Sheldon Adelson’s misguided gambit on online gambling and its offshoots

Sheldon Adelson is a man who doesn’t shy away from making a bet. He should know, he built his career and amassed the world’s 8th largest fortune thanks to his Las Vegas Sands Corporation and its bricks-and-mortar establishment spread across two continents. But his latest foray into politics betrays a complete disconnect from the policies that would help this country move forward. Adelson has been lining the pockets of both Republicans and Democrats in a last ditch effort to pass a law on the hush regulating online gambling on the federal level. Red State even exposed earlier this week how the mogul seems to have struck a shady deal with arch-Democrat [mc_name name=’Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’R000146′ ] to make sure the law gets approved.

For the 81-year old hardcore Republican, his efforts to expand the powers of the federal government at the expense of states’ ability to self-regulate reek of opportunism. The massive online campaign for America’s hearts and minds deployed through Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling (CSIG) is downright pathetic. The entire debate has been framed as a “What about the children?” trope that makes a mockery out of the real issues that affect our nation’s young. In a series of ads, the mogul tries to instill fear in the American public by claiming that the rise in the number of teens with access to iPhones and tablets will make them vulnerable to the mirage of Internet roulette or – God forbid! – poker. In Adelson’s world children are used as walking billboards for his business interests that would take an important hit were gambling legalized.

Adelson also seems to forget that as recent as 2003, his company spent $1.3 million in exploring the possibility of running an offshore online gambling center in the UK. Sound bites such as “my moral standard compels me to speak out” ring even more shallow, given his cutthroat business reputation. A more reasonable explanation would be that stopping a $400 billion a year market from becoming legal would ensure that his longtime rivals Caesars and MGM and their online gambling spinoffs would continue to bask in the shadows of his Las Vegas Sands Corp.

For a while, Republicans toed Adelson’s line and his $100 million-deep political contributions. Fortunately, now with the GOP firmly in control of the Capitol, dissenting voices are on the verge of swaying the tide. Ron Paul, in a damning op-ed published on November 19th, likened Adelson’s gambit against online gambling to “crony capitalism”. A House hearing on the proposed bill, scheduled for early December has been tabled. Grover Norquist, president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform quipped in a letter to lawmakers that states “don’t need the federal government babysitting them”.

A similar situation happened in New Jersey and its ongoing struggle to legalize sports betting, which has been impeded by a series of trials brought by the national professional sports leagues.

There, the arguments have been even more ludicrous and were quickly picked up by liberal commentators. It has been said that legalizing gambling will lead to an increase in match fixing and will destroy the very fabric of the game. A series of “sober” analyses tried to belittle the US and its political institutions by giving examples of places in the world where sports gambling served as the main catalyst for match fixing.

Let’s take a look at one such example. Mark Varga warns us in The New Republic that Greek football has been destroyed by the actions of a clique of individuals led by one Evangelos Marinakis, the owner of Greece’s biggest soccer club. In 2011, two clubs were relegated and their owners jailed for their involvement in a massive match fixing and ring that included more than 80 people – sports officials, club presidents, referees, players, police officers. According to the prosecutor’s files, Marinakis picked up the phone, called associates and secured the appointment of favorable referees in certain key matches. In a second phase, individuals who were in on it placed bets and reaped in winnings. Those who refused to cooperate were usually beaten up, harassed or had their property damaged. Using his political connections, Marinakis walked scot free from the scandal and, what’s more, secured election in public office in his team’s hometown.

The odds of this happening stateside are almost nil. Unlike Greece, the U.S. has strong institutions, sufficient safeguards in place and an already overburdening state that monitors every movement taken by individuals and public figures alike. Equating American sports with Greece’s seething corruption is misleading and borderline unpatriotic.

Overall, Adelson’s campaign has done more harm than good and has obscured the national debate over the place gambling, in all its forms, should have in the American society. The bottom line is that petty politics and half-baked scaremongering lobbying campaigns have created a white noise background that hides the sad truth: personal rivalries and business interests have supplanted and politicized a commonsense issue. Gambling (on sports or otherwise) is a personal, individual choice that simply isn’t in the government’s purview.