California Online Poker Hearing: Sheldon Adelson’s Puppet Proves He Has No Case

Lost amid the PokerStars-centered controversy that emerged amid Wednesday’s California State Assembly hearing regarding the possible future of online poker was another disastrous performance by the designated mouthpiece for the anti-online-gambling wishes of Las Vegas Sands Corporation CEO Sheldon Adelson, Andy Abboud.

Abboud was shunted to the very rear of the GO (Governmental Organization) Committee hearing, the 32nd of 33 invited witnesses to appear in Sacremento, to offer various forms of so-called expert testimony for and against the advent of regulated intrastate online poker in California. 

By the time Abboud took the mic, well into the evening hours and after more than five hours of preceding statements from the other witnesses, there wasn’t much left.  The big news had already played out, that being the announcement of a poker-platform deal (software and hardware infrastructure) between The Rational Group, the parent of global online-poker market leader PokerStars, and four major California-based entities, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and three major card rooms serving the greater Los Angeles market – Commerce, Bicycle and Hawaiian Gardens.

Abboud was forgotten.  News of the formal Morongo-Stars agreement was sent out via several media channels just minutes before Morongo rep Robert Martin began speaking before the committee, and just before appearances by reps from six other powerful California tribes, who are seeking to block the Morongo-Stars deal (and PokerStars in general) via “bad actor” provisions similar to those implemented by anti-Stars factions in other states.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. VP “Andy Abbould” speaks to the California Assembly GO Committee on Wednesday.  That Abboud was scheduled 32nd of 33 witnesses and the committee’s tech support couldn’t be bothered to check his name’s spelling might not be entirely by accident.

All that set the hearing on its ear, information-only though it was.  Add in all the specialized appearances from technical experts hoping to carve themselves some market space, and by the time Abboud finally got his 11th-hour moment, there wasn’t much left – even a couple of the committee’s members had called it quits for the day.

It really wasn’t all Abboud’s fault.  His boss, the billionaire casino mogul Adelson, has far less influence in California than he has elsewhere on the American political scene, his ability to sign up nanny-state US Senator Barbara Weinstein to his anti-online-gambling cause notwithstanding.  And Abboud had already shown the ability to embarrass himself on the national stage, being trapped I a whole series of hypocritical misstatements and outright lies when testifying last December before a US House subommittee on Energy and Commerce, which like the California committee was in information-gathering mode regarding online poker and online gambling in general.

Then Abboud did it again, essentially, as put by Nolan Dalla, one of poker’s wiser folks, “melting down” at last month’s iGaming North America (iGNA) Conference, also in California.  From his reference to “Twitter creeps” to admitting to not understanding the very technology he was before these groups to complain about, he’d shown himself to be well out of his league, seemingly just pleased to be cashing a paycheck while serving the whims of his big boss.

Add in Wednesday’s other developments, and there was a chance that for Abboud some of the pressure was off, and he might turn in a better, less-laughable performance.

He didn’t.  If there’s one thing about Abboud’s latest performance, it’s that he showed no ability to learn from previous mistakes.  Abboud went right back to the same false rhetoric claims that he tried in D.C., whipping out a smartphone, waving it around before the committee’s members, “The thought of turning every single one of these into a casino… bothers us.” 

“Because… it is limited.  It’s a vice,” Abboud continued, referring not so much to gambling or online poker as to smartphones themselves. 

Behold the evil smartphone!  Sheldon Adelson frontman Abboud tried an old failed visual aid, with no better success the second time around.

Abboud then acknowledged that smartphone-based i-gambling was available throughout Nevada, while claiming that, “It’s put the industry at risk.”

Then again, no one knew that visiting a Vegas casino such as Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian was such a privilege that patrons should be honored just to be allowed to set foot inside the door, and thus deserving of such worship. 

Said Abboud, “Going to Las Vegas … is a rite of passage.  It is not an entitlement.”

Now that’s chutzpah.

“You can even come to the Venetian and play some games [on your smartphone] within the four walls of our casino,” Abboud later told the committee in a gargantuan lie of omission, neglecting to mention that one could also play those same games in the same way throughout the rest of the state.

Then again, no one bought the baloney; the surprise is that Abboud thought he could peddle it after failing miserably with the same schtick at the federal level.  In response to Abboud’s December smartphone waving, Rep. Joe Barton pulled out his own smartphone and exposed the Abboud / Adelson / Las Vegas Sands hypocrisy, right down to projected images of the Venetian’s own ads pimping its new smartphone-accessible sportsbetting – all through Nevada.

GO Chairmane Isadore Hall III played the role of Barton this time out.  After a comical intervention to allow the 33rd witness to speak, committee members, led by Hall, returned to Abboud and his statements.  Hall first questioned why LV Sands didn’t oppose the New Jersey pro-regulatory effort, which after a bit of uncomfortable squirming by Abboud, finally resulted in his admission that the Sands “position had sort of evolved.”

But it got worse for Abboud.  Eventually, Hall whipped out his own smartphone, while asking Abboud, “Do your casinos in Nevada practice and/or profit from sporstbetting via phone or Internet?”

“Yes,” Abboud quickly allowed.  “Correct.”

“So you guys do use these devices,” added Hall.

“Yes.  We do.”

GO Committee Isadore Hall III shows anyone can wave a smartphone while pinning Abboud to his own hypocrisy.  “So what’s good for the goose…?” asked Hall, referring to the LVSands offering of online sportsbetting in Nevada via smart devices.

Hall waved the phone some more, for dramatic effect.  “But you did have a comment earlier, saying that you don’t like to use these devices.”

“Right.”  And after some hemming and hawing, Abboud himself asked the question Hall was angling toward, “Is there hypocrisy there?” 

Abboud then attempted to return to his “four walls” lie when Hall cut him off.  “So what’s good for the goose…?” Hall asked, with a slight smile.

Abboud was left to find a way out, by disclaiming it (the Venetian and LV Sands online gambling offerings) as a very small portion of LV Sands’ worldwide revenue.  And then he said that Adelson would surely dump it all, if only he could.  But of course no one believed it, any of it.

Soon after, the hearing concluded.  Andy Abboud’s third straight failure showed the real truth of Sheldon Adelson’s faux moral crusade – the only time Adelson can gain allies is when he purchases them in dark alleyways with huge wads of cash.  If nothing else, this hearing showed that in California, Adelson is largely irrelevant – as he should be just about everywhere else.

Haley Hintze

Veteran poker writer and editor Haley Hintze offers a uniquely independent and entertaining look at many of the most newsworthy topics in poker.  Noted for her lengthy series that helped expose the cheaters behind the Absolute Poker and UltimateBet scandals, she remains a champion of consumer interests and fair play.

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