Will The Ghost Of Sheldon Adelson Haunt U.S. Internet Gaming Industry?

November 1, 2021
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Sheldon Adelson may be gone but his enduring influence as an opponent of internet gambling could not be denied during last week’s East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City.

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Sheldon Adelson may be gone but his enduring influence as an opponent of internet gambling could not be denied during last week’s East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City.

One of the country’s leading real estate and gambling moguls echoed Adelson’s warning about the hazards of online gaming.

However, another prominent casino executive and a top regulator both insisted the industry’s future is online.

Adelson died on January 11 at the age of 87 after waging a relentless, albeit unsuccessful, campaign to ban all internet gambling in the United States.

Even before his death, there were signs that the largest casino company in the world — Las Vegas Sands, which Adelson founded and ran — was edging closer to entering the online gaming market.

Almost exactly six months later on July 12, Sands announced it was doing just that.

As a result, it was somewhat of a surprise when David Cordish, CEO of the Cordish Companies in Baltimore, Maryland, delivered a speech in which he all but declared he was ready to pick up the mantle of Adelson’s campaign against gambling online.

“Sheldon espoused…until the very end exactly what I’m saying in putting out a warning about iGaming,” said Cordish, whose company owns the Live! casinos near Baltimore and in Philadelphia and operates a PlayLive! online casino in Pennsylvania.

“Don’t wish for something too hard; you just might get it.”

Cordish cited Adelson’s success, which has made his widow, Miriam, the richest person in the gaming industry.

“While a very good case can be made contrary to what I’m saying today, I’ll bet with Sheldon,” he said.

Casino companies should be cautious about entering the online gaming market because they could lose the formidable advantage they already have with their brick-and-mortar properties, according to Cordish.

Only a small group of companies can afford to compete in the brick-and-mortar market because of the enormous expense in time and money required to develop land-based casinos, he said.

“I kind of like the odds of competing in a smaller group,” Cordish said.

By contrast, the expansion of internet gambling is likely to open the door for Amazon, Facebook, and Google to enter the gaming market.

“I don’t really want to compete against them in the ether,” Cordish said. “They know more about it than I’ll ever know.”

Casinos fare better in America than in Europe because they pay substantial taxes and employ more workers, according to Cordish.

“You are making a government that has to regulate you at the end of the day into a friend, not an enemy,” he said.

Since casinos in Europe are not big contributors to the economy, Cordish said, “the regulators are turning on casinos, and they’re getting tougher and tougher and tougher.”

If American casinos plunge headlong into the online market, they will not pay as much in taxes or hire as many people and their friendly relationship with state and local governments will suffer, Cordish said.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg, who also addressed the East Coast Gaming Congress, said he does not see the wisdom of brick-and-mortar casinos trying to lock the door behind them to block online competition.

Reeg said Caesars expects a 50 percent return on its digital investment, which has included a major recent marketing campaign to support a new Caesars Sportsbook product.

David Rebuck, director the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, has become almost evangelical in his support for internet gambling after its success in his state.

The gaming industry has taken an aggressive approach in cyber security, but not just because of internet gambling, Rebuck said when he spoke last week on a panel at the East Coast Gaming Congress.

“There are still risks certainly with the retail casinos that could be hacked,” Rebuck said.

“Remember, Sheldon Adelson — an anti-iGaming advocate — his Sands property got decimated by a hack that took out essentially their email system and took their whole operations down.”

Rebuck was referring to Iran’s hacking of Las Vegas Sands in February 2014 after Adelson, who was Jewish and a passionate supporter of Israel, suggested America should detonate a nuclear weapon in the Iranian dessert.

Recovering data and building new systems reportedly cost Sands at least $40m.

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