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American Gaming Association to Stop Advocating for Online Poker

The American Gaming Association (AGA) has made the decision to stop fighting for the legalization of online gambling in the United States. The commercial casino industry lobbying organization says that the course change is not the result of a 180-degree turn on internet gaming, but rather the inability of its members to all get on the same page.

American Gaming Association Chief Executive Geoff Freeman made it sound like there has been some serious disagreement in the ranks, telling the Wall Street Journal, “One of the things I’ve learned in this industry is we are extraordinarily competent at shooting at one another.”

It is not difficult to guess where the dissention is coming from. The membership of the AGA includes essentially every major brick-and-mortar casino firm in the country, including Caesars Entertainment Group, MGM Resorts International, Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming Corporation, and Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Caesars, Station, and Boyd Gaming have all already gotten involved in one or more of the regulated online poker markets in the U.S. and others are eager to get their internet operations going. The notable holdout is, of course, Las Vegas Sands, headed by the bottomless-pocketed Sheldon Adelson. Adelson has stated that he will do “whatever it takes” to stop online gaming in the U.S. and would probably not be a bad guess to imagine that he has been wielding his power within the AGA. While the AGA is not actually against online gaming now, it would not be surprising at all to find out that Adelson was able to create enough problems internally to steer the ship towards a neutral heading.

This all speculation, of course, as Las Vegas Sands has not commented on the sudden change, but Jan Jones Blackhurst, Caesars’s executive vice president of communications and government relations, told the Wall Street Journal, “On this issue, we’ve agreed to disagree.”

Again, it is important to note that the AGA has simply withdrawn from the fight; it has not switch sides. Geoff Freeman

AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman

Geoff Freeman

testified in front of the U. S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade in December, saying that there is an “…important need for consistent and effective regulatory standards that protects consumers, ensures the integrity of online games, gives law enforcement agencies the tools they need to combat illegal operators and provides Americans with access to an online gaming marketplace they unquestionably desire.”

He railed against online gaming prohibition, saying, “…rather than “prohibiting” online gaming, recent attempts at prohibition have created a thriving black market and driven its economic benefits offshore.

He added:

In fact, it’s fair to argue that prohibition has given these shady operators the best ally they could possibly imagine by blocking principled gaming companies from competing in the market. Legitimate, strictly regulated operators respect the law and have licenses at stake, while illegal operators always find ways to circumvent the law and offer little to no regard for consumer protection.

Rather than pursuing more futile attempts at prohibition, the American Gaming Association supports strong regulation and oversight of online gaming that respects states’ rights to pursue what is in the best interest of their residents.

The Poker Players Alliance is clearly disappointed in this latest development, as should anyone who supports online poker. PPA Executive Director John Pappas told, “The AGA has stated very clearly and publicly that they support sensible regulation of internet poker over a misguided prohibition. There is no backing away from that position. It is a shame they have chosen to be absent from this important debate, but as an industry association, they’ve decided to promote issues that have the full support of their membership.”

He added, “This means that individual gaming companies will need to play a bigger role in advocating for internet gaming regulation. It also means that the player community will need to be even louder in demanding that Congress and state legislatures act. The PPA will continue to help poker players, and all those who support iGaming regulation, through grassroots, public relations, and direct advocacy.”

As Pappas said, everyone else on the pro-poker side of the legalization battle will now have to fight harder and speak louder. The AGA’s pullback does not mean that elected officials, be they at the federal or state levels, will all of a sudden say, “Welp, I guess online poker IS a bad idea. Time for a ban!” Rather, it just means everyone else is going to have step up and fill the void that the AGA is leaving behind.


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