Sheldon Adelson

Sheldon Adelson: No Compelling Reason to Legalize Online Poker

On Thursday, May 8th, posted a six-minute interview with Sheldon Adelson on the subject of online gaming (I mean, if it was about U.S.-Israel relations, we probably wouldn’t be writing about it here). As one familiar with the Las Vegas Sands CEO’s unwavering stance against the internet versions of the games he has made billions peddling, I expected it to be his usual “all the children will gamble” hyperbole, but it was so much better. And only six minutes, so there wasn’t quite enough time for the rage to build to terminal levels.

Sheldon AdelsonLet’s settle into the peanut gallery as Bloomberg’s Betty Liu chats with Adelson (I snipped a couple uninteresting portions):

Adelson: Why don’t we legalize prostitution? It’s happening all over the place, anyway.

You know that prostitution is legal in eleven counties in Nevada, the same state where you have three casinos, right? It’s also legal and regulated in 21 other countries. I can’t speak to how successful legalization has been (no, really, I can’t), but as far as I can tell, things are working out ok in Nevada.

Adelson: Why don’t we legalize drug addiction? It’s happening all over the place, anyway.

Yes, let’s legalize drug…addiction? I’m assuming you just mean legalize drugs that are currently illegal. I mean, I would bring up Colorado and Washington, but that’s just too easy. Alcohol and nicotine are drugs and people can partake of those freely in your casinos.

Adelson: Wherever we can control it, we should control it. Those kinds of things, “sins.” The sin activities should be controlled.

Yes. They should be. That’s what we online poker supporters want! We want online poker regulated, just like brick-and-mortar gambling.

Adelson: I’m in the business. I’m the largest company. I’m larger than all the other gaming companies combined in the United States. I have authority and the bonafides to recommend to the government that this is not the right way to encourage people to gamble.

You may be an expert on running a brick-and-mortar gambling behemoth, but you have repeatedly shown that you don’t know much of anything about online gambling. And the worst part is that you refuse to learn. You’re stuck in your opinions and don’t even consider for one second the opinions – or facts – of anyone else. We’re all wrong and you’re right. No debate.

Also, regulating online gambling is not equivalent to the government “encouraging” people to gamble. Back to the alcohol comparison, beer is legal, but the government doesn’t encourage me to drink it. Brewing companies do that just fine, thank you.

Adelson: For instance, here in the land based casinos, we’re required to have the dealers shuffle the cards a certain way. How do you do that on the internet?

Random number generators. They’ve been around a long time.

Adelson: Here, we’re not supposed to allow under-aged people to gamble. How do you do that on the internet? There’s no technology that a kid can’t get around.

Kids these days. They have their doohickeys and whirlygizmos and the Tweeter and they know how to hack into the NSA servers to watch HBO!

First of all, there is technology available to help keep kids off online gambling sites. It’s been implemented in other places where internet gaming is legal and regulated and experts have testified before Congress to its efficacy. If underage gambling was such a problem online, don’t you think we would have heard about it by now?

Besides, it’s not all about technology. It’s about parenting, too. I have two children and as they get older, I am most definitely going to make sure I not only educate them about gambling, but I am also going to keep track of their online activities and safeguard my financial information (not that I won’t trust them, but hey, might as well play it safe).

Will there be some underage gambling online? Of course, just like I’m sure there is someone at the Venetian right now with a fake ID. Will it be some epidemic where teens are draining their parents’ life savings in the blink of an eye? Please.

Liu: Maybe the regulations have to catch up to the market.

Adelson: There’s nothing to regulate. I’m regulated in four different jurisdictions. I don’t know of one regulation that would apply to internet gaming.

Good lord. You cannot be serious.

Adelson: There is no reason, nor any compelling reason, to put a casino in everybody’s pocket. Underage, of age, college students that owe plenty of money, unfortunate people, working class people, middle class people, that will be easily exploited by, and easily incentivized to go on the internet and gamble…for what?

The compelling reason is because it’s a harmless form of entertainment for the vast, vast majority of people who choose to play and adults should be allowed to make their own decisions. Look, several years ago, when online gambling was not exactly legal, yet prevalent in the United States, people weren’t “easily exploited” by gaming sites. And with proper regulations, it will be harder to be exploited. If people want to play, they’ll play. If they don’t want to play, the sites won’t force them to do so.

