Saturday, December 20, 2014

Give Us a Sporting Chance

Hey, it’s the weekend, and you know what that means?  SPORTS!  Whatever time of year, many red-blooded American males (and plenty of red-blooded females) avail themselves to the tube, radio, or Internet (that’s that thing in the sky, Senator Reid), to follow their favorite teams.  Be it football, basketball, baseball, or games played without a ball (I’m looking at YOU, hockey), we’re nuts about sports here in the USA.

Throughout the world, folks are nuts about team sports, too.  Sure, the sport might be a bit different (soccer…uh, football, cricket, rugby, hurling), but they are as passionate as we are about their teams.  And just like us, they like to brag, cheer, and support them however they can.  Heck, sometimes they even throw down a quid or two to back the boys.

Wait a minute.  We can’t do that.  But pretty much everyone else in the free world can.  How the hell did THAT happen?  Why can’t we Americans bet on sports?

OK, let me clarify – sure, if you’re in Nevada you can bet sports.  New Jersey residents might get the chance, maybe, supposedly, soon, perhaps.  Heck, even here in Oregon we had some pseudo-sports betting opportunities via the Lottery, but those days are gone.  But for the most part, if you live in the other 49 states, you can’t legally bet your favorite team, or even your least favorite because they most likely will cover the spread.  Because there is no spread, and no legal betting.

That doesn’t mean we don’t TRY to wrangle a wager.  There’s beaucoup illegal betting going on, in offshore websites, backroom bookies, Sugar Bowl squares, unofficial side wagers among friends, March Madness brackets, Super Bowl pools, and so much more.  The AGA estimates that only 1% of all sports betting is legal (Nevada); the other 99% ($380 Billion with a “B”) goes to the non-legal stuff.  I’d bet it’s larger than that.

Is it because we want to keep the game “pure?”  Yes, the Black Sox scandal rocked baseball, but that was when professional athletes made a pittance and had second jobs in the off-season to make ends meet.  Look me in the eye and tell me LeBron is going to toss a game so he can make an extra $50K on the side.  Chump change, chump.

Is it some other moral reasoning?  That’s doubtful and one I’d fade in a heartbeat.  Even politicians who claim to be anti-gambling have been documented making all sorts of wagers (looking at YOU, Idaho Senator Risch).  Apparently they are anti-gambling only for their constituents.  At least Alabama’s anti-gambling Governor refused his winnings (like Captain Renault in Casablanca – he did get his prize the year previous).
Why don’t we bet on sports?  It’s the money, of course.

Why would a state give you a nearly 50/50 chance on this weekend’s football games when their take from their mega-ball lottery game is sooooooooooo much bigger?  I can see that logic, but frankly, only the sports-statistically challenged play the Lotto.

Yes, there’s the new Daily Fantasy Sports stuff.  Not the same.

There are many who think sports betting will eventually become a thing.  The NBA commissioner, for one.  Mark Cuban for another.  These guys, too (well, the first three in the debate, at least).  Most people in poll after poll

In America, gambling on sports is seen as a bad thing – criminal, sinister, harmful, despicable.  In Europe, the bookmaking profession is considered an honorable one, while sports betting is considered as pastime for many sports fans, one that increases their interest their favorite sporting events.

Online sports betting would be a bonanza if we did it NATIONALLY.  Figure the vig on $380 Billion.  And if it was online, that number would be SOOOO much BIGGER!  Goodbye, deficit!  Hello, improved infrastructure!  And I wouldn’t look wistfully at my Las Vegas friends again when they cash in their Future Bets.*

* I figure by the time I can actually make a legal sports bet here in Oregon, the Lions will no longer be such a long shot for the Super Bowl**.

** Seriously, who am I kidding?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dirty Harry and Uncle Sheldon

Senators Graham and Reid kiss the...uh, feet...of their political benefactor, Sheldon Adelson.

I had just started to relax a bit.  RAWA was dead for 2014, and while I knew 2015 would be another battle, there was time to savor the initial victory.  Then I saw it - the interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in last Friday’s Review-Journal, and while the picture was taken at a different time, it was the pic combined with the first paragraph that got my blood boiling.  

It read:  “Reid said Friday that Congress next year will take up legislation to outlaw Internet gambling, and he plans to support a ban while trying to gain an exemption for online poker.”  And Reid was smiling.  Not a “say cheese” smile, but a “shit-eating, I just won the lottery” smile.

I thought he was on OUR side.

No more had I tossed something heavy across the room than my computer beeped, signaling “incoming message.”  It was Mike Qualley, PPA’s Minnesota State Director.  It had the words “Reid,” “Two-faced,” and “Adelson” so I knew I was not alone.

“It’s bad enough Andy Abboud talking about the cake already being baked, and then I read where Reid says, ‘I think the proliferation of gambling on the Internet is not good for our country,’” I screamed. “Mike, what the hell kind of cake was he baking?”

“At this point a very stale cake!” Mike replied.  “Andy Abboud, who is still in a haze about technology from last summer, was trumpeting this rhetoric in late November and early December, this quote from him in WAPO November 20th:  ‘Speaking with Nevada television journalist Jon Ralston, Abboud expressed confidence that a federal ban would be considered in Congress soon, either this year or next year. “The die is cast on this,” Abboud told Ralston. ’the cake is baked.’”

“Worse, Reid thinks that the ONLY way legalized poker can pass Congress is if it is coupled with legislation that prohibits other forms of online gaming.  Like horse racing, maybe?,“ I said with a snark.

Mike met snark with snark.  “Reid has two faces these days on many issues, iPoker included. One face for example, hammering Citizens United and the Koch Brothers for being a big part of CU. Then there's the other face of Reid, in an interview where he went on about Sheldon and how, ‘we all should leave Adelson alone’ and that ‘Adelson wasn't in this for the money.’ I'll get back to this second comment in a minute. Reid seems as confused on overzealous billionaires trying to buy elections and legislation, as Andy Abboud was on technology last summer.”

“Reid says the so-called “gentleman’s deal” with Adelson doesn’t exist,” I said.

