Admittedly, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Vice President of Government Affairs Andy Abboud was in unfriendly territory Wednesday during iGaming North America’s opening session at Planet Hollywood Resort.
Abboud has been the front person while Las Vegas Sands waged a war over the past few months in opposition of legalizing Internet gaming. The company has called for a federal ban on the activity and has assembled a coalition to fight legislation favoring online wagering on a state-by-state basis.
Sitting on stage for 45 minutes to debate the issue with Caesars Interactive Entertainment CEO Mitch Garber — in a ballroom where roughly 99 percent of the estimated 500-person audience hold the opposing viewpoint — Abboud seemed like Daniel in the lion’s den, remarked discussion moderator Steve Lipscomb, who founded the World Poker Tour.
“Our position is clear and specific,” Abboud said. “We’re not fans of online gaming.”
He said the Federal Wire Act, which had banned online wagering, should be restored.
However, Abboud, in what seemed to be an olive branch tossed to the audience, said if there was a groundswell of support for the legalization of online poker, then Congress should pass an Internet poker bill backed by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.
“Poll after poll that we’ve taken shows that the American public doesn’t like this,” Abboud said.
Garber, whose company — an affiliate of Caesars Entertainment Corp. — said that the polling was wrong and that Abboud’s position on the Barton bill differed from that of his boss, Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson.
“Unfortunately, your position is not Sheldon’s consistent position, which is ‘iGaming is bad, I don’t like it, and I’m going to spend as much money as I need to spend to end it,’ ” Garber said.
He also disagreed with the polling cited by Abboud, saying Las Vegas Sands bought and paid for the polls, much in same manner tobacco companies paid for polling decades ago that showed cigarettes didn’t cause cancer.
“I don’t think there is an uproar for or against (online gaming),” Garber said. “I would bet people are more for free choice.”
Ten states are considering potential legislation to expand or legalize forms of Internet gaming.
Garber said Adelson has been close-minded on the issue. He said companies such as Caesars Interactive, Ultimate Gaming, 888 Holdings and others have gone through rigorous licensing and adhere to strict regulations set down by state gaming authorities.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Garber said, “and it’s hypocritical of you to not take the time to ask us questions about what we do.”
Abboud said Caesars doesn’t worry Las Vegas Sands. He said illegal offshore online gaming companies that American gamblers are still using are sapping business from legitimate gaming operations and traditional brick-and-mortar casinos.
“I don’t want this to be Las Vegas Sands versus Caesars,” Abboud said. “But we need to shut down the illegal operators. I don’t deny your company is dedicated. But you put your buildings at risk if something goes wrong.”
He also said it was unfair to single out Adelson for spending money on the issue. Hedge fund billionaire George Soros is an investor in Caesars Growth Partners, which Garber oversees.
“We don’t see a position for compromise,” Abboud said. “Everyone has facts and money. I have Sheldon, and Mitch has George Soros. There is money on both sides.
Caesars and other casino companies have formed their own coalition to support Internet wagering.
Garber said the technology used by Caesars’ Internet gaming operations is more sophisticated than human interaction inside traditional casinos. Caesars, he said, can identify every person who logs onto the sites, track every dollar wagered and track play history.
“You have no idea where the money is coming from in your Macau casinos,” Garber said.
Abboud appealed to iGaming’s audience, saying that small casinos and Indian casinos “would be crushed” if online gaming proliferates throughout America.
“There is no reason to worry about Mitch’s company, whose intentions are good,” Abboud said. “I worry about the bad actors.”
Garber said Caesars is catering to “the next generation of casino customers” though online gaming.
“It’s proven effective for us,” Garber said.
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.