Presidential Nominees on Poker4 years ago
Now that we know it’s a heads-up match between Donald J Trump and Hillary Rodham Clinton for the presidency – a scary enough prospect in itself – it’s probably about time we took a closer look at what this means to the poker world.
For poker fans who don’t follow politics much, come November they’ll probably be sitting down to watch the WSOP Main Event final table - only to find out it’s been moved back a couple of weeks so as not to clash with the presidential elections and they’ve missed it.
For most of us in the poker arena, though, the person who reaches the White House will have a huge effect on what happens to us at the tables – both online and in the real world.
Naturally, how long that ‘real world’ lasts, particularly under a Trump administration, is open to debate, but let’s say he manages to keep his finger off the big red button long enough for us to play some cards. How will the poker scene change under either of the nominees?
Donald Trump in the White House?
Well, we can easily begin this scenario by reminding everyone that trump has a lot of previous history in the gambling world, having previously operated five casinos in Atlantic City, although only one still remains – the Trump Taj Mahal.
The history of his involvement in the New Jersey gambling stronghold is actually an ugly melange of civil court cases, bankruptcies, sales, name-changes, and problems with legislation. For those who are wondering about the Trump Plaza in Las Vegas, well, it has never had a casino.
However, unlike his counterpart in the hotel and casino empire-building stakes, Sheldon Adelson, Donald Trump has never shown any signs that online poker and gaming in general were against his beliefs, wishes, or interests- although admittedly he hasn’t commented much on this topic in recent times.
We have to go back to 2011 to get a glimpse of Trump’s approach to online poker, where he claimed in a Forbes magazine interview that, “We have been looking at this for a while”, when discussing the sudden interest of ‘the richest people in the country in anticipation that a regulatory regime for online gambling is coming at either the federal or state level.’
This has to happen because many other countries are doing it and, like usual, the U.S. is just missing out.”
And so he joined forces with Marc Lasry, a billionaire hedge fund manager who controlled Avenue Capital Group, in setting up Poker Ventures LLC, which gained a licence from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement but has done precious little since.
Much has changed since those days, including Trump’s own ambitions of course, and a presidency will likely see him have many more pressing matters to deal with.
Two key factors
Trump’s support, or opposition, could well be influenced by two very different players in the American political scene: New Jersey state governor Chris Christie and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.
As pointed out by Steve Ruddock on PlayNJ, his close association with Christie could see the former U.S. Attorney for the District of New York looking to secure the US Attorney General post – obviously a post he would be suited to and which he could seek to use to promote his sports-betting legalization and regulation dreams. Having the close ear of Trump would in many ways benefit the push for online legalization and regulation of poker on a federal level.
One of the most hated men in the US by those seeking legalized online poker, last month Adelson committed $100million to Trump’s push for the presidency.
Although this is ostensibly because of Adelson’s view that Trump would be a “tremendous president” when it comes to the thorny subject of Israel, a point he recently stated in an email to the Republican Jewish Coalition, it will doubtless involve some other mutual back-scratching should Trump prevail in November.
Adelson is the main money behind the Coalition To Stop Internet Gambling and is on record as stating: “I am willing to spend whatever it takes,” to try to convince Congress to ban online gambling.
My moral standard compels me to speak out on this issue because I am the largest company by far in the industry and I am willing to speak out. I don’t see any compelling reason for the government to allow people to gamble on the Internet and nobody has ever explained except for the two companies whose special interest is going to be served if there is gaming on the Internet, Caesars and MGM.”
His efforts so far have not been particularly effective, as this week’s decision in New York illustrates, but that’s not to say that the battle is over.
Should push come to shove somewhere down the presidential line, Trump may feel that he still owes Adelson some favours – which could bode great ill for online poker (although Israel, labour laws, and others would likely be top of the list for ‘payback’.)
So, as it stands, a Trump presidency would produce an extremely well-balanced situation, possibly slightly in poker’s favour – but one which might not take too much movement to upset it one way or the other.
Hillary Clinton in the White House?
As you might expect from the Democratic front-runner, whatever she says has to be taken with a very large pinch of salt – and possibly a second pinch just to be safe! – but let’s look at some details of Clinton’s approach to gambling and poker in the bricks-and-mortar world.
Way back in the day, in 1984, Hillary was the First Lady of Arkansas when hubby Bill was Governor – and she went on ‘a statewide speaking tour to oppose a ballot initiative to bring casino gaming to Arkansas’.
The ballot was defeated, but the landscape was so different back then that it doesn’t count for too much – but still useful to know, as Hillary backed Bill in many, many respects – and Bill has never been a big gambling supporter; quite the opposite in fact.
Fast-forwarding to the millennium and we find her supporting a plan to bring a tribal casino to Monticello Raceway in the Catskills as well as offering support for plans to build a casino in the Niagara region. Clinton said:
If Niagara believes that a casino would help attract more tourists back to what really was the tourism capital of America for so many decades, I would support that.”
If nothing else, her Democrat approach is much more gaming-friendly than Obama’s has been, as evidenced in the 2008 campaign when Harrah’s Entertainment executive at the time, Jan Jones, co-chaired Clinton’s National Women’s Business Council.
Jones said at the time about the casino industry, “What we have found in every instance, when you create an economic engine that drives job creation, encourages capital investment…you have an industry that builds community…and provides livelihood,” and Clinton evidently had no problems endorsing this view.
In 2006, Hillary Clinton was part of the unanimous senate vote to pass the SAFE Port Act, which unfortunately and ultimately devastating for online poker, had the UIGEA tacked on in the small print late in the day. This can’t be held against her though – it was a sly move by Republicans and a small and seemingly insignificant part of the whole for most outside of poker.
By 2008 she was happy enough to support a study into the potential of legalizing online gaming with a view to regulation aimed at both boosting the economic opportunity whilst still ‘protecting minors and the vulnerable’.
This is in line with most of the poker bills working their way through state legislation at present, and it’s unlikely to change should Hillary win in November – she doesn’t seem to think that gambling falls under the purview of the federal government, so likely wouldn’t support the RAWA Bill - and isn’t a fan of Sheldon Adelson either, which helps!
However, as Tom Somach of Gambling911 put it:
She’s against gambling – except when she’s for it!”
OK, so Trump or Clinton for poker presidency?
It’s a hard call actually, with both more likely to be in favour of legalisation/regulation, which is good news for the poker economy – however….
Trump can be bought and sold if the price is right – he’s a business opportunist.
Clinton could change her views on a public whim –she’s a political opportunist.
Which would you prefer to deal with? Stick your views in the comments section below!
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