How the American Gaming Association Betrayed Poker Players
Next time the American Gaming Association (AGA) appears at a trade show, I suggest they provide some kind of giveaway.
Appropriate swag might be a yo-yo, a flapjack spatula, or perhaps a pair of flip-flops.
Given that the AGA has taken three different positions, each a contradiction, within just the past ten years on the big question of legalizing and regulating online gambling/poker in the United States, is there now a reason to take any of their policy statements seriously?
I pose this as a serious question. If a paramour initially pledges to be faithful, but then strays away when something better comes along, and then finally declares she’s in limbo about her true feelings, does such a relationship merit any trust or confidence? I think most of us would label her one of either two things — a manipulator or a flake.
So, which one applies to the AGA? Are they manipulative or just plain flaky?
Let’s see. First, we’ll define what the AGA is and what they purportedly do. The AGA is the casino industry’s largest and most powerful trade group, which has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The AGA lobbies lawmakers and attempts to influence legislation and government policy on all matters related to casino gambling and affiliated resort activities. This includes not just what happens at the federal level, but in states and some local communities, as well. The AGA also actively engages in public relations designed to portray the casino industry in a favorable light.
I think that basically sums up the AGA and what it primarily does. No doubt, the casino industry, which has become so vital within so many communities and provides more than a million jobs nationwide, needs an effective lobbying organization and positive public advocacy. Unfortunately however, it’s hard to take any trade group seriously which changes its official position repeatedly on one of the industry’s most pressing current issues.
Initially, the AGA was against virtually all forms of online gambling and even encouraged government crackdowns on “illegal offshore operators,” a position held by the trade group since it’s creation back in 1996. Although no official press releases were issued on the subject, longtime CEO Frank J. Fahrenkopf made the AGA’s position clear in numerous media appearances, that the AGA opposed online gambling. To be fair, that was the thinking of most within the casino industry back then, too.
Here’s the AGA’s first official position which advocated stronger government regulations and law enforcement oversight, which were outlined in a press release from May 2001 [SOURCE HERE: AGA Board Decision on Internet Gambling]:
“The board of directors of the American Gaming Association (AGA), at a board meeting yesterday, held a lengthy discussion on the subject of Internet gaming. While the board maintains its view that gaming is primarily a state regulatory matter, the consensus of the board is that appropriate regulatory and law enforcement oversight does not presently exist with regard to Internet gaming to properly protect the integrity of the games, the security and legality of financial transactions, and against the potentially harmful effects of underage and pathological gambling.”
Over time, the AGA not only began changing its position. They became the most outspoken force in Washington on the subject of online gambling/poker. The AGA softened their
flip-flop awkward transition by releasing a series of so-called “White Paper(s)” which outlined the need and was a call for a federal position on Internet gambling [SOURCE HERE: AGA Releases White Paper On Policy Implications of Internet Gambling]. Over the next few years, the AGA didn’t just take a seat at the table in this lengthy debate, they raised the stakes in full support of federal approval of online activity, given the proper framework and oversight.
In December 2012, the AGA ramped up its efforts to push for federal approval of online poker specifically. The AGA’s official press release stated as follows [SOURCE HERE: American Gaming Association Launches Effort to Advance Federal Online Poker Legislation]:
“The American Gaming Association (AGA) today launched a campaign urging the U.S. Congress to act now to pass legislation to establish federal guidelines for regulating and licensing legal online poker. Without Congressional action, the U.S. is poised to see widespread legalization of all types of online gambling and a state-by-state patchwork of regulations that puts gaming patrons, problem gamblers and minors at unnecessary risk. The AGA effort encourages Congress to introduce and pass a bill…”
In November 2013, the AGA wasn’t just raising the stakes any longer. By then, they had moved all in leaving no question whatsoever as to their position about online gambling/poker. This was the trade group’s official statement outlined in an AGA press release [SOURCE HERE: American Gaming Association Statement on Online Gaming Prohibition]:
“Time and again, government efforts to prohibit use of everyday products have failed. In 2012, Americans spent nearly $3 billion gambling with rogue offshore operators. The Internet cannot be forced back into the bottle — nor can market demand. We support pragmatism and strong regulation of online gaming that protects consumers, prevents underage play, ensures the integrity of the games and empowers law enforcement. New government efforts to prohibit online gaming will unintentionally strengthen black market providers, create more risk for American consumers, including children, and drive U.S. jobs and potential revenues overseas.”
Then, last year, the AGA
flip-flopped again backtracked from it’s previous position(s). The AGA’s own Geoff Freeman, who by then has taken over Fahrenkopf’s executive role, shocked everyone in the pro-online movement when he told The Wall Street Journal in May 2014 [SOURCE HERE: American Gaming Association Withdraws Support for Online Gambling]:
“(This is) an issue that the association cannot lead on….One of the things I’ve learned in this industry is we are extraordinarily competent at shooting at one another. The snipers in this industry are of the highest quality, and if you let that be the focus, we’ll kill each other.”
Shooting? Snipers? Puzzling words, indeed.
Most interesting was the AGA’s failure to post any official change-of-position statement, then or since. There’s no press release on their stance anywhere to be found. Nothing exists, other than Freeman himself quoted as the turncoat, parroting the latest rosy party line about industry unity and wanting to move forward. In other words, just ignore that giant white elephant in the room about to eat everyone’s lunch. The industry’s largest advocacy group doesn’t even have a position on what’s happening right now in Washington on one of the most important policy questions of our time.
[Postscript: After this was initially published, multiple sources informed me that CEO Geoff Freeman is personally in favor of online gambling and fought to maintain the AGA’s support for such initiatives. However, the AGA board voted to change the association’s position]
Let’s make something quite clear. The AGA doesn’t represent, nor support, nor defend, nor promote, nor speak for rank and file poker players and gamblers. Yes sometimes, we share crossover objectives with the industry at large. But the AGA is nothing more than industry trade group determined to do everything within its power to influence to create a more casino-friendly landscape everywhere in order to grow bigger and increase profits. The trouble with their spotted trail is — consistency is paramount to credibility in the public eye.
One suspects that if multi-billionaire and vociferous online gambling critic Sheldon Adelson’s own fingerprints aren’t all over the AGA’s new official stance, he’s at least left bruises and scars around the necks of board members who ultimately backed down and were forced to tranquilize the mammoth beast raging within their midst. There’s simply no other explanation for such a ridiculous course of events. Reminds one of the “we were against it before we were for it, but now we aren’t for it anymore and might be against it again, but we’re not sure.” Another order of waffles, please.
Next month, a congressional subcommittee will begin considering a bill to prohibit most forms of online gambling in all fifty states, including poker at least for the moment. When those hearings do begin, proponents and opponents will take their seats in that lofty chamber. Experts will testify. Opinions will be heard. Lawmakers will then look to those best suited to provide guidance.
Meanwhile, the American Gaming Association — the industry’s main voice in Washington — will either be a no show or will chose to remain silent. Hence, they’ll abdicate leadership when it’s desperately needed the most. They take no position on the matter. They have nothing to say.
That’s probably a good thing since the they’re no longer much worth listening to anyway, given such frustrating trail of reversals, contradictions, and sell outs.
Writer’s Note: If the American Gaming Association wishes equal space to respond, consider this an open invitation to use this platform at any time.