Andy Abboud Melts Down at IGaming North America Conference
Sheldon Adelson’s Shill Spokesman Craps Out in Moderated Debate — Calls Opponents “Twitter Creeps,” then Admits to being “Lost” on High-Tech Issues as Hundreds in Audience Gasp in Disbelief
Within the first few minutes of his opening remarks, I felt sorry for Andy Abboud.
The Senior Vice-President of Government Relations for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and longtime loyalist to Sheldon Adelson, appeared to be a good sport about things. Earlier in the day, he courageously entered a lions’ den at Planet Hollywood, taking a hot seat directly opposite Caesars Interactive Entertainment CEO, Mitch Garber. No doubt, Mr. Abboud knew he wasn’t likely to win over any converts among this relatively sophisticated crowd, comprised almost exclusively of hard-core supporters of legalized and regulated online poker inside the United States (and to a lesser extent — casino gambling and sports betting).
Mr. Abboud started off well. In fact, after listening to the first quarter of the debate, I thought Mr. Garber, who was arguing the pro-online poker side, had fully met his match. Mr. Abboud expressed concerns about legalized online poker effectively and even managed to land a few talking points. As I watched this, hanging on every spoken word from the fifth row of a giant conference room, I mused to myself that I’d like to meet Mr. Abboud afterward. He seemed cordial, respectful, and appeared to have even done some homework.
But as the 45-minute debate continued, it became painfully obvious that if Mr. Abboud had done any homework, he’d been studying the wrong textbook. Adelson’s longtime spokesman made at least three monumental gaffes, two of which brought gasps of disbelief from many who were sitting in the audience, most of whom paid up to $1,600 to attend the three-day conference mixer.
About midway into the debate, Mr. Abboud talked about a high-tech presentation he attended which was about online poker. The presentation provided information about industry safeguards, security, operations, support, and other facets of the details that go into running an online poker site. As Mr. Abboud was telling his story, on his own and without provocation, he admitted “they lost me,” causing astonishment among many in the crowd. Just to make it clear — the person debating about online poker’s impact, the person who cites concerns about underage gambling, addiction problems, money laundering, and so forth says “they lost me,” when the industry safeguards were explained to him? Unfortunately, the follow-up question no one got to ask was, “so then why are you up there telling this industry’s own experts about their business?”
Cliffnotes: He didn’t know anything.
Next, there was the blatant lie told by Mr. Abboud which few people in the audience seemed to catch. Once again, without any provocation, speaking about the Sands Corporation which owns The Venetian, Mr. Abboud said “our position (against online poker) has always been consistent.”
Oh really? Has it? Many of us remember very well a hugely-successful poker event held at The Venetian in February 2010. I was present. It was called the “North American Poker Tour,” which just so happens to be owned and operated by the online site PokerStars. By the way, The Venetian did a very nice job with that. Thanks, Mr. Abboud. So much for “consistency.”
But nothing triggered more jaws dropping throughout the room than Mr. Abboud’s comment in the final minutes of the debate. Up until that point, he’d largely remained on point. He’d held his emotions in check. One could say he’d done well, given the challenges. Then, he melted down completely and humiliated himself.
For unknown reasons, Mr. Abboud decided to take an unwarranted shot at the Poker Players Alliance (PPA) and poker player activism. As he was discussing the future prospects of legalized online poker Mr. Abboud said, “….then, you have the PPA and all their creepy Twitter followers….”
Huh? What did he just say?
Just about everyone I was around looked at each other in stunned disbelief. There were audible gasps from many sitting in the audience (likely the PPA’s Twitter followers). Later, several observers gathered outside the room expressed utter shock that poker player activists would be called “creepy,” by someone no less with the title of “President of Government Relations.” Where’d this guy get hired, off of Craig’s List?
I wish Mr. Abboud had done well. At least, I wish he had done better. That would enable us to have more healthy debates on this topic and reach more people. But he blew it. He was a disgrace.
Unfortunately, that might not happen again given the limited forums of potential engagement. Moreover, if I was in Sheldon Adelson’s camp, I’d start looking for a different messenger. Maybe someone who doesn’t get “lost” on matters of high-tech. Someone who knows The Venetian’s incestuous past with an online site. Someone who doesn’t describe the opposition as “creepy.”
I’ll have more on the debate between Andy Abboud and Mitch Garber in the next post, which contains (what I think were) the most effective sound-bite points made by both sides.
Note: I wish to extend an added note of thanks to Sue Schneider, IGaming North America’s President, and Organizer, as well as Marco Valerio for their kindness and courtesy during the conference, which runs March 19-21.