Freeman Sees Reason For Caution With RAWA

AGA Head: Industry Should Look “Cautiously, Suspiciously” At Federal Online Gambling Bills

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On Wednesday night American Gaming Association (AGA) President Geoff Freeman appeared on the Ralston Live show.

Freeman and host Jon Ralston discussed a number of hot topics in the gaming world, eventually turning to online gambling and the Sheldon Adelson-backed online gaming ban RAWA.

Freeman spoke somewhat candidly on the issue, which was unexpected considering the AGA’s year-long “no comment” when it comes to online gaming.

Watch the entire interview here.

Freeman concerned of “unintended consequences” from federal action

Freeman spoke specifically about RAWA, but stopped short of endorsing regulation or castigating a prohibition.

Instead Freeman talked about his concern regarding potential unintended consequences, and the checkered history federal legislation has had on the gaming industry.

After being asked by Ralston if the AGA planned to continue to stay out of the online gaming fight, Freeman responded: “What we’re doing is making sure there is nothing that is considered here that could have unintended consequences for brick & mortar casinos.”

“And there are some things that could,” Freeman added, positing that if federal legislation is “written poorly, as it often is” there could be bans on not just online poker, but on progressive slot machines at land-based casinos.

Freeman warned that the industry must “be cautious” about “the role of the federal government in our business” and insisted that the industry should look “cautiously, suspiciously” at bills that invite the federal government to play a greater role.

Freeman finished his comments on online gambling and RAWA’s chances by saying, “it’s an environment in Washington where very little gets done.”

Background: the AGA and iGaming

The AGA has had a love/hate relationship with iGaming since the industry first came online in the mid- to late-1990’s. Under former chief Frank J. Fahrenkopf the AGA’s position on iGaming ranged from opposed, to apathetic, to ok with online poker but not casino games.

But that all changed when Freeman took over for Fahrenkopf roughly two years ago. Freeman and the AGA were in favor of online poker legalization, and to some extent online gaming, up until early 2014, when the issue threatened to fracture the gaming lobby.

The AGA’s official position beginning in April 2014 was “no position” on online gaming, as the group decided to focus on areas of agreement.

However, over the course of 2015 I’ve seen numerous hints – including Freeman’s comments to Ralston – that the AGA is subtly coming out against RAWA and in favor of legalization and regulation.

The AGA’s slow walk back

AGA hints at regulation while addressing illegal gambling

The first sign the AGA was starting to move off of their “no position” position came in April of this year when the group released a statement on illegal gambling, and in a roundabout way implied regulating online gaming would solve some of the problems they addressed, including money going overseas and a lack of accountability.

“Illegal online operators, they rake in $4 billion a year from Americans,” Freeman stated in the release. “These websites […] are easy to mistake for a legal operation, look legitimate with a sleek, corporate presentation. Yet if a customer finds his online account cleaned out, there is no one he or she can turn to.”

The AGA’s comments were by no means an endorsement for legal, regulated, online gambling, but what the AGA left unsaid in their statement was regulation would solve these issues, and a prohibition would exacerbate them.

What is causing the change?

The AGA may not be vocally calling for legalization of online gambling as they did in 2013, but it seems they are slowly moving back towards that point of view.

One possibility is the AGA offered Sheldon Adelson a year of silence on their part to allow him to push his online gambling ban, and now that RAWA appears dead and all but buried, the AGA is slowly reverting back to their previous lobbying position.

The more likely possibility is the AGA is simply seeing the writing on the wall, and with the progress being made in Pennsylvania the gaming lobby really can’t remain silent on one of the key issues the industry is facing.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to see the AGA moving in the right direction on this issue.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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