Saturday March 22,2014 : DID THE A.G.A. JUST BLINK?
Chairman Jim Murren wants to "dial down" the confrontation with anti-online gambling faction.
It seems from a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the industry may see a more docile approach by the American Gaming Association when it comes to opposing the Adelson jihad against online gambling.
Speaking in an interview with the respected journal, AGA chairman Jim Murren – who is also the chief executive of MGM International – said that he wants to tone down the trade body's lobbying and advocacy initiatives regarding the legalization of online poker because the current level of activity runs the risk of "fracturing the membership" of the AGA.
Murren took over the two-year chairmanship of the AGA at the beginning of this year, and emphasised that the body remains committed to a federal legalization of online poker… but he told the LVRJ:
“I don’t want the AGA to find itself mired in a tremendous amount of controversy and infighting. I feel like the Internet has become too divisive a topic when there are so many other topics we want to put forward where we can all agree.”
With his MGM hat on, Murren said that he supports both federal and state-by-state legalization, but that he is holding off on active internet operations until the right business opportunity comes along.
The Journal notes that many AGA companies – it names Caesars Entertainment, Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming, Bally Technologies, International Game Technology and others – are involved in current legal Internet gaming opportunities in Nevada and New Jersey, whilst Wynn Resorts owner Steve Wynn has in the past flirted with online gambling but is at present doubtful that a viable business model exists.
On the other side of the growing divide is eighty-year-old multi-billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his Las Vegas Sands land casino group, which is waging a well-funded, wide-ranging war on the internet gambling industry through its Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
Adelson has vowed to spend "whatever it takes" to impose a ban on almost every type of online gambling in the United States, and two Congressmen are currently preparing bills for introduction – some reports indicate as early as next week
He is opposed by the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, which holds the position that legalization and regulation is the best way to protect US punters when it comes to online gambling.
In the LVRJ interview Murren says that although he has not discussed the issue with Adelson, he has engaged with Las Vegas Sands president Michael Leven, who is a member of the AGA board of directors.
Murren appears to favour the AGA backing away from direct confrontation, leaving it to the two coalitions to fight it out. Given Adelson's massive resources, that will likely be a David and Goliath battle.
“I have no interest in engaging in a fight we can not win financially,” Murren said. “I’d rather sit down with Mr. Adelson and discuss our differences.”
Industry observers might be forgiven for feeling that Murren's view leaves AGA chief executive Geoff Freeman a little out on a limb; Freeman is a new arrival at the AGA who has brought a more aggressive and dynamic approach to bear on the question of the decade-long debate on internet gambling, which he wants to see resolved through legalization.
In his interview, Murren praised Freeman's work, saying of him and his team: “They are young and energetic, and I have hopes for this team.”
However, instead of tackling very contentious projects like online gambling, Murren wants the focus to be elsewhere during his chairmanship, saying that he wants the Association "…to become more involved in promoting women in the work force; improving healthcare for gaming employees; and establishing new standards for probity and regulatory compliance.
He also wants to expand the membership with more non-gaming companies that have ties to the industry, and has ambitions to make the AGA an international rather than merely American organisation.