Tom Breitling, chairman of Ultimate Gaming, the for-the-moment free-to-play online gaming site belonging to Station Casinos and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) owners Frank Fertitta III and Lorenzo Fertitta, appeared on Las Vegas Sun reporter Jon Ralston’s television program Face To Face this week, along with UFC corporate counsel Lawrence Epstein.
Asked to predict a timetable for when real-money online poker might come to the US, Breitling said it’s “going to happen in 2013.” Breitling cited two “watershed moments” for the sector in the past seven months, including the US Department of Justice’s pre-Christmas Wire Act rethink, which Breitling said equated to a “full fledged endorsement” of states’ rights to offer online wagering other than sports betting. The other event was Nevada “continuing its leadership position” among states by issuing the nation’s first interactive gambling licenses.
Breitling says his company “would prefer a federal bill for poker-only,” a preference threatened by other states like Delaware and New Jersey, which were moving “super fast” to introduce “full-blown” online gambling. (This allowed Breitling the opportunity to toss in the supposed threat of a “patchwork” of regulations – the American Gaming Association talking point that really is an insult to quilts everywhere).
Epstein, whose family owns and operates the El Cortez casino in Las Vegas, said “the education process” amongst federal politicians “is continuing.” Epstein admitted that a “logjam” had previously existed at the federal level but believed the DoJ’s Wire Act reversal meant politicians could no longer “sit on their hands and do nothing.” Epstein said the Republican base was waking up to the fact that inaction was resulting in a “massive proliferation of gaming at the state level,” which Epstein felt GOPers wouldn’t care to see realized (ignoring the fact that the GOP has traditionally thrown up in its mouth whenever anyone suggests federal interference in states’ rights, but whatever).
Breitling said “millions” of Americans were already playing online in “the most unsafe, unregulated environment” and thus “anything would be better than what exists today.” Breitling played the “consumer protection” card, which he said was the product of “technology, process and law.” Breitling said the “proven operators” in Nevada (like, er, himself) were the only ones who could be counted on to “respect” the regulatory “line drawn in the sand” to prevent abuses like minors playing online.
When Ralston brought up Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson’s vociferous opposition to online gambling over concerns that the existing technology wasn’t sufficient to block children from accessing the sites, Epstein basically called Adelson an old fogey who doesn’t understand the internet. (Ralston suggested the word Epstein was looking for was “curmudgeon” and, surprisingly, Epstein agreed. Not nice to talk about the GOP’s #1 donor like he’s just soiled his Depends undergarments.) Neither Epstein nor Breitling chose to address Ralston’s reminder of Adelson’s close ties to House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and the possibility that this relationship alone could restore the ‘logjam’ Epstein suggested had been unblocked.
WHICH NEVADA CASINO BILLIONAIRE WILL GET HIS ONLINE POKER WAY?
Meanwhile, Politico has revealed that Wynn Resorts supremo Steve Wynn was instrumental in helping Adelson block the late-2010 attempt by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to introduce online poker legislation in Washington. Politico quoted a senior congressional aide saying that the dynamic duo had personally called federal pols to “tell them that the bill wasn’t sufficient.” While Adelson has held his ground on the issue, Wynn’s position on online poker has ‘evolved’, leading Wynn to enter into an abortive joint venture agreement with PokerStars shortly before Black Friday, and rumors continue to swirl of a Wynn tie-up with social game developers Zynga on a real-money online poker project.
Politico also revealed that Wynn has joined Adelson in opening up his wallet to defeat President Barack Obama in November. Multiple sources have told Politico that Wynn has “kicked in millions” to Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)4 “social welfare” group run by GOP political operative Karl Rove. In fact, Politico’s sources say Wynn’s funding of Crossroads GPS “dwarfs all the publicly reported federal donations he’s ever made combined.” That said, Wynn’s largesse is unlikely to top the eight-figure sums Adelson has already given and the tens of millions he’s vowed to pledge in the coming months. So which crazy Nevada billionaire’s vision of a US online poker landscape will prevail? We’ve long been predicting regulated US online gambling would roll out over time on a state-by-state basis, so our money’s strongly on Adelson winning this battle.