Mitch Garber vs. Andy Abboud — Best Sound Bites
Opening day of the IGaming North America 2014 conference took place yesterday at the Planet Hollywood Casino, in Las Vegas. Read my initial reaction here: Andy Abboud Melts Down at IGaming North America Conference.
One of the most highly-anticipated presentations of the three-day gathering of online gaming executives included a moderated debate between Mitch Garber, CEO of Caesars Interactive and WSOP.com, and Andy Abboud, Senior Vice-President of Government Relations for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. On the question posed — “Is online poker/gambling the problem or the solution,” Mr. Garber argued in favor of a legalized and regulated framework which would allow adults to play online, while Mr. Abboud argued against the proposition.
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, as many readers know, I’m a consultant to CIE/WSOP and work indirectly for Mr. Garber. Hence, I’m not exactly neutral on the issue.
The debate was actually more of a back-and forth discussion, effectively controlled by Steve Lipscomb, best known as the founder and former CEO of the World Poker Tour (WPT). Mr. Lipscomb did an admirable job allowing both participants to shine, while keeping the debate moving along at what most agreed was a highly-entertaining pace. The moderator also stepped in to take control of the debate on occasion, when things became slightly heated or members of the audience expressed a reaction.
What follows is a list of what I thought were the best sound bites of the 45-minute debate:
Andy Abboud (on fears that non-licensed competitors could invade the U.S. market state-by-state, which requires a federal ban)….
We’re not being pollyannish about it. We’re not worried about the Mitch Garbers….we’re worried about the others, the bad actors (refering to unlicensed online sites who have targeted American players in the past)….Legaliation would let a lot of bad people go state-by-state. That’s not good for our industry.
Mitch Garber (on online gambling’s actual record over the past two decades, since creation)….
I’ve spent 21 years in the gaming business. The incidents that some have warned us about over and over — on underage gambling and money laundering and terrorism — they have not come to pass.
Andy Abboud (on the potential “cannibalization” fears where the gaming industry could suffer from added competition from onlines)….
You know what’s at risk? Not a website that cost $7.95 to register and set-up at GoDaddy. That’s not at risk. There’s no risk at all for them. What is at stake here in Nevada is this building, this casino.
Mitch Garber (on the ability to track money and activities online versus in land-based casinos)….
You have no idea where the money’s coming from over in the Macau casinos (where the Sands Corporation thrives). But we know where every single penny of our money comes from, and where it goes.
Andy Abboud (on the risky proposition of legaling online poker and gambling as a business model)….
This is not good for Nevada. It’s not good for our casino. Everything is at risk. No one has any idea what will happen. We don’t want to take that risk.
Mitch Garber (in direct response to the above)….
So, you don’t want to take the risk. That’s fine. Let us take the risk.
Andy Abboud (on public opinion about the issue)….
Poll after poll that we’ve taken shows that the American public doesn’t like this. We’ve done surveys on this and they show that a substantial majority of Americans don’t want this. Americans don’t want legalized online gambling.
Mitch Garber (in response to claims that most Americans are opposed to online gaming)….
There’s no groundswell either for, or against it. But people are for CHOICE….you go out and spend all kinds of money on surveys trying to prove your point, which is kind of like when the big tobacco companies used to go out and spend money to try and prove ‘smoking doesn’t cause cancer.’ I don’t need surveys to tell me by business. I know where the holes are in my industry, and I’m determined to work to fix them.
Andy Abboud (on online poker’s limitations at being successful, in the long-term)….
From what we see, the numbers for online poker haven’t been what some were expecting, so far. There just aren’t enough players to sustain it (in the smaller states). So, they want poker first and then try to expand it to other forms of gambling.
Mitch Garber (on how the popularity of poker exploded worldwide because of online sites)….
Online poker created the poker boom as we know it today. Online poker is a sustainable business on its own. That’s been proven.
Steve Lipscomb (on how land-based casinos changed their minds about online poker, after seeing the results 2002-2010)….
When the WPT started, we had 13 partners. They were all against online poker sites back then. They were also scared. But they slowly shifted. The cannibalization they feared did not take place.
Mitch Garber (on the national debate and upcoming political fight)….
This is a fight between facts and money.
Andy Abboud (on the influence of money on the national debate)….
Everyone has facts and money. I (Sands) have Sheldon Adelson, and Mitch (Caesars) has George Soros. There is money on both sides of this.
Steve Lipscomb (on who stands to win the most from the divide on online gambling)….
Even though I’m supposed to be impartial up here, I can say the real winners of this debate are going to be the lawyers. A lot of money is going to be spent on lawyers on both sides.
Andy Abboud (on what’s contained in the new bill his side expects to introduce in Congress in a few weeks)….
We want to expand the Wire Act (of 1961) and make sure it applies (to poker) like it applies to sports betting.
Steve Lipscomb (on the chances of legalized online poker passing at the federal level)….
It’s going to be difficult. It’s a lot easier to STOP something, than to PASS something.
Mitch Garber (on the future of online poker)….
We’re the new generation of executives. We’re the new generation of leaders. We’re catering to the next generation of players, who will be coming from the online world, because we all know that’s the future.
Note 1: To read an unbiased view of the debate, visit Howard Stutz’s reporting from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Note 2: In the previous column, I noted Mr. Abboud’s comment that the Sands Corporation has “always been consistent” in their opposition to online gambling. Yet, oddly enough The Venetian held an online gaming license for three years. It was in preparation for a partnership with PokerStars. The license was held at Alderney. Mr. Abboud either lied, or simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Note 3: 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.