguided. Besides the obvious charge that Adelson is probably trying to stifle his competition, some worry that his initiative “would effectively encourage expansion of offshore gambling sites, beyond the reach of U.S. regulators who already have tools to regulate online betting more closely than casino gambling.”
Given the messy legal situation, which tends to favor online gambling, and Adelson’s steps to curtail it, it is not difficult to imagine that if Adelson had his way, online gambling would go the way of alcohol during prohibition.