Mike laughed…loud and long.  “Gentlemen's deal, there's a laugher!  Adelson can't be trusted in a deal where his name appears on a contract, let alone a handshake. Harry's out in two years!  I mean, look - about Adelson not being in it for the money; if not money, then what exactly is ‘it’ Harry? If you're talking about business, I know of no billionaire or successful businessman/woman who isn't in ‘it’ for the money.  By the way, how’s Harry's bank account these days?”

So it looks like, maybe, Uncle Sheldon has another washed-up politician on his side, I said.  Doesn’t matter - we will prevail - facts over fear.

Mike agreed.  “There isn't much in that area that gets by us, we're fully loaded with facts, and more on the way.” 

And hey - it looks like we’re not the only ones.  ICYMI, here, here, and here.  And from LAST year, Nolan Dalla here.

Just one more reason to stay vigilant.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Annual Report Card for Adelson

It's Detention Hall for you, buddy!
Ask yourself this question:  “Since he declared war a year ago, how’s Sheldon Adelson’s battle with online gambling doing so far?”

If you consider the silly ForbesAdelson is winning” article written halfway through the year, and the recent absence of RAWA in legislation for 2014, you might think it’s a draw, or that he’s won a few and we’ve won a few.  But if you look at the vow he made himself about a year ago in an op-ed piece in the Las Vegas Review-Journal (in response to THIS editorial from Howard Stutz), you can keep score with the best of them, and know that Sheldon’s major thrust is a bust.

Overall, has he stopped online gambling?  Not in the least.  Not one iota.  Phhhhht!

How about the things he said in the op-ed?  Well, let’s consider them one at a time.

Adelson: “(Stutz) suggests I will spend ‘millions’ on a campaign to defeat Internet gambling. I have made no such prediction, and frankly this debate shouldn’t be about what I spend or don’t spend.”

Reality:  Not much later Adelson boasted that he was “…willing to spend whatever it takes,” to stop online gambling.  So far, the wallet is wide open.

Adelson:  It (the debate as to whether to permit or prohibit online gambling) should be about two things:
1) Is it bad for the public and our society in general?
2) Is it bad or even dangerous for the gaming industry?

Reality:  Throughout 2014 Adelson and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling have tried to show that online gambling is bad for the public and society.  In his op-ed, he tried to paint two distinct pictures - gambling in person in a casino (like he owns) is GOOD, and gambling online in your PJ’s is BAD.

What he never gets around to explaining, however, is WHY.  

Here was his argument then:
"On the first point, the main argument from Internet gambling proponents is that we need to legalize online gambling in the United States to regulate it, because the government has not been able to stop offshore online gambling sites from doing business in the U.S., or worse, operating websites involved in illegal activity.  So let me get this straight. Proponents say that technology exists to effectively regulate Internet gambling to stop minors, addicted gamblers, money launderers and organized crime from accessing it. But the technology does not exist to block the unscrupulous foreign websites from targeting those same audiences."

Ladies and Gentlemen, this year’s winner of the mumbo-jumbo award!  Seriously, what does that even mean?  It’s supposed to sound scary and smart and factual and accusatory, but it never really answers the question…or even re-states it.

This type of word salad is what CSIG and Adelson’s other minions (Abboud, Jacobus, Thackston, and the four co-chairs of CSIG) are famous for.  Talking about offshore illegal sites in the same breath as legal U.S. sites.  Combining Internet cafes and freemium games like Candy Crush and Yahoo Hold’ em with legal, regulated state sites.  Making fiction (boy steals his Mom’s credit cards and loses $20K “in a nano-second.”) sound like facts.  Scary facts.

The Headless Horseman was scary, too, but not real.  Not much from CSIG is, either.  There is a tremendous amount of scary potential and fear-based predictions tossed into the mix - this COULD happen, this MIGHT happen, the FBI WARNED us about this (five years ago), etc.  And of course, everything they fear MIGHT happen already HAS happened…at a land-based casino.  Like Sheldon’s.

And that’s one more thing - shouldn’t a group dedicated to stopping an Internet activity actually KNOW something about how the Internet works (I’m looking at YOU, Senator Harry “up in the sky” Reid)? 

So that brings us to item two - is it (online gambling) bad or even dangerous for the gaming industry?  Here’s Adelson:
“…the land-based casinos…have a very high risk of losing at least 20 percent from their top line while at the same time risk losing a more significant percentage of their bottom line.”

Reality:  Does Las Vegas based Sands Corporation have anything to fear here?  Are they panic-stricken that the all-important California market could find it easier to play via the comfort of their living rooms and smart-phones (or water bottles in Adelson’s case) than to drive over to the Venetian?  Does the CSIG Website and Facebook page continually post stories about all those “disappointing results” in existing (but young) markets in Nevada, Delaware, and New Jersey?

You bet.  And then reality really sinks in.  

What do YOU think?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

CEOs, Layoffs, Gambling, and Greed

This isn’t just about the changing world of gambling, but it’s just one industry of many that seems to be going through another metamorphosis that I’ve seen far too often in my lifetime.  I read about the potential bankruptcy of Caesars Entertainment (they’re $25 billion debt), and how that will change the face of Las Vegas (and much of the US’s gambling industry, too).  Of course, Atlantic City has had its share of closures (FOUR!) in 2014 (and Trump Taj Mahal still to come), and elsewhere it seems you read about expansion of gambling here and then the closing (or layoffs) of gambling there.

There is one bright spot in all of this.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

First, full disclosure.  I’ve owned a business for 14 years.  A small business (you’d call it “Mom & Pop” – hardly even a small business).  I have also been involved in other businesses and industries, and three of those firms have gone through “difficulties” like I see reported for the casinos and other troubled businesses of today.  I have witnessed all of these businesses develop that one “bright spot” I mentioned above, though it’s never happened in my business.  But I believe it will happen in the gaming world.

I know it will.  About a year ago, when I first got involved on the “Anti-Sheldon-Adelson” train, I read his editorial in the Las Vegas Review-Journal explaining his valid reasons for opposing Internet gambling.  One of his valid reasons (the one you never hear him talk much about any more) is the negative financial impact online gaming will have on land-based casinos (at least, the ones not also online).  He states:
With the lack of strategic thought some of our colleagues in the industry have put into this, they have missed the fact that the land-based casinos, particularly regional ones, have a very high risk of losing at least 20 percent from their top line while at the same time risk losing a more significant percentage of their bottom line.

