Reality Check: Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson Are Not On The Same Side When it Comes to Online Gambling

Picture of WYnn in Las Vegas
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Those who follow me on Twitter (coming out with the plug early on) will be familiar with the fact that I am usually critical of mainstream press coverage of the gaming industry that makes repeated use of lame gambling metaphors in the headline.

Most of the time, this widespread habit limits itself to being just trite and obnoxious. But on some occasions, in the haste to be clever with words, reporters risk making dangerously misleading statements about whatever it is they’re supposed to be covering objectively.

Case in point: Forbes

This is exactly what just happened at Forbes, where Nathan Vardi is reporting that “The Two Biggest Casino Billionaire CEOs Are Betting Against Internet Gambling.”

Vardi refers to the recent news that Steve Wynn, formerly believed to have been making strides in launching his online casino product in New Jersey, has now changed his mind about whether he wants to go through with it.

The other billionaire giddily at Wynn’s side is supposed to be fellow casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is behind a well-known, extremely fervent initiative to ban U.S. online gaming altogether.

Figurative “betting against” silliness aside, these two men are not one and the same in their so-called opposition to online gambling.

Where the waters were muddied

The source of this confusion originates from another report by Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston, who broke the story of Wynn’s change of heart using the not-wholly-accurate (but, thankfully, metaphor-free) headline “Wynn joins Adelson crusade against web gaming.”

Pardon?

From Wynn’s own comments in Ralston’s report, it’s fictitious to deduce that he is now as ferociously hostile to online gambling as his Las Vegas Sands counterpart.

Yes, like Sheldon, Wynn has reservations that online gaming can be safely regulated to a degree that he’d deem satisfactory.

But nowhere has Wynn (yet) stated that he believes online gaming should be broadly illegal everywhere, a belief that Adelson hasn’t just expressed many times, but has raised an entire army hell-bent on the idea.

Two different men, two different agendas

Furthermore, the two men’s primary motives for not embracing online gaming, at least as publicly stated, are worlds apart.

Adelson’s opposition is heavily moral, rooted in concerns that widespread online gaming would harm vulnerable people like children and problem gamblers, plus take away jobs.

Compare that to Wynn’s more business-oriented view – both he and his company spokespersons have so far emphasized that they do not see online gaming as “a good entrepreneurial opportunity” at this time.

Frankly, you’d be surprised at how common a view that is even among people who work in the U.S. iGaming space right now.

So let’s make a clear distinction: Steve Wynn is not entirely sold on the safety of online gambling, does not wish to get into the market right away, and admits he may one day change his mind.

Sheldon Adelson is bad-mouthing online gaming in every possible way and is throwing a ton of money at the clearly-defined goal of stopping it.

If this were a South Park episode, Steve Wynn would resemble the well-intentioned but morally confused Stan or Kyle. Sheldon Adelson is Eric Cartman.

Wynn has justification to proceed with care

There is additional reason not to hold Steve Wynn’s caution against him.

Wynn Resorts is currently trying to obtain approval to build a casino in the emerging Massachusetts casino market, a project that, if successful, could net the company several hundreds of millions of dollars.

If you had to prioritize over a massive casino project with near-certain returns versus the relatively meager monthly take of New Jersey’s online gaming market, which also happens to be teeming with competitors, you’d be hard-pressed not to favor the former from a business point of view.

No matter what eventually happens with Wynn Interactive, it’s important that both the gaming community and mainstream press get it right about Steve Wynn’s stance on online gaming.

He is not the first person to cast doubts over whether it can make any money, and he probably won’t be the last.

MGM and PartyGaming have famously hesitated to enter the Nevada online poker market, stating on record that they too did not see it as “a good entrepreneurial opportunity,” yet they’re crushing it in New Jersey.

I’m relieved – and not a bit unsurprised – that no Nevada reporter ever wrote that “MGM and Party fold their hand on intrastate online gaming.”

Photo credit: Jeffrey J Coleman / Shutterstock.com

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Marco Valerio
- Marco is a contributor to OnlinePokerReport. You can read more of his writing - and catch his epic interviews with a who's who of poker - at a variety of iGaming publications, including TwoPlusTwo, GlobalGamingBusiness and Agentmarco.com.