AGA Remarks On Offshore Online Gambling Sites Offer Roundabout Support For Regulation

Steve Ruddock Updated on April 22, 2015

AGA online gamblingThe American Gaming Association (AGA) has spent the past year lobbying against many of the myths gambling detractors constantly lob at casinos. The AGA is trying to put a positive spin on the industry’s economic and social impacts through their “Get to Know Gaming” campaign, a public relations initiative designed to set the record straight regarding the industry.

So far, the “Get to Know Gaming” initiative, which launched in late 2014, has been extremely successful.

Part of this positive gaming program is a new project called “Stop Illegal Gambling – Play It Safe” which finds the AGA, along with attorneys general and law enforcement, calling for a crackdown on illegal gambling.

What caught my eye was the fact the “Stop Illegal Gambling – Play It Safe” campaign mentions online gambling, a topic the AGA has been silent on for over a year, ever since the powerful gaming lobby decided to switch from “pro regulation” to “no position” when it came to online gambling legalization in the United States.

The AGA’s reversal (the group became a strong advocate for online regulation in 2013) came after a rift formed between powerful AGA members over online gambling.

On one side was Sheldon Adelson and Las Vegas Sands and on the other companies such as Caesars and MGM. With no chance at a consensus, the AGA decided to let these groups hash the issue out on their own, while the AGA focused on other issues.

But in his latest remarks announcing the new “Stop Illegal Gambling” initiative, AGA President Geoff Freeman overtly addressed online gambling.

“Illegal online operators, they rake in $4 billion a year from Americans,” he said.

“These websites – operating out of Central America or places like the Isle of Man – are easy to mistake for a legal operation, look legitimate with a sleek, corporate presentation. Yet if a customer finds his online account cleaned out, there is no one he or she can turn to.”

These are the first public comments from the AGA or Freeman on the topic of online gambling since withdrawing from the debate in May of 2014.

What makes this tsk-tsking of illegal online gaming sites a bit puzzling is the AGA recently added a known affiliate for offshore online poker and casino sites that still operate in the U.S. as a General Member of the organization.

What the AGA is really saying

Parsing the AGA’s statement the group appears to be making a clear distinction between illegal and legal online gaming sites. The statement dutifully chastises illegal operators, but stops short of taking a position on legal online gaming operators:

“These websites [illegal offshore sites]… are easy to mistake for a legal operation.”

Even though it is left unsaid, Geoff Freeman’s comments would seem to indicate he, and perhaps the organization, favor regulation…they’re just unwilling to openly say it.

And of course the AGA’s membership includes a slew of companies involved in regulated online gambling in the U.S. and across the globe.

If we extrapolate Freeman’s comment, and the AGA’s actions, we can conclude the message is: Regulated sites are good. Unregulated sites are bad.

What the AGA statement leaves unsaid

The most eyebrow-raising part of the statement is the mention of the Isle of Man as some sort of hotbed of illegal gambling. The Isle of Man is of course the headquarters of PokerStars – although there are plenty of other online gaming companies headquartered/licensed on the small island nation.

In gaming circles, when someone mentions the Isle of Man most people assume they are referring to PokerStars, which is why the AGA’s use of Isle of Man was seen by many as a not-so-subtle shot at PokerStars.

The problem with that is, this seems like a dated attack.

PokerStars has pulled out of most unregulated markets around the globe, and hasn’t operated in the U.S. since April 15, 2011. Furthermore, PokerStars is currently trying to receive a license in regulated U.S. markets through legitimate channels.

The bottom line

Hopefully the AGA’s nominal mention of online gambling is a sign of things to come.

Perhaps the organization is starting off by chastising illegal operators and working their way towards once again advocating for the consumer protections and positive economic impact regulating the online gambling industry would bring about.

If this, the call for a crackdown on illegal online gambling sites, is a first step in the AGA’s return to the online gaming regulation fight than I’m all for it.

On the other hand, if the AGA has gone from never mentioning online gambling to only discussing the ills of illegal online gaming while continuing to stick their fingers in their ears and chant “lalalalalala” when it comes to potential regulation in the U.S., many people will be greatly disappointed in the organization that is supposed to set the record straight when it comes to gambling.

Countering gaming myths shouldn’t end with land-based falsities. The AGA should also be setting the record straight on online gaming myths.

My heart is hoping it’s the former and not the latter. Online gaming regulation in the U.S. could certainly use the AGA’s political clout. That being said, my brain says “lalalalalalala.”

 

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