Somewhat tactless, yes, but he has a point.  Now, the question I pose to you is this – when a company faces a financial downturn, a loss of income, increased competition that causes hurt to their bottom line, what do they normally do? 

They lay off workers, of course.  Layoffs are as common as milk; more so during the economic downturn.

And does the CEO also take a hit to his already enormous salary and stock options and other benefits too numerous to mention?

Don’t be silly. 

He usually gets an INCREASE in salary and more stock options, too.  The stock price gets a bump, dividends increase, and stockholders and other officers are happy.  Very happy.  Nearly everyone is happy.

‘cept those workers, of course.

That’s the “bright spot.”  That’s the normal course of events – the company has problems, they layoff hundreds or thousands of workers, and the fat cats get fatter.  You NEVER hear a CEO talk about a cut in pay for himself if the company is in difficulty (Lee Iacocca was the last one I remember, and that was ages ago). 

Lay off the peons and have another glass of champagne!

It’s sickening.  It’s disgusting.  It’s the American way – see here, here, here, here, and here.

How can a company justify both layoffs (because the company is in turmoil) and a big fat raise for the guy who is IN CHARGE?  Because he’s doing such a great job?  Because you’re afraid he’ll go elsewhere?  I’d be glad to be rid of that kind of failrure, frankly.

I worked for three different firms that faced a financial crisis.  Each time the choices were clear – we could all tighten our belts a little and carry on, or the chief could can some folks, keep his big earnings, and we’d muddle through somehow.  In one case the choice was a brand new truck, or laying off three workers. 

It was a really nice truck.

When our ice cream shop suffered a decline, we sucked it up and took less money.  When tourism declined in 2001 (9-11) and 2003 (the War in Iraq), we sucked it up and took less.  When more competition came to town in 200, we sucked it up and took less, reinvesting what we did have to start making our own ice cream so we could offer something different and better.  When we had even more competition and the economic slow-down in 2008 and 2009, we didn’t lay off staff.  We didn’t cut corners.  We kept doing what we always tried to do – make the best product we could – and we personally took less.  We wouldn’t think of doing it any other way.

I know that we COULD have put fewer nuts or chips or flavoring in the ice cream, or used a cheaper (lower butterfat) mix, or yes, laid off some of the summer staff and made everyone work harder for less.  But we didn’t.  We believe that you make it in business by having good people and a good product, and you take what you’ve earned and nothing more. 

What CEO is really worth 400 times the average worker in his company? 

Name one.

I have many pet peeves, but raises for folks who don’t need ‘em while at the same time laying off workers who do is what pisses me off more than most.  If Adelson’s casinos were to be financially hurt because of the rise of Internet gaming, do you really think he’d no longer be one of the richest men in the world?  And can you imagine the headline in the Las Vegas papers if it came to be?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Whatever It Takes is More Than Money

Did we miss anything?
We are no strangers to the phrase, “Whatever it takes.”  It comes from the lips of Sheldon Adelson, suggesting how passionate he is about making his dream of stopping Internet gambling a reality.  It’s really about how much he said he was ready to spend to make it happen – “whatever it takes.”

But lately the idea that his money talks (and politicians walk…hell, they run) has fallen on deaf ears.  Crony capitalism is getting poor reviews lately.  Other conservative voices have been stepping up to point out the obvious – that making new laws for old (moneyed) friends is not good government.  We still have online gambling in three states and others are poised to join them.  RAWA seems like a dead issue for 2014.  The only major “victory” Adelson can claim is the wimp-out of the AGA.

But still Shelly and his Coalition push on.  Why?  Consider this:  What is, instead of Congress acting on the whims of some rich billionaire, they were acting “on the will of the people?” 

All CSIG has to do is convince the American public that Internet gambling is, in fact, everything they say it is and isn’t.  And since it’s my job to monitor the CSIG’s website and Facebook pages, I get to see another side of the “whatever it takes” mantra.  Only in this case it’s not (just) money, but ethics that gets “spent.”  As in they seem to be depleted of any.

We’ve discussed the ads of the Gang of Four previously (CSIG’s four co-chairs) and found them wanting.  The website, which I consider the main communication vehicle, is kinda dull.  But the CSIG Facebook page is where the action is, and the action is anything but on the up-and-up.  Distortions, misleading, and outright lies – yes, all of that on Blanche Lincoln’s appearance on the Huckabee program to be sure, but also a regular occurrence on the Facebook page. Several times each week they post something negative on a variety of issues that kinda sorta sound bad and evil and close akin to their mission.

So far in December we’ve seen:

A) Some internet gambling site has security issues and is shutting down:
After only a month, Yahoo is shutting down it's Texas Holdem Poker portal due to “changes in supporting technologies and increased security requirements...” which have rendered the game “incompatible, insecure, and no longer functioning correctly
If you read the ENTIRE sentence from the article, which was shortened by CSIG (strategically?), you’ll get a different impression:
Yahoo…will no longer offer its current Texas Hold’em game because “changes in supporting technologies and increased security requirements for our Yahoo web pages have rendered the game “incompatible, insecure, and no longer functioning correctly.” (emphasis mine)
In other words, INTERNAL security, not a terrorism threat.  And that’s STILL not the whole story, as it turns out Yahoo is eliminating all Classic Yahoo Parlor games, effective at the start of 2015.  

Yet, Yahoo Games has nothing to do with CSIG, RAWA, or Sheldon Adelson.  This isn’t the type of gaming he wants to stop, and this isn’t the first time CSIG has confused the issue.  They’ve also ripped on so-called “freemium” games, “Internet Cafes,” and of course, they constantly blend unregulated offshore gaming with what transpires in NV, NJ, and DE as if they’re ”all the same.”

