Anti-online poker crusaders appear to be lining up for one last Hail Mary.
On Thursday, a congressional subcommittee will hold a hearing on sports betting in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court lifting the ban in mid-May. Despite the progress that has been made on bringing sports betting out of the black market, the hearing will feature testimony from a group whose sole aim is keep online casino gambling illegal. It’s hard to imagine the group would be given a seat at the table were it not for its immensely wealthy and powerful backer.
The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday on Capitol Hill. The hearing will be live streamed here.
According to the House Judiciary Committee’s website, among those set to testify in front of federal lawmakers is the Coalition to Stop Online Gambling, the Sheldon Adelson-backed lobbying group that is seeking to prevent the regulation of a slew of online casino games, including traditional poker. Former Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, a Republican, will represent the group at the hearing.
Banning (or at least slowing the spread of) online casino regulation has been one of Adelson’s top political priorities over the past six years or so. He once famously wrote that he would “spend whatever it takes” to stop casino games from going online. Adelson, owner of the world’s top casino developer, claims online gaming would hurt society, while his critics point out that the activity is already being offered via offshore sites. They also charge that Adelson is motivated by protecting his casino empire from rivals who have ventured into business, such as MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment.
“Three states have already legalized internet gambling and many more are actively considering following suit,” says the Coalition’s website. “Given the potential for money laundering, terrorism financing, fraud and other criminal activity, participation by minors, exploitation of individuals with a gaming addiction, and the impact on jobs and economic activity, Congress must act now to protect American families from predatory Internet gambling.”
The Coalition’s website actually is out-dated. There have been four states with legalized online gambling for nearly a year now. Pennsylvania joined Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware last fall.
The emerging U.S. sports betting market, which is currently limited to just a handful of states, could grow to more than $15 billion annually in terms of revenue if all states have the activity, according to an analysis earlier this year from research group Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. Americans are said to bet about $150 billion per year on sports, according to research from the American Gaming Association.
The sports betting industry will not reach those heights without bets being taken over the internet. That’s already happening in Nevada, where Adelson has casinos, as well as in New Jersey. It’s not clear where Adelson’s Coalition stands on internet sports betting, but that will more than likely come out during Thursday’s hearing.
The Coalition has spearheaded efforts in previous years to “restore” the 1961 Wire Act in order to try and prevent states from legalizing online casino gambling. Discussions on legislation to do just that included a potential carve-out for state lotteries that offer gambling over the web. The Coalition could call for a similar exception for sports betting. The casino industry has gone all-in on sports wagering, so it’s likely impossible that online sports betting would be prohibited. The professional sports leagues, long resistant to sports betting, are no on-board with the activity, as long as there is federal oversight. That’s the purpose of Thursday’s hearing.
In addition to Adelson’s Coalition, the NFL, the AGA and the Nevada Gaming Control Board have signed on to testify. The NFL has historically been hostile to gambling, but now that the floodgates are open and the Raiders are moving to Sin City, the league has done a 180. The NFL wants greater power over the sports betting industry, however, which is a spot of contention among the stakeholders. The casino industry actually commissioned research to show the NFL that it will benefit to the tune of $2.3 billion from sports betting even without new federal mandates. The NFL, whose revenue in 2017 was estimated at $14 billion, might want more, under Roger Goodell’s quest to get the league to $25 billion in revenue annually by 2027.