Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson made his opposition to legalizing Internet poker known last week.
In the process, he may have destroyed the live poker business at The Venetian.
Hours after news broke that Adelson opposes any federal legislation allowing states to license and regulate online poker, players flooded social media with calls to boycott The Venetian’s 11,000-square- foot poker room.
"Since Sheldon Adelson is lobbying against Internet poker, I will no longer play at The Venetian poker room," a player wrote on the TwoPlusTwo.com message board. "I suggest if you care about the issue, that you also boycott the room."
On Thursday, Poker Players Alliance spokesman Richard Muny told Internet poker proponents via QuadJacks.com radio to express their opposition to Adelson’s stance with Twitter tweets to The Venetian.
Zach Tracy, who writes for Pokerfuse.com, encouraged players to frequent casinos owned by operators that support poker legalization.
QuadJacks radio host Marco Valerio said poker players are angry and frustrated.
"You are dealing with a very sensitive community at this point," Valerio said. "Recent advancements provided some encouragement, but now it’s devastation again."
Let’s face reality. Adelson, 78, who ranks No. 8 on the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans with a net worth $21.5 billion, couldn’t care less what a bunch of poker players have to say.
The bottom line? As long as Las Vegas Sands continues to reap millions of dollars from its holdings in Macau and Singapore — which now account for roughly 80 percent of the company’s $2.4 billion in quarterly revenues — Adelson won’t give Internet poker a second thought.
Last week, Adelson went to Asia to lobby for legalization of casinos in Japan and Vietnam. Las Vegas Sands is also pushing for a casino site in Miami, should Florida legalize gaming.
Before heading to Asia, Adelson visited Washington, D.C., to tell Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., and American Gaming Association President Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. of his opposition to Internet poker legalization. He reportedly told them he doesn’t believe technology can prevent underage gamblers from betting online, and that he is "morally opposed" to Internet gaming.
Strip rivals visited with Adelson recently to try to change his opinion toward a potential industry that many believe is worth more than $5 billion annually in gaming revenues.
The arguments fell on deaf ears.
Most major casino companies have deals in place with online gaming providers to start up U.S.-based Internet poker websites catering to Americans if Congress approves online poker legislation.
Las Vegas Sands spokesman Ron Reese said the company’s board of directors has not yet developed a strategy for Internet gaming, so Adelson’s sentiments are his personal views.
But let’s face reality. The board is not going to oppose the company’s chairman, chief executive officer and majority shareholder on this issue.
Before the U.S. Department of Justice cut off Americans’ access to three of the world’s largest Internet poker websites through a nine-count federal indictment in April, Tracy had been an online professional poker player. He suggested Adelson’s view is sour grapes.
"He is in opposition because all of his industry ducks are not in a row yet to compete in a new market," Tracy said. "I think he is trying to block competitors from getting a bill through."
It’s not unusual for Adelson to have views that differ from others in the casino industry.
What’s surprising is that he seemed to be playing nice on the playground. Las Vegas Sands joined the Nevada Resort Association earlier this year and Adelson has even formed a bond with Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chairman Steve Wynn, his longtime antagonist. Las Vegas Sands President Michael Leven sits on the American Gaming Association’s board of directors.
In October, the American Gaming Association-produced Global Gaming Expo was held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center for the first time.
Last month, Adelson entered the Gaming Hall of Fame. Caesars Entertainment Corp. Chairman Gary Loveman, the industry’s most vocal proponent of Internet poker, handled his induction.
Supporters are worried that Adelson, a major Republican financial contributor, could curry favor with GOP lawmakers to quash Internet poker proposals.
But Adelson may be alienating his customers.
"The players know who’s on their side and who isn’t. They’re very conscious of the influence they can exert when united," Valerio said. "I think Mr. Adelson may have underestimated this."
Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.