I can barely remember the days when Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn didn’t like each other.
They were like two neighbors who would only come out of their houses – nice houses, mind you, on Las Vegas Boulevard South – to snarl at one another. I sensed a genuine dislike and disdain.
Those days are long gone. The two most prominent names in the modern gaming industry clearly have a mutual respect; they even seem to enjoy each other.
Wynn readily acknowledges Adelson has taught him a lot about Macau, and now he has found himself agreeing with his friend about his fervent crusade against web gaming.
Not since these two bonded on their disgust for the president and his policies do they seem to be so in sync on a subject. And with the two biggest names in the industry now on the same side opposing gaming on the Internet, that changes a dynamic that had previously been widely perceived as Adelson vs. the world.
“I end up agreeing with Sheldon,” Wynn said during a Friday conversation. That closely followed a long chat with Adelson (more to come from that interview in the near future), who protested when I suggested he was isolated in an industry salivating for web gaming riches.
“I don’t want to make money off of it; Steve Wynn doesn’t want to make money off of it,” Adelson insisted. I was incredulous, especially since I remembered Wynn telling me he thought Adelson would eventually come around. And remember Wynn was once interested in making a deal with PokerStars before Black Friday in 2011. (UPDATE: To be clear, Wynn had signed with PokerStars and then backed out. Indeed, his Carson City lobbyist Richard Perkins, also working for PokerStars, was pushing for language in 2011 to pave the way and helped arrange that infamous trip for legislative leaders.)
When I told Adelson I found it hard to believe that Wynn had changed his mind, he retorted, “Please go and ask him.” So I did.
When I reached Wynn to try to confirm what Adelson had told me, he was quite passionate about what he now sees are the pitfalls of web gaming, including the government’s “insatiable appetite for revenue” that would probably make it problematic as well as the potential for an industry-blackening moment if an underage scandal were to occur.
“This is not a good entrepreneurial opportunity,” Wynn, who knows a little bit about entrepreneurship, said. “Where is the business opportunity? The big problem I see is I don’t see the government letting us keep the money.”
Wynn said he had seen all of the modern technology to track players and block minors demonstrated by the likes of Tom Breitling of Ultimate Gaming and others, people he respected. He had heard them argue the systems are virtually impregnable and concluded, “I’m sure it was impressive if you were a cyber guy. But it was bullsh—“
Adelson has told many people, including Wynn, that he fears that teenagers as they grow into college students could blow fortunes – or their parent’s fortunes – on web gaming, forever changing their lives because it is so easily accessible. Wynn referred to the potential “narcotic” effect of such environments for young people and called Adelson’s worries that someone could sign in to an account and hand off to someone else “a square question.”
Wynn was even more passionate than Adelson in describing how devastating it would be for the entire industry if a scandal were to occur, giving fodder to “the anti-gaming forces,” whom he said would rise up to attack the gamers.
“Do you really think they can stop underage gambling?” Wynn asked, rhetorically, his voice soaked in sarcasm.
Wynn also said he fretted about the effect on the culture of his eponymous company, which he prides himself as being a development pioneer that has produced beautiful properties here and elsewhere. “I know how to do that,” he said. “But I don’t know how to do that on a 17-inch screen.”
Wynn also seemed concerned about the fragility of the Las Vegas economy being affected if web gaming were legalized. He said that despite what some politicians (I think he meant the president) assert, “globalization is not hurting us. Globalization has saved Las Vegas. It has stabilized the Strip.”
He repeated three words a few times: “ Because of China.”
That is, the revenue that he – and Adelson – had generated in Macau had enabled him to hire employees for and refurbish properties on the Strip. Without the Macau money, Vegas would wither, Wynn’s argument goes, buttressed by the staggering China numbers.
Wynn says his newfound position on web gaming is not immutable, although he seemed pretty convinced. “It’s possible it could change,” he said, while Adelson told me his never will. But even if the federal government made it legal, Wynn said he fears lotteries, which already are seeping onto the web and ready to expand, might crush everyone else.
Besides, he added, the point is moot for now.
“(Legalizing web gaming) can’t get through the House of Representatives,” Wynn said. “They can’t agree on anything, especially something this esoteric.”
And on that, it’s not just Adelson but even their friend in the White House who would agree.