Liu: Your detractors say that, look, the people that we’ve seen so far that go online gambling, right, they’re not visiting regular, physical casinos.

Adelson: Because they’re too poor to do that.

Confused Arnold Jackson

Liu: Or they don’t live near one.

Adelson: Really? There’s no location in the United States that’s more than 200 miles from a casino.

Yes, yes, there’s no reason for me to play poker online because I can just hop in the car and drive three hours from my house in Marietta, Georgia to Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina. NO REASON AT ALL. I mean, why, when I have a casino JUST DOWN THE ROAD would I ever have a compelling reason to want to play online?

Liu: Or, as you say, maybe it is too expensive. It’s too expensive for them to go into the physical casinos. So why not offer them, though, if they want to do this, why not offer them an opportunity to be able to go online and…be able to gamble? Who’s to say that’s exploitation?

Adelson: I’m saying, and I’m the biggest guy in the industry.

Liu: But isn’t that getting into…becoming a nanny state?

Adelson: No, no, no, no. Not at all. Not at all. Well just tell me: what’s the compelling reason to do so?

Liu: Well, I think I just explained why, didn’t…

Adelson: No you didn’t.

Yeah, she did.

Liu: If you can’t afford to come to a beautiful property like yours in Las Vegas, but you still want to be able to gamble, isn’t there an option? I mean, everything else is going online, shouldn’t there be an option to do that as well, online?

Adelson: No, because it’s too widespread. It exploits too many people that can’t afford it, that shouldn’t be doing it. Look, my father went to the horse races in the day time, the dog race in the night time. Why should poor people, who cannot afford to lose that kind of money, be tempted with that kind of activity? Gaming is a form of entertainment. I’m saying, coming from the business, I want to make money from those who can afford it.

While I don’t doubt that there will be people playing poker online who can’t afford it, a) the vast majority of people play responsibly, and b) that’s not a reason to make it illegal. The lottery notoriously preys on the poor. That’s legal in almost every state and advertised constantly. You have chain smoking blue hairs dumping their Social Security checks into your slot machines. At your blackjack tables, you push drinks on alcoholics who just came from the check cashing store with their disability payment. So don’t get all high and mighty, please. It’s insulting. You’ve made your billions draining people’s wallets.

Adelson: I can’t tell over the internet who is underage.

Yes, you can.

Adelson: I can’t tell who’s got financial difficulties. I can’t tell who is not gaming responsibly.

You most certainly can do that more effectively online than you can in your casinos. That’s not even debatable.

Adelson: I can’t tell if money is being laundering [yes, he said that]. I can in the casino.

If you can tell if money is “being laundering” in the casino, explain why, in August 2013, your company had to pay the U.S. government $47.4 million after it didn’t report the transfer of $45 million by drug trafficker to the Venetian? Was failing to follow the law that requires casinos to report suspicious financial transactions an effective way to curb money laundering?

In the meantime, every single bet and monetary transaction is recorded online and there has not been any evidence of money laundering through online poker sites in regulated markets.

Liu: But aren’t you just protecting your own land-based properties?

Adelson: No. That level of the market is not what my properties are about. You think I’m bringing in unfortunate people who can be exploited to suites like this that we’re sitting in?


Adelson: We take bets that are a million dollars a hand. Those guys who are betting a million dollars a hand or even ten thousand dollars a hand are not playing on the internet. So that’s not my market.

Well…according to, there were two seven-figure pots on Full Tilt Poker in November 2009. There have been scads of six-figure pots. No, no online casino is taking million dollar Pai Gow bets, but whatever. Generally, yeah, you’re right – there is a lot more low stakes play online. And that’s one of the great things about it. I can play for a few cents a hand if I want and have plenty of fun.

At any rate, who cares? The point is that once again, Mr. Adelson, you’ve shown your ignorance about the very thing you are willing to spend “as much as it takes” to stop. If you’re against online gambling, that’s fine. Just give me good reasons for it and make an educated argument.


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