Caesars VP demonizes state lotteries; Catholics, Protestants face off over poker


caesars-jan-jones-catholicsA recent report by Deutsche Bank gaming analyst Andew Zarnett suggested the chances aren’t good for passage of an online poker bill at the US federal level “in this year’s lame duck session and in the foreseeable future,” and thus investors needed to “shift their thinking to what a rollout would look like on a state by state basis.” We here at have long predicted that federal online gambling initiatives would take a backseat to those promoted by individual states, but that represents what Caesars Entertainment VP Jan Jones calls “the worst possible of all scenarios” for America and (coincidentally) US brick-and-mortar casino companies.

This week, Jones went on Nevada journalist Jon Ralston’s TV show Ralston Reports to reveal that she has “no idea” whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s online poker bill will become law this year. Jones says it’s “unclear whether there will be a vehicle” to carry the bill to online poker’s promised land. Jones believes Washington’s current fixation on the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate means “nothing’s really moving through Congress,” and even if it does, “only germane language can be a part” of the discussion. That puts the initiative back with the states, and that puts a shiver down Jones’ spine.

To illustrate the alleged existential threat posed by the individual states going online with a broader offering than the poker-only plan proposed by Reid and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jones suggested much of the financial woe experienced by the casino industry in Atlantic City – where Caesars has a significant presence – was due to neighboring Pennsylvania’s expansion of its own casino market, creating a “convenience product that was more readily available.” Consumer choice… Honestly, who asked for that? Consumers? Well, what do they know?

Jones says consumers’ ability to access a full range of gaming options online via state lottery sites would cripple the brick-and-mortar casino business, which is why online play needs to be restricted. Precisely why the casino biz deserves such protection, when the retail book, music and video industries – which also employed thousands of people nationwide – were forced to adapt or die, is unclear. Jones states that the newspaper industry “failed to cross-market” their physical and digital selves early enough, and paid a heavy price as a result. But online gaming has been around for a decade and a half, and many US casino giants still don’t have a road-tested product ready to go, which would make them – like print editions of newspapers – yesterday’s news.

Jones also said that the alleged dearth of slot machines in Europe’s brick-and-mortar gaming establishments was due to the widespread availability of online slot play. That would suggest the current UK hysteria over the proliferation of slots-like fixed-odds betting terminals in betting shops is a tempest in a teapot. Can Ladbrokes, William Hill et al quote you on that, Jan?

Jones disingenuously claims that if state lotteries are allowed to go their own way, Americans would be able to engage in all manner of online slots and casino play with “no oversight, no consumer protections,” as if states were powerless entities, completely incapable of regulating anything more complex than pie-eating contests. But if that were true, it would mean Caesars’ state-regulated brick-and-mortar casinos are essentially lawless free-fire zones akin to Bartertown in Max Max III. Except they aren’t, which means states are more than capable of regulating and enforcing gaming, thank you very much.

Jones bemoaned the fact that Reid/Kyl’s fate appeared so dire, despite what she claimed was a most unusual alliance of the gaming industry with the nation’s most ardent social conservatives. As if on cue, a joint letter by the Catholic Advocate, American Majority Action and 60 Plus Association sent Congress a letter pleading with them to pass Reid/Kyl to “protect our seniors, our children and give law enforcement the tools they need to protect the vulnerable from illegal predatory gambling.” Quite what threats senior citizens would face from being allowed to play online slots that they wouldn’t face from playing online poker isn’t clear, at least to us. (To paraphrase Monty Python’s Graham Chapman: “Bloody Catholics filling the bloody world up with bloody people that don’t make bloody sense.”)

However, Evangelical Christian social conservatives aren’t buying what Jones et al are selling. Focus on the Family’s Chad Hills said Reid/Kyl itself amounted to a huge expansion of gambling. “You’re just allowing poker into every house or home in the states that are going to allow this. This is a hill we consider worthy of dying on in our opposition.” Yikes… Those are literally fighting words from a guy seeking martyrdom. (Sounds like someone wants in on that 72 virgins action.) While the media was busy ginning up the whole Jesus v. Mohammed confrontation, it seems America’s ready to reenact the Protestant v. Catholic holy wars that plagued Europe for much of the 16th and 17th centuries. Has anyone checked the Pope’s new Twitter account for coded ‘attack’ messages?