Poker Grinch arrives early: Sheldon Adelson ‘morally opposed’ to online gambling

sheldon-adelson-grinch-pokerLas Vegas Sun reporter Jon Ralston set the interwebz a buzzin’ late Tuesday with his revelation that Las Vegas Sands chairman Sheldon Adelson had come out as ‘morally opposed’ to online gambling. Ralston reported that Adelson had expressed such sympathies to longtime online gambling opponent Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and to American Gaming Association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf.

Fahrenkopf subsequently released a statement saying Adelson “has long had concerns about this issue, and it is perfectly within his right to make this decision.” Despite Adelson’s opposition, the AGA remains committed to pushing for federal poker legislation, which has the backing of other AGA members like Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts.

Morality aside, Adelson reportedly feels that the technology to block underage gamblers from accessing online sites isn’t quite ready for prime time. Adelson also suggested that an online poker debate would be an “unnecessary distraction” in 2012, a presidential election year. Adelson, the world’s 16th wealthiest person (by Forbes’ calculations), is a staunch supporter of Republican causes, and has publicly backed Newt Gingrich to become the GOP challenger to President Obama in November. Adelson donated $7m to Gingrich’s political action committee between 2007-2010.

On Wednesday, an LVS spokesman emphasized that Adelson’s statement was “a personal observation of concerns about technology” which didn’t necessarily represent the company’s formal stance on the issue. But in October, LVS president Michael Leven, who sits on the AGA’s board of directors, told the Wall Street Journal he had concerns that online gambling would cannibalize B&M revenues, and that if/when online poker came to the US, it would be at the intrastate, not federal, level.

Adelson’s public position makes a mockery of all those recent New York Post articles on the rosy prospects for online poker legislation passage. In August, the Post quoted Global Gaming Business publisher Roger Gross as saying Adelson was “now on board” with federal online poker plans. In November, the Post claimed Kyl might co-sponsor poker legislation introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), but we were never convinced that Kyl’s alleged change of heart regarding online gambling was anything more than wishful thinking by US poker players. Kyl may be retiring in 2012, but he’s a party loyalist, and with major Republican benefactor Adelson bending his ear, it seems highly unlikely that Kyl would do anything to derail the GOP gravy train heading into an election year.