Sheldon Adelson and the Age of Morality

Sheldon Adelson's Mirage of Morality

In the world of casino gambling, a “mirage” is most often associated with Steve Wynn’s Polynesian casino of the same name. It is not generally associated with its etymological meaning – that of an optical illusion of water in sandy deserts – illusion being the key word.

As 83-year-old casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson, tries to convince Las Vegas citizens that it is worthwhile to increase hotel taxes in order to pay off a luxurious new stadium project, he is simultaneously in the midst of convincing the NFL that his intrinsic relationship with casino gambling isn’t a conflict of interest when it comes to being part owner of a NFL franchise team.

When asked in a recent Yahoo Finance interview about issues regarding online sports betting and fantasy football, Adelson resolutely expressed his opposition to such things.

Someone reading his comments, who had no idea who Adelson was or what he did for a living, might be pretty shocked when they learn that Sheldon Adelson owns one of the most powerful casino corporations in the world: Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Adelson even aligns himself in opposition to the popular opinion of the majority of NFL franchise owners, which is that fantasy football leagues are a benefit to the NFL and bolster fan involvement, aka ticket sales and brand value. In fact, 28 teams have structured deals with fantasy sports sites, DraftKings and FanDuel. Adelson, however, clearly defines fantasy sports as “gambling”.

“Listen, I’m in the business. I’m the largest company in the gaming business by market cap, and I can tell you this: Daily fantasy sports is gambling. There’s no question about it. Anybody can play this, and they can gamble on it.”

But Adelson was passionate, in the recent interview with Daniel Roberts, about why he could never shift his opinion of fantasy sports and online gambling toward one that was more laissez-faire.

“My father was a gambler. He couldn’t stop going to the racetrack. He would bet on almost anything. I can’t say that he was a gambling addict, but I can say that he gambled a lot. And when he lost money, it caused friction in the family.”

This is a shocking intimate revelation coming from a man who built his fortune on the global casino industry. But, it is also clear that Adelson views the “resort casino” as a completely different animal than that of online poker or online sports betting when it comes to the moral hierarchy of gambling.

“I can make money in an honest way — as a form of entertainment. If people want to come and be entertained I’m very happy to provide that service. But why do I need it, the fantasy sports? We’re making money [without it]. I don’t need it. And I think it’s immoral. Anyone can get addicted to it.”

Perhaps Sheldon Adelson’s increased sensitivity toward how quickly a fun pastime can sink its claws in and become a debilitating addiction has been heightened as he navigates the terrain of fatherhood armed with the knowledge of observing the effects of gambling addiction and the knowingness that, in the end, ‘the house always wins’. Truly, he would likely know that better than anyone. And so it once again proves to be poignantly ironic when he relays the advice he gives to his own son.

“If people have one compulsive behavior, they typically have more than one. My own son likes to play this fantasy game. Kids his age easily get addicted to this. But since I’m in the business, I’ve prevented my son from getting addicted. I tell him it’s not good, and he understands. He doesn’t bet. He’s seen other kids in his school lose money on this.”

Preventing underage people from having access to online casinos has always been a primary talking point for Adelson, as he has raged on the industry and successfully lobbied Congress to pass bills in order to prevent it from becoming legalized and regulated. But in his statements to Roberts, he draws the line to include the need to protect the poor and lower-middle class as well.

“I think it [online gambling] exploits poor people. I was one myself. And I don’t want people that are exploitable to be exploited. I don’t want to make money taking from poor people. They don’t have anything to gamble. And when they do, they get in over their heads…This is a moral issue. When we have somebody [in the casino] that we see needs to be treated, we stop dealing to those people. I don’t have to hurt people to make money.”

Though Adelson’s motivations and ethical impulse to protect the poor from being exploited may very well be sincere, he seems to be unaware of the role that even resort casinos have on fueling a gambling addiction. The positive “reward” experience that someone has when experiencing the glitz and “thrill” of being in a resort casino plays a profound role in how they may attach the same positive feelings to an internet casino in the future. Perhaps what Adelson is subconsciously desiring most, is to put pandora back in her box, per se.

It is the sincerity with which he says, “There’s no principle that I would surrender in favor of money” that tugs at my own awareness that we all strive to be the best person we can be, yet remain woefully ignorant of who that person really is. Oh, how those principles waver like a mirage above heated sand, while we continue on our dogged pursuit toward becoming “successful”.

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