B) Old news is new news (and still wrong):
In a national survey conducted last year, 67% of voters indicated a negative view toward Internet gambling.
This was a survey SPONSORED by Adelson, conducted in only four states (California, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania), and data gathered before ANY state had started LEGAL, REGULATED online gambling.  Most importantly – it wasn’t a “survey” but “push polling,” designed to provoke just the type of answer they reported.  It’s been bashed before, but check this:
Respondents were “…asked to respond to a ‘competing thematic’ question. This type of question seeks responses to two statements, the first one in this survey described internet gambling as: ‘….simply a natural extension of gambling options in this technological age.’  The second statement suggested:there are a number of key problems and potential abuses with online gambling that do not exist with traditional casino gambling.’ (again, emphasis mine)
On average across the four states, 30% of respondents agreed with the first statement, but 57% preferred the second which argued that internet gambling was different to land based gambling.”
Also, please note that 57% does not equal 67%.  And as an eight-year veteran of marketing research, I can assure you that this biased “survey” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on as far as an “accurate snapshot” of the public real attitudes on this issue.

Failing to live up to projections: Nevada's online poker revenue fell in October to the lowest level since the state began releasing revenue data for its web poker sites. These shortfalls leave holes in state budgets that states can't afford.
Three things here – one, this seems to put their “casino on every Smartphone” argument in the dumpster, huh?  Second, they never seem to post these types of stories when revenues are up – just sayin’.  Finally, the end bit about the budgetary shortfalls is nowhere in the story they link to, and, guess what?  C’mon, guess…OK, here’s the money quote from a June story in USA Today about online gambling revenues
In Nevada, officials opted not to make revenue projections for the nascent industry – or to count on the money in its budget.
I know, shocking, huh?  The revenue isn’t even a part of the budget and it’s causing shortfalls (actually, the biggest hole is mineral taxes due to plummeting gold prices).

Add to all this distortion, confusion, and mendacious “news” the repeated postings of Lincoln’s fact-free five minutes; all of the other co-chairs and their “ads” crying about the children, terrorists, organized crime, and the economy; and the two CSIG ads that make LBJ’s “Daisy ad” tame by comparison.

It’s like the old proverb: “Throw enough mud at the wall, and some of it might stick.”

Except it’s not really mud (it IS brown, but it’s a bit nastier).  THIS is what “whatever it takes” means.  Lyin’, cheatin’, confusin’ and distortin’.  And money bags for everyone that feels like changing sides for the money.

Remain vigilant against their immoral alliance.

Monday, December 1, 2014

O, Canada! Wheeze Tendon Guard For Thee!

Calgary eventually won a close game - 20 to 16 - over Hamilton
This really is about poker, online poker to be exact, but first, let me tell you how much I like Canada.  A lot.  I was born in Michigan, near Detroit, the one place in the US where if you went directly SOUTH, you’d run into Canada.  I almost moved there years ago – the year was 1970, and if you wonder why I considered becoming a Canadian, here are some other numbers - 18 (as in years) and 6 (as in draft number).  I remained in the USA because of another number (4F).  But that’s another story.

I like Canada because it’s very similar to the US, but it’s different, and in many ways better.  They are more polite, and in many ways more practical than we Americans are.  They went metric.  Better access to health care.  Prettier money plus they had the good sense to get rid of paper ones and twos and the penny.  And Tim Horton’s.

I’ve visited several Canadian cities - Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Hamilton, and Vancouver, BC (please note that as a citizen of Oregon we ALWAYS say “Vancouver, BC” to distinguish it from Vancouver the city of 162,000 in Washington just across the Columbia River from Portland - it’s much the same as East Coasters discussing Seattle in Washington, the State).  Every one of them has a football team.  As in the CFL - Canadian Football League.  And, like so many other things about Canada, it’s somewhat different than the American version - and in my opinion, better.

There are many features unique to Canadian football, but here are the biggies: The field is longer, and wider.  There are twelve players on a side and you only get three downs to make 10 yards, not four.  They have no “fair catch” rule.  We only allow one player in the backfield to be in motion - sideways - before the snap.  In the CFL, ALL backfield players can be in motion - IN ANY DIRECTION - before the snap. And then there’s the scoring of “the rouge” - one point - which can best be explained here and seen in its crazy glory here.

And there’s advertising on the field.  I mean, right on the damn field, not just the sidelines.  And, like our soccer teams and WSOP Final Table, advertising patches on the players.  Which gets us to online poker…almost.

I learned about the on-field ads while watching Sunday’s Grey Cup game, which is the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl, except that it’s been going on longer (102 years).  Like Lord Stanley, Earl Grey was intent on giving a trophy to the victors…of the Canadian Senior Hockey League!  Well, that’s what he intended, but since they already had the Allan Cup, it was awarded to the amateur rugby champions of Canada.  The football pros eventually got it in the Thirties.  See, the Canadians even recycle better than we do!

One other thing about the CFL which might make them seem more American - while they eventually saw the wisdom of changing a team’s nickname because it duplicated another teams nickname (the Ottawa Rough Riders became the Redblacks so as to not be confused with the Saskatchewan Roughriders) – they still have the Edmonton Eskimos, the CFL’s answer to the Washington (not the state) R***kins.

Back to the Grey Cup, which was being held in Vancouver, BC.  As you can see from the photo above, there were lots of ads on the field…including one for Bodog (sports - poker - casino).  In doing research for this post, I learned that they are the official “free-to-play sports gaming and poker partner.” They may be official, but not exclusive, as has also done some promo work with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

Why does Canada have a much-more relaxed attitude about online gambling than we do here in the states?  Because they have a much-more relaxed attitude about ALL gambling than we do here in the states.  You can gamble in all ten provinces and three territories, and they even have a NATIONAL lotto.  Rules for casinos vary by location, and their First Nations also conduct various gambling venues, too. 

As long as it’s sanctioned by the province, it’s OK – and three provincial lotteries – British Columbia, Quebec , and soon Ontario – have or will have their own online gambling sites.  Many more Canadians still play poker at the off-shore sites, and as of yet, there have been no repercussions and no prosecutions to the players.  In fact, some of those “offshore” sites are technically not in Canada, but just outside of Montreal, on the Kahnawake native reserve.

The rules for online gambling are kinda “in flux” as there are some in Canada not happy with the tight relationship Bodog and others have regarding advertising since, technically, Bodog is not a “legal” site sanctioned by any province.  Most of this unhappiness comes from the competition (the Provincial Lotteries).  Sound familiar?

