Case Bets: Macao, Maryland, Internet casinos

April was a bonny month for Macao, where overall visitation rose 13% and mainland Chinese tourism rose 17%. Now if only Peking would take its hand off the spigot known as visa quotas, we might have some honest-to-god year/year comparisons instead of ones that ought to come with an asterisk due to governmental micromanagement of the Macanese economy.

Slotgate? Accusations of political dirty tricks are being leveled against Cordish Co. The latter is engaged in a nasty tussle with Laurel Park racetrack over who will get one of Maryland‘s five slot houses and Laurel has made an alliance of convenience with local anti-gambling activists. Lengthy indecision by the Anne Arundel County Council, which did  everything it could to avoid taking a stand on slots, created sufficient delay for Laurel Park’s counterattack to form. Maryland’s transition to a casino state is stuck in “neutral” and a court-enforced revisit of the Anne Arundel quagmire would effectively put it into “reverse.”

‘Net bets advance … slowly. Time is running out for Congress to legitimize Internet-based gambling (and undo the pernicious UIGEA, still in place after four unpopular years). The topic wouldn’t even be on the docket if Washington weren’t hard up for revenue but progress has been slowed by thickets of questions about taxation and regulation.

Since individual states would retain the prerogative to “opt out” of legalized Internet betting (as in the case of glorified racetrack tout Gov. Steve Beshear [D-KY]), why should taxation be imposed at the federal level? Shouldn’t states that forego participation also forfeit the tax revenue?

Only on Capitol Hill could Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV) call the Nevada Gaming Control Board “the gold standard” of casino regulation and not bring down the room with laughter. The most obvious problem with subcontracting federal Internet-gambling regulation to the NGCB is that the latter is already pitifully underfunded and understaffed (a situation to which Heller has indirectly contributed). It can’t even ride herd on the Nevada casino industry and now Heller would unleash the Internet stampede upon it? Brilliant.

As for the protectionist argument that brick-and-mortar casinos should be shielded from online competition, I’m going argue against my own interests and say it should be shown the door. Technology evolves, as does gambling, and any attempt to preserve the present-day casino industry in amber is doomed to failure.

Les jeux son fait. It would appear that the war over electronic bingo in Alabama is over and Gov. Bob Riley has won. If so, this is not just a setback for the casino industry in principle but for IGT in particular. The company invested heavily in Alabama and looks to walk away the biggest loser, having already written off millions of dollars related to the extra-legal bingo parlors.

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