“I am willing to spend whatever it takes,” to stop online gambling.

Those were Sheldon Adelson’s words to Forbes Magazine, and as one of the richest men in the world this proclamation struck quite a bit of fear in the hearts of online gaming advocates. But Adelson’s original comments came back in November, and his hubris has seemed to die down after his stance was poked full of holes at a recent congressional hearing.

Last Tuesday, December 10, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on online gambling, and to my pleasant surprise the hearing not only went extremely well, but the opposition made the one mistake you simply cannot make in a situation like this; you cannot drop the ball and make a serious blunder.

What happened?

In a nutshell, Sheldon Adelson’s appointed talking head, Andrew Abboud, slipped up big time and landed in mainstream media headlines when he did the football equivalent of botching the snap on the game winning field goal when he could not give a credible reason for why the Venetian offered its guests mobile gaming options, but the company was against online gambling.

The immediate fallout of his testimony was deafening. Poker advocates were cheering, and the opposition was as quiet as a church mouse. Abboud’s appearance and testimony before congress could have very well killed Adelson’s movement (on the federal level anyway) before it even got started.

And if you think I’m being a bit hyperbolic, simply consider the fact that there has not been a whisper or even a peep from the Adelson faction since the hearing; a complete 180 from their very vocal protestations in the weeks leading up to the hearing.

This could very well be the Coalition’s strategy; to let Abboud’s testimony be lessened with the passage of time, but the tables have already been turned. Where Adelson and the anti-online gambling crowd had always had poker players on the defensive (citing problem gamblers, kids, and even terrorist money laundering) it’s now Adelson and company that are on the defensive, having to explain away the hypocrisy that was exposed in the halls of Congress.

Where it all went wrong in front of Congress

Not only was Andy Abboud blindsided by two Congressional delegates from both sides of the aisle who actually had a handle on the industry and how it works (Jan Shakowsky and Joe Barton), but he must have been utterly shocked when Representative Barton went so far as to pull out pictures of the mobile gaming offered at Sands Las Vegas properties—showing the online gambling industry’s newest champion came prepared to debunk Abboud’s “expert” testimony, and had a premeditated trap ready to be sprung.

So there was the opposition’s star witness called out for hypocrisy and having no real defense whatsoever. His inability to defend himself and the corporation he represents from the charge was essentially an admission that their argument doesn’t hold water.

The best Abboud could muster was to unwittingly detail Representative Barton’s proposed bill as the Venetian’s way of regulating online gaming on its premises—I’m paraphrasing him here, but his argument was that “it works because this is a controlled, regulated, environment.” Which is exactly what the Barton bill would create, and what Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey have already created; a controlled, regulated environment.

A lack of facts only works when you don’t get asked questions

As Chris Grove pointed out in this article, the Adelson opposition to online gambling is based mainly on logical fallacies. There never was a logical reason given for his opposition, just a lot of mumbo-jumbo about protecting kids, such-and-such study he commissioned, and so-and-so said back in 2009 type of stuff.

And this is why Abboud really had no chance at this hearing; he was dealt a bad hand to begin with when he was sent to testify before a congressional committee that has pro-online gambling leadership.

The problem with not really having a logical or fact-driven argument is that you’ll often times be made to look like a fool when someone asks you a question that can’t be answered with one of your prepared talking points, which is precisely what happened to Abboud at Tuesday’s online poker hearing in the House Energy and Commerce committee. Talking points may work when dealing with a friendly questioner, but not when the questioner is hostile to your point of view and has an army of facts and evidence.

In my opinion, he never saw the accusations of hypocrisy coming, and his only chance to counter it was to cite the very same procedures that pro-online gambling advocates are calling for Congress to enact!

Is the movement dead?

I doubt Sheldon Adelson will give up writing op-eds, or commissioning them, and he will likely be a major force lobbying against online gambling at the state level (especially in Pennsylvania where he has a Sands Casino), but last Tuesday’s hearing was a setback of epic proportions—in Internet speak it was an Epic FAIL.

As soon as Congressman Joe Barton pulled out those pictures it was pretty much game over for Adelson’s federal lobbying efforts to ban online gambling—not that it was a very winnable fight in the first place.

It’s one thing to have a controversial stance based slim evidence and spout your rhetoric in editorial columns, it’s an entirely different matter when you are called a hypocrite in Congress and cannot defend against the charge. Even staunch supporters of Adelson’s views on online gambling have to be rethinking their affiliation with him today, and deciding if this is an issue they really need to “go to the mattresses over.” Considering the silence from the anti-online gambling side we pretty much have our answer.

Steve Ruddock

About

Steve is a seasoned veteran of the online gambling industry, having written about it from every possible angle in his many years as a freelance gaming writer. Based in Massachusetts, Steve especially focuses on regulatory and legislative news coverage pertaining to the U.S. market.