At least they don’t have the 10th richest asshole trying to muscle into their country and setting up shop, and then buying off politicians trying to pass laws.  Oh, wait

Of course, all Bodog is providing to Canadians are “free to play” games.  So did PokerStars, here in the states, too.  Just sayin’.  And speaking of which…Bodog’s agreement with the CFL was for three years, meaning it’s in its last year.  Perhaps another gambling entity, one headquartered in, say, Montreal, will step up.  I’m looking at you, Amaya.

 In short, Canadians have the best of it – Loonies and Two-nies and online gaming, and Tim Horton donuts.  Pretty good, eh?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Lincoln Pataki Debates

To be clear, I am not making reference to the Lincoln Douglas debates, as those were infamous historical political talks between two great speakers and political leaders.  I am referring to former political leaders Blanche Lincoln and George Pataki, who are actually on the same side of the issue in question, both being co-chairs for Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.  And they didn’t debate each other, but were guests within a week on various conservative talk programs – Lincoln with Mike Huckabee on Fox TV, and Pataki with Michael Medved on his syndicated radio program, to talk about RAWA (Restore America’s Wire Act) and “the evils of online gambling.”

The debate is in how the CSIG decided to deal with the aftermath of each event, as it is very different indeed.

Lincoln’s appearance on Huckabee last Sunday (11/23) is pretty much known to all who read this blog, as is the blowback from the Poker Advocacy community (here, here, and here).  It was six minutes of drivel from a paid Adelson shill hosted by a guy who WANTS to be a paid Adelson shill.  Fear-mongering?  Lots.  Fact free?  You bet.  And it remains prominent on CSIG’s Facebook page and YouTube catalog, though it’s not as prominent as it was on their website (ever since we started to make fun of it).

Pataki’s participation on Hour Two of Medved’s show on 11/14 is…pretty much nowhere.  There was as much build up for it on CSIG’s Facebook page as with Lincoln’s TV appearance.  During Medved’s radio show they invited folks to call in and ask questions.  I mean CSIG did this via Facebook and Twitter, as this was the show’s format (we’re talking talk radio here folks).  And after the show…CSIG posted the old video ad of Pataki blasting “legalized online gambling” (yeah, that’s what he called it).  No mention of the radio appearance.  No podcast on Medved’s website that I can find.  Nada.  Zilch.

Why the difference?  Even though I didn’t hear Pataki, I can guess why.

His performance wasn’t the propaganda extravaganza that Lincoln/Huckabee was.  For one thing, it was radio, and that’s not as flashy as TV.  Second, it was a Q&A, and my guess is that there weren’t enough strong supporting statements to make into something they could re-bleat…I mean, repeat.  Perhaps there were some listeners critical of Pataki’s anti-online-gambling stance (many Libertarians listen to Medved and many are appalled at the anti-states-rights position RAWA’s supporters take). 

Hey, maybe they just erased all the tapes ala Rose Mary Woods.

On the other hand, Lincoln’s six minutes with Huckabee is EXACTLY what CSIG wants.  It’s propaganda they way they like to do it.  It had everything – children in peril, families hurt, organized crime and money laundering, and Lincoln mentioned “the economy” at least once each minute.  It had a host who might have been even MORE adamant about people getting on board this issue (Huckabee said that anyone in Congress who wasn’t a supporter should be thrown out of office – nice).  And there was no Q&A, or any challenge to any of the statements – just “rah rah rah” from Huckabee.

I watched Lincoln LIVE on the Huckabee program because I feared they’d do the same thing to her appearance as they did Pataki, and I wanted to see just what blather they were spreading (having been out of town when Pataki took to the airwaves).  I did a quick review about five minutes after it aired, and considered drafting a letter to Lincoln asking her to substantiate all of the claims she made on the program, starting with the “How big is this Internet Gaming with kids? – IT’S HUGE” declaration.  After all, if you know it’s huge, you should know what percentage of players online are minors, and how many families have had their credit cards stolen by their kids for this purpose, etc.  

Unless you’re making it up, of course.

Once they posted the show clip on YouTube, I even started a transcription of the show so I could quote her, word for word, but stopped after a minute or so (I have it below so you can read just how bad it was).  She really was breathlessly going on from topic to topic, trying to ensure that every potential bad evil horrible thing CSIG has ever considered got aired.  It was nauseating to try to keep up with the babble.

That’s why I was so very glad to see Nolan Dalla make his Open Challenge to Blanche Lincoln and the CSIG to a “real public debate” of the issue.  For starters, he’s got far more real poker chops than I (we’re both opinionated older guys, but that’s where the comparison ends, as people actually listen to him – and buy him drinks).  For another, he knows far more about both poker AND the folks on both OUR side and the other side of the issue.  If anyone could negotiate a real, fair debate on the issues of Internet Gaming, it’s Nolan.  But, like Nolan, I fear it’ll never happen, and for the same reasons he mentioned.  Sheldon and CSIG doesn’t want a debate.  Hell, they really don’t want a discussion at all unless they’ve got control of it.

Think about what happened this past year at actual government hearings about online gambling.  Anytime reps from Sheldon’s group made an appearance, it was embarrassing (for them) at best, with most of their comments frightfully unknowledgeable about the very issue they sought to ban.  They don’t know how things really work, and don’t care.  They’ve made up their minds, facts be damned. 

And that’s why they had their ass handled to them in these discussions, and why they never wish to debate.

Bet on it.

BONUS:  In case you missed it, Senator Lincoln was wearing the same outfit on the Huckabee program as she did in the CSIG ad she did a week before the show posted here.  They don’t miss a trick, do they? 

