MGM Resorts Chairman Jim Murren wants the American Gaming Association to dial down its lobbying and advocacy efforts on behalf of legalizing Internet poker because the activity is fracturing the membership of the Washington, D.C.-based trade organization.
Murren, who began a two-year term as chairman of the AGA in January, said the group still supports passage of federal legislation that would legalize, regulate and tax Internet poker.
However, with AGA company members on opposite sides of the issue, Murren said the organization should concentrate on other efforts.
“I don’t want the AGA to find itself mired in a tremendous amount of controversy and infighting.” Murren said in an interview this week. “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.”
MGM Resorts supports federal legalization of Internet poker, as well as the current state-by-state push. Murren said the company, however, won’t launch any online gambling presence until “a business opportunity exists.”
Murren said MGM Resorts is still forming a plan to move forward with an Internet gaming initiative.
“We have no interest at MGM in pursing an Internet gaming strategy that goes after men and women in small towns in America,” Murren said. “That is not our business model.”
Many AGA member companies — Caesars Entertainment Corp., Station Casinos, Boyd Gaming Corp., Bally Technologies, International Game Technology and others — are involved in current legal Internet gaming opportunities in Nevada and New Jersey.
Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn has said he doesn’t see a business model at the time that makes Internet gaming profitable in the U.S.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, however, has vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to outlaw Web gaming. Adelson has said Internet gaming preys upon minors and problem gamblers and the sites can be used as a conduit for money laundering and other criminal activities.
A bill surfaced in Congress earlier this week that would restore a pre-2011 federal ban on gambling over the Internet.
Murren said he has not spoken with Adelson, but has discussed Internet gaming with Las Vegas Sands President Michael Leven, who is a member of the AGA board.
“I’ve also talked with (Caesars Chairman) Gary Loveman and others,” Murren said. “We all agree that an over-arching effort should be deployed to prevent illegal gaming sites and protect the consumer against illegal Internet gaming.”
However, the issue threatens to splinter the group.
Adelson has launched an advocacy group, the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling, whose spokespersons include former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and former New York Republican Gov. George Pataki.
MGM Resorts, Caesars and other companies have launched a competing group, the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection, with former Republican Reps. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, as spokespersons. It advocates legalized online gaming, regulated to protect gamblers.
Murren said the coalitions should be the way to battle out Internet gaming issues, leaving the American Gaming Association free to tackle other matters.
“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.”
Murren praised the work of AGA CEO Geoff Freeman, who has been on the job less than a year, and new staff members the organization has hired over the past few months.
“They are young and energetic, and I have hopes for this team,” he said.
Murren said he is setting a goal for the AGA 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 nongaming companies that have ties to the industry.
He also sees the AGA as becoming more global “because gaming is more global.”
“I want the AGA to forge much stronger ties with like-minded organizations in any number of topics,” Murren said.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.