Sheldon Adelson Funds Pennsylvania Effort to Criminalize Online Poker
Online poker’s newest enemy, Venetian owner and Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson, is back in the news on several fronts this week, including a new effort by a handful of Pennsylvania lawmakers to criminalize the playing of online poker.
Adelson appears to a hidden benefactor for a new proposal offered by PA State Sen. Mario Scavello. According to Philly.com, Scavello’s proposed bill would be a minor summary offense, punishable by a $300 fine and 90 days in jail, while a second conviction would be a misdemeanor eligible for as much as a $2,500 fine and a year behind bars.
The Adelson-funded Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) immediately praised Scavello’s proposal, and almost certainly had advance notice of its drop. CSIG released a brief statement, in which political has-beens and Adelson flunkies former New York Gov. George Pataki (R-NY), former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, the CSIG national co-chairs, said, “Internet gambling has devastating social, economic and law enforcement consequences for our society. Taking swift and decisive action by criminalizing it would be a step in the right direction as we work to fight back against the online gaming industry.”
Scavello, a Republican, comes from the Eastern PA state senate district adjacent to that which contains the Adelson-owned Sands Bethlehem casino. Another announced supporter of the proposal, Republican State Rep. Paul Clymer, also comes from a district adjacent to Adelson’s Bethlehem, PA casino resort.
The Sands Bethlehem, which includes a poker room, is likely to be targeted by boycott efforts by poker players as a result of Adelson’s latest actions. The casino is the only other US property owned by LV Sands outside the Venetian and Palazzo in Las Vegas, with Nevada unlikely to be as receptive to Adelson’s anti-online-gambling political spending. The company makes most of its income from its three mega-casino properties in Macau.
The legislative tactics are reminiscent of those used by tribal casinos in the state of Washington, which in 2006 essentially purchased a bill making the paying of online poker a felony in that state. (All the crooked lawmakers who sponsored that bill are out of office, but the nasty law remains in effect.) Washington remains the only state where playing online poker is considered a felony, even if no one has ever been prosecuted under the statute.
The Bethlehem, PA region might be a local hot spot for some hardcore anti-gambling sentiment, as nearby Lehigh, PA was the site of a 2005 bank robbery by one Gregory Hogan Jr. that was connected to online poker. In that strange tale, Hogan accumulated a couple of thousand dollars in online-poker debts, but was so afraid to ask his father for help (or even to let his father learn about his debt), that he decided to rob a Lehigh bank to get a couple of thousand dollars to pay his debt.
Hogan Sr., it turned out, was a fire-and-brimstone, anti-gambling preacher who accepted no responsibility for placing such fear into his son that his son actually chose to rob a bank rather than come to his father and admit his problem. As one would expect, Hogan Sr. then publicly used his son’s misfortune and seeming twisted upbringing to preach even louder from his personal bully pulpit, often with the ardent support of the anti-gambling group Focus on the Family. Hogan Sr.’s severe failings as a father in this matter are rarely mentioned.
It’s in such a region that this latest effort sprouts. This portion of Pennsylvania encompasses numerous conservative pockets, but is adjacent not only to nearby Philadelphia, a very liberal city, but to New Jersey, a state with much more open gambling laws that has recently approved online gaming.
The larger chances for this anti-online gambling push by Scavello and other Adelson-supported pols remains unclear. Pennsylvania is among a growing number of states where online-gambling legislation has been up for consideration, even if the first step in that direction didn’t get very far. Adelson’s blatantly hyprocritical tactics are also quickly building up a strong backlash of public sentiment, which can potentially wipe out much of the impact of his ultra-deep pockets.