BONUS TWO:  The transcript of the first minute or so of her spot on Huckabee:
HUCKABEE: How big is this Internet Gaming with kids?LINCOLN: It’s huge, and it’s bad for our kids, it’s bad for our families, and it’s bad for our economy. Because it’s the marginalized…it’s the kids who don’t know what they are doing.  Y’know, kids have been playing video games forever.  Y’know my boys, my husband Steve and I, we worked hard to follow the guidelines for age-appropriate games, but the fact is they’re used to doing this, and so when they get on they don’t realize it sometimes, um, then, all of the sudden they grab a parent’s phone, they get into it, the credit card. There was a kid that, uh, a single Mom, he stole two of her credit cards, y’know, in a nano-second. Twenty thousand dollars worth of debt on a credit card.  I mean, that’s destroying our families, and opportunities that our kids might have, and we gotta do something about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Part 3 – Don’t Carve, Don’t Cave

I had not planned this.  I am getting a bit tired of monitoring Sheldon’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.  Yes, they have something to post to their Facebook page every day (sometimes three or four posts), but they repeat crap a lot, and frankly, it’s the same old shit tied up with a pretty new ribbon.  I thought that the previous two posts would be enough to lay out both my concerns and my evidence as to why CSIG and Adelson are misguided at best, totally bonkers at worst.  And with evidence that RAWA was dead for now, I really thought I was done.

Then more rumors this weekend about a brokered deal, although the evidence for such seems old and/or flimsy.  Then CSIG co-chair Blanche Lincoln was scheduled to be on the Mike Huckabee program on Fox, blathering about CSIG.  And Earl Burton penned a nifty piece about the need for a complete online gambling policy – not just online poker.

So here I am again with a story and a message.  The message is similar to Earl’s – in order for us to claim complete victory over those who would deny us the opportunity to play poker online safely, legally, we need to ensure that ALL forms of gambling are allowed.  This means no carve out for poker (as horse racing and Fantasy Sports currently enjoy). 

The story I’ve told before – how my Dad was a railbird, much like his own father.  How my Mom’s family looked at Dad’s activity with distain…even though they played cards (for money), enjoyed bingo (at the church), and generally took a very negative view on gambling of all kinds.  Well, yeah, except the ones THEY participated in (I have since learned that it’s highly likely my grandfather – Mom’s Dad – also played poker down at the Elks Club - not for matchsticks, of course).

Even as a kid, I recognized the arbitrary nature of their actions.  I don’t think I knew the word “hypocrisy” when I was seven, but I knew that by playing cards for money and at the same time chastising my Dad for betting the ponies was wrong.  How can one kind of gambling be OK, and another kind not be?

This is Adelson’s argument.  HIS kind of gambling is OK, fine, great, and wonderful.  That OTHER kind of gambling is bad, corrupt, dangerous, destroys families, etc. 

We in the poker community may feel that our game is different than blackjack, slots, craps, and other gambling games.  It is, but to the general public, to politicians, and to many others who gamble – it’s just another version of the same thing.  By calling for a carve out for poker and letting Adelson and his minions put the kibosh to other forms of gambling, we become him.  Hypocrites.

The situation already exists today – horse racing and fantasy sports are OK to wager online, but poker can’t be played for money.  We see no sense in this.  If we get a “carve out” for poker, craps players and blackjack fans will feel as we do now and rightly so (full disclosure – I do play blackjack, love craps, have an online account at a horse racing site, and…I play poker).

Gambling is gambling, whether poker, horse, slots, lotteries, or bingo.  Some of it is nothing but luck.  Some is skill and a little luck.  It’s ALL OK (in moderation, of course, as all things should be).  Deciding some is and some isn’t ain’t right.

PS:  One of the best slams against Adelson recently came not from the poker community, but from this op-ed in the Washington Times (a publication I will admit to not reading very often).  Still, my favorite lines:

He taxes our credulity even more by arguing that his opposition to Internet gambling pivots on his weeping concern for the young, the indigent, and alcohol and drug addicts. He suggests he is traumatized by the prospect that they will squander money online that they cannot afford to lose. In contrast, Mr. Adelson insinuates, his land-based casinos vet patrons for their financial ability to withstand gambling losses. Only a dunce would believe that (emphasis mine).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The CSIG Just Ain’t Right – Part 2

 In my role as “monitor” and Chief-Pain-in-the-Ass of Sheldon Adselson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling’s (CSIG) website and Facebook pages, I get to see the flotsam and jetsam that get discharged from that group.  From the four co-chairs (all former something or others, including some who were actively FOR some type of gambling at one time or another) comes a steady stream of blather that has Shakespearean qualities in that it’s full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In Part One I highlighted how believable the claims of CSIG were (not very).  While they are long on rhetoric, they’re short on actual facts (those pesky things).  What makes their arguments even more ridiculous is the hypocrisy of the whole thing.  I mean, you basically have a man who makes billions in the gaming industry trying to stop others from making money doing the exact same thing, only with a different delivery system

Adelson has spoken about how he saw gambling ruin his father and his family…so that’s EXACTLY the business he goes into?  And now he wants to “save” others from his fate (irk irk) by prohibiting online gambling?  Yes, ridiculous when you look at the large picture.  And even sillier when you look at the specific arguments CSIG makes in its claims against online gambling.  And unlike CSIG, I have examples, links, and pictures galore!

We left off in Part One talking about “the children.”  We’ve documented the many cases where Sheldon’s Bethlehem Sands in Pennsylvania has been fined for underage gamblers, but what about his flagship USA casino, the Venetian?  Seems to me, if you really wanted to keep kids out of your casinos, you’d do your best to not make your casino “family friendly.”  Do a search for “family friendly” and “Venetian Las Vegas” and guess who comes up on several “Top 10” lists?  C’mon, guess!  I presume having those canals, living statues, and all those other attractions cater to kids, too.  Who could have known?  And guess where the “The Playstation Experience” is next month.  Think of the children!
Another age group Adelson supposedly worries about is young college students.  He was concerned that they’d blow tuition on online gaming.  He never said anything about them blowing it at his casinos.  So making it very, very attractive to them would probably be a bad (hypocritical) thing, too.  Having a hot pool like Tao (with dope DJs and celebs like Paris, Kim, and even Justin Bieber), the Tao nightclub, and the Rockhouse bar: Rockhouse offers drinking games in the daytime and DJs at night, with a sexy bar staff that keeps the party going all the time.”  Yeah, lots of studying going on.  Goodbye, tuition, here comes a hot babe in a bikini and there’s a 21 table over there…

Finally, there’s the money laundering and “other nefarious activity” claim against online gaming.  One word:  Macau.  You know who has the biggest casino over there, don’t you (responsible for the lion’s share of his Sands Corporation profits)?  You can read all about the money laundering, corruption, junkets and more here, here, here, here, and here.  Oh, and Justin Beiber was here, too.

