By Shari Geller
The president of M Resort, Anthony Marnell III, recently joined Sheldon Adelson, Chairman of the Sands Corporation, in announcing his opposition to the legalization and regulation of online poker in the United States. In a time when the efforts towards bringing online poker back to the U.S. is under attack from the religious right, the morality police and skittish lawmakers, opposition from those within the gambling family comes as a heavy blow.
The interview with Marnell was conducted Nevada Newsmakers, a statewide public affairs television program, on December 13, just a few days before the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) issued a statement reversing its earlier position that the Wire Act made online poker illegal. In the DoJ’s published opinion letter, the federal government claimed that the Wire Act did not apply to online poker.
Marnell claimed that, when it comes to efforts to legalize online poker, “we’re pushing this way too far.” Marnell said he was speaking on his own behalf, and not on behalf of the Penn National Gaming Foundation which had acquired the M Resort last summer. However, it was hard not to notice that before the company went forward with its purchase, its executive officers told market analysts that they were opposed to efforts to legalize online poker.
"My position has long been that online gaming is a bad idea," Penn National Gaming’s Chairman Peter Carlino told analysts last April. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a spokesman for Penn National Gaming reiterated the company’s continued opposition to online poker when asked about it last week.
Echoing the complaints of those opposed on moral grounds, Marnell said that the legalization of online poker would lead to underage gambling and other problem gambling. “I just can’t see a scenario where you can truly secure that from young children,” he said. “Once it becomes legalized, it’s taking it too far. I think you start to create addictive behaviors in the home that we can’t see as operators. We have problem gambling initiatives on the casino floor.”
He came out 100% in support of Sands Chairman Adelson position on the issue. Adelson had raised “moral concerns” last December when he came out against moves to legalize and regulate online poker in the U.S. His opposition raised eyebrows from the poker community and others in the gambling industry who are working to pass legislation legalizing online poker. It also did not go unnoticed that one of the Sands’ properties, the Venetian, had partnered with PokerStars for a North American Poker Tour event just a year ago.
While M Resort and Sands Corporation are lining up against online poker, other large gaming companies such as MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment are supportive of and working towards legalizing online poker. These casino companies already have deals in place to partner with Internet poker websites once online poker legislation is approved.
Despite Marnell and Adelson’s opposition, most observers believe that the DoJ’s about face on the Wire Act will act as a green light to spur intrastate poker legislation. “In my opinion, 2012 is going to be known as the year the online gaming industry in America was really born. I’m sure at least two states are going to join Nevada in approving online gaming,” said U.S. Digital Gaming Chairman Richard Bronson. “The Justice Department essentially opens the frontier to new settlements. Now states can go ahead and approve online gaming with the certainty of it being legal in our country, which is a far cry from the multitude of illegal operators who have been poaching American players for years.”