So to sum it up…just about every negative claim Adelson and his minions at CSIG have made about online gaming ALREADY EXISTS in land-based casinos, notably those owned by Adelson.  If he really, really, really cared as much as he claims, wouldn’t he take care of the issues in his own back yard first?

Yes.  Unless, of course, he’s a hypocrite.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The CSIG Just Ain’t Right – Part 1

I realize that I’m behind the curve and preaching to the saved and all that.  Yes, RAWA is dead for now (unless they sneak it in), and more conservative voices are speaking out against the cronyism move to grant long-time GOP supporter Sheldon Adelson his “due” by passing a bill that “restores America’s Wire Act” and puts the official kibosh on online gaming.

Still, my duty is to monitor the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling’s (CSIG) website and Facebook pages, and the rhetoric has been coming fast and furious of late.  So much so that it had me convinced that a RAWA strike was imminent during the lame duck session.  For once I was very glad to be very wrong.  Still, they keep posting and talking, and now have new video ads (highlighted by Steve Ruddock here).  And I ask myself: 
  • Are they saying anything new? (no)
  • Are they saying anything compelling…and believable?

Well, that’s what this post attempts to analyze.  Part Two will deal with the hypocrisy of their messages.  Here in Part One we will deal with the accuracy of their “usually fear-based” claims.

People can have opinions and be quite zealous about them.  Blindly so, sometimes.  It’s been often noted that Sheldon Adelson is very passionate about the subject of online gambling, and his minions in the CSIG seem to share that passion.  They all seem to have very strong opinions, and opinions of themselves can’t be “wrong,” but the facts supporting those opinions CAN be.

Take the oft-stated claim that allowing online gambling in the US would be like having 300 million individual casinos in the US.  CSIG touts this fear and also posts the latest numbers from Delaware Nevada, and New Jersey (with glee) when there are monthly declines in those states’ online revenues (they never post when numbers are up – can’t imagine why not).  The disappointing returns so far in these three states in 2014 would tend to show that the idea of 300 million individual casinos via our cell phones and tablets  is delusional at best.  Most Americans are too otherwise occupied or busy or just don’t care enough to go online and gamble.  Or, to put it another way – they just don’t give a shit.

One of the biggest fears that CSIG has utilized in their campaign is the potential for money laundering and other criminal activity through online gaming.  They use “bits and pieces” of an old FBI letter that does in fact state that there is the potential for same…just as there is potential in ANY activity where money is handled, including LAND BASED CASINOS.  They conveniently omit this from their scare-mongering.  This potential for “easy money laundering” used to be the strongest card in their hand, until James Thackston’s website showed how utterly ridiculous this was.  Remember the USA Today op-ed he penned with Former New York Gov. George Pataki? We might not know what hole Thackston escaped to, but Pataki is back on the CSIG website in a new video ad spouting the same nonsense.  Again, we’ve had almost a full year of online action on regulated sites in three states, and if there WAS any money laundering or other nefarious activity, you’d think CSIG would be all over that.  And so far?


Another oft-made claim – one that Adelson himself is most passionate about, was recently articulated by former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (and I use the term “articulate” gingerly here) and former Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln in two more new video ads.  Brown, a former advocate for online poker, discusses how these groups “target” young people.  Lincoln knows land based casinos have regulations in place “to protect minors and promote responsible gambling.”  Yet she seems ignorant of same with online gambling, claiming these protections are simply “not available.”

Again, we’ve had a year of legal online gaming on regulated sites in three states.  Total number of reported minors caught online?  Less than the number caught at the Bethlehem Sands land-based casino in Pennsylvania (none reported so far, to be accurate).  Here’s another worry-based “claim” that has no basis in reality.

And what of Brown’s targeting claims?  I’ve repeatedly wondered why CSIG doesn’t show us any examples of how young people are targeted by online gaming.  Brown mentioned something about super-heroes and cartoon characters, but no real examples.  I assume he’s talking about characters like these guys:

And if that seems a bit hypocritical, it is, and that’s the biggest reason to take much of what comes from Adelson and CSIG with many, many grains of salt.  And we will discuss that hypocrisy next post. 

Your comments and snark are always welcome here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Adelson’s Quack Attack?

As we head into what’s commonly referred to as the “Lame Duck” session of Congress, it appears that Sheldon Adelson’s Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling is racheting up their rhetoric.  There have been several rumblings about the Restore America’s Wire Act (RAWA) getting a committee hearing, maybe even getting out of committee and coming to a vote in either the House or the Senate…or both.  More of the Coalition’s members are speaking up and out via radio, YouTube, and, of course, the Coalition’s websites.  The general feeling seems to be that all of Sheldon’s per$ua$ion is about to “pay off.”  But ask yourself this – does it really make sense to do all this NOW, rather than wait until the new (more Republican) Congress is seated, re-introducing RAWA, and having a go of it then?  There’s a slim-to-none chance of it passing this year (even the best scenario shows a potential Obama veto with no chance of a 2/3rds vote to override it). 

So why not wait?  

Here’s why - I think he’s taking the room’s temperature.  He knows he can make it “warmer.”  This is a smart move by Adelson

Face it – if the last election didn’t convince you, money talks.  And what Adelson has more of than just about anyone (‘cept maybe a dozen people in the world) is money.  And he knows how to use it, politically.

Just last week his right-hand man Andy Abboud  was asked how much money Sheldon pumped into the off-year election cycle…and, of course, Andy said he’d never tell.  And he doesn’t have to – the new regulations don’t require disclosure, and it’s no secret that millions…maybe billions…get spent in these “dark money” campaigns.  In Florida, it was Sheldon’s moolah fighting against medicinal marijuana, and he won (even though the YES campaign got 58% of the vote, 60% was needed).

Even though the new Congress will be in Republican control, that fact alone doesn’t lend itself to defining or defending this issue.  Many in the GOP can’t agree on the question.  One op-ed in The Hill called for “more consistency” from those who advocate for RAWA and “states-rights” at the same time, and another conservative publication cited similar problems with the whole idea of RAWA:
First, it is considered bad government to so blatantly do the bidding of a contributor. Second, members committed to federalism see states making their own laws and regulation of online gambling and do not want to feds to tamper with the states with Soviet-style bans issued from Washington. Finally, the more libertarian members are uncomfortable with the federal government directly lifestyle and recreation choices.

I just LOVE the first argument.  But face it – since when does Congress care how it looks?  And seriously, how much does the public care how craven they are?  We give ‘em an 11% approval rating, and then re-elect 96% of the bastards.  Perhaps we deserve it?

Anyway, here’s how I see it going down.  By getting some action NOW on RAWA, Adelson could see where his support was strong, and where, with some per$ua$ion, he could get enough support to make RAWA a real possibility.  Perhaps offer a concession to poker players and add another carve-out?  That buys a few more votes.  Offer $omething $weeter?  That buys a few more.  And you know certain politicians (as in most) can be bought.

How much money could Adelson spend to get something like RAWA passed into law?  He said it himself – whatever it takes.

And he has what it takes, money-wise.

Those of us who consider ourselves poker advocates realize the seriousness of Adelson’s position. It’s a real threat, and how it plays out in the next few weeks might tell us more about how it will play out in 2015.  It might embolden Congress to pass other legislation to "pay back" or "reward" their financial supporters.

I fear America will see the new way a “bill becomes law,” as that bill gets the $upport of other bills, mostly fifties and hundreds.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Misleading and Stupid – or Deviously Brilliant?

As many of you know, I fill my free time by being the thorn in Sheldon Adelson’s anti-online-gaming hide.  His Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling has a website, which is pretty straightforward and exactly what you’d expect (and fairly boring), but the Facebook page is something else.  It attempts what all Facebook pages attempt – it is trying to get laid.  No, wait, what I meant to say is that it is trying to be engaging and up-to-date and nudging folks to action.

How they do this is
  • They post stuff which has nothing to do with online gambling, but “sounds” or “feels” like it.
  • They post items about NON-REGULATED gaming sites and “Internet cafes” which have about as much in common with regulated sites in NJ, NV, and DE as I do with Kim Kardashian’s ass.
  • They post month reports from New Jersey and Nevada showing disappointing numbers on online gambling and poker…but fail to do so when the numbers look good.
  • The post insipid videos of poorly made ads and talking heads like Wellington Webb and Blanche Lincoln which make outlandish claims about how online gaming’s “cheap marketing tactics” prey on the unfortunate “young, the poor, and the elderly.”  And never  offer any examples (or show how these tactics differ from land-based casinos like, say, the Venetian).
  • They post these items several times, over and over, as if they can’t get any better information out there.

One such recent post was on November 7, when they postedA satirical look at how online gaming companies use cheap marketing tactics to trick young children and adults into spending money.”  It was a clip from the South Park cartoon show entitled “Freemium Isn’t Free,” One such recent post was on November 7, when they posted, “A satirical look at how online gaming companies use cheap marketing tactics to trick young children and adults into spending money.”  It was a clip from the South Park cartoon show entitled “Freemium Isn’t Free,” described as, “Stan is addicted to the new Terrance and Phillip mobile game.”  The Wikipedia site for the show describes it a bit better: “The episode lampoons the popularity of freemium mobile apps and links them to other addictions, including alcohol and gambling, and their possible genetic predisposition.”  By luck, the repeat of this show was on Comedy Central last night, so despite being not of this program’s target demo, I watched (another good review of the show is here).

The game Stan plays isn’t a gambling game, of course – it’s a social media game along the lines of Candy Crush, Farmville, etc. (except, as you could expect a game featuring the popular fart-loving duo, it’s pretty stupid).  Stupid or not, Stan pays money to get more features in the game (equally dumb), and his dad Randy blows his stack. Randy thinks he has inherited his father’s addiction genes (Stan’s grandpa spends all of his time at the land-casino’s slot machines), and is convinced this is why Stan can’t control his urges.  When confronted by his own “problems” with alcohol, Randy claims he has no addiction issues because all he drinks now is gluten-free beer and wine – and that’s being health conscious (he has further excuses throughout the show).  Near the end of the program Stan summons Satan, who, in hilariously casual fashion, explained how dopamine affects the human body to him. ("It's not f***in' rocket science, this stuff."). 
It turns out the game was introduced by the Canadian Minister of Mobile Gaming who turned out to be, in reality, the Canadian Devil, and he and Satan battle, and it ends predictably enough.  Not important, really.

What IS important is the fact that CSIG felt this was somehow crucial to their cause, to draw one’s attention to the “fact” that kids can get “addicted” to games and they can foolishly spend their parent’s money (though neither the program nor CSIG ever explain how, exactly, Stan was able to charge $2,000+ dollars of game crap so seemingly easily).  Even though there was NOTHING remotely close to what happens in a real, regulated, online gambling portal.  And worse…the program wasn’t about addiction so much as it was about HYPOCRISY.

Yup, that’s right.  All the time Randy was stressed about Stan’s game addiction and his grandpa’s slot habits, Randy was drinking (but he wasn’t addicted, as he explained that he was merely being classy having six wines and beers together in a “tasting”).  Of course, by the end of the show Randy was drinking wine from a large Loving Cup trophy (which…well, I missed the excuse I was laughing so hard).  And as Stan and his grandpa played a board game so that they’d avoid their own demons, Randy was wondering if they should “put some money on it.”

Of course, Adelson is no stranger to being a hypocrite, so maybe the program has some subtle charm for him in that way.

Now I realize the real battle isn’t being fought online.  Sheldon’s big gun$ are aimed at Wa$hington, at the $tate capital$, and at the major deci$ion maker$.  He’s already made the AGA piss its collective self.  He’s hired FIVE lobbying firms to make his case.  He’s got plenty of current and former Congresspeople ready and eager to do his bidding (no pun intended this time).  But he paid good money for a website and the people to run it – and THIS is the BEST they can do?

Maybe this IS the strategy?  Act dumb online, to prove that the Internet makes you stupid and vulnerable.  Ya think?  Comments, please!