Gambling battle lines are beginning to form

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Recently, some powerful trial lawyers met to discuss their next big case of which every poker player should take notice. The trial “Dream Team” members that brought down Big Tobacco is focused on a new target that’s allegedly costing the public sector billions of dollars a year in health and human services: Big Gambling.

When the group met in Indianapolis to discuss the parallels between the gambling industry and the tobacco industry, the self-named “gambling litigation study group” discussed ways to recover the estimated $7 billion a year attributed to gambling addictions on the health care and criminal justice systems. The discussions allegedly centered on the expansion to the Internet by brick-and-mortar casinos as a lure or gateway to the addiction. Some potential allegations are the industry is intentionally creating deceptive, tempting advertising and enticing social gaming environments to stimulate the compulsive behavior that ultimately led to significant losses at the casinos creating criminal and social wards of the state.

As a lawyer in the industry who also has been lobbying for 20 years in a state capitol that saw how the arrogance of Big Tobacco ultimately led to its undoing, I do see some of the similarities the group sees. The most pronounced is industry hubris. From the Orlando Sentinel, which reported on the meeting, the following quotes were attributed to David Stewart, general counsel to the American Gaming Association.

“It’s a government-approved, regulated product. Nobody’s made Nordstrom reimburse somebody who is a shopaholic. The legal arguments are flawed. It’s gambling. And when you gamble, you lose.”

Stewart concluded that previous lawsuits targeting traditional gambling have been thrown out by the courts.

If you were to go back in time to review the industry statements from the tobacco industry, you’d find similar commentary.
The purpose of bringing this to light and offering commentary to poker readers across the country is to make you aware because at the end of the day if the planets align for this group of trial lawyers, much like the smokers across the country, you will be the ones paying the freight for an industry with its head in the sand. If the gaming industry doesn’t take this threat seriously, the savvy player will be the one damaged. Your choices will be diminished and the cost to participate will increase. This ultimately means your vocation of avocation at the tables will become more difficult.

What can be done to forestall what appears to be a freight train coming down the tunnel is greater attention by the industry leaders to the threat. Compulsive gambling is a well-known problem with which the industry has been wrestling. Some players are more attentive to the issue than others, but consideration needs to be given to the bridge being formed melding the worlds of social gaming and gambling.

For the domestic players in the gambling industry, the Internet is the next huge growth opportunity promising greater prospects for profitability than the cash rich oligopoly in Macau. Microsoft, Zynga, Facebook are looking at partnerships with gambling players and traditional brick-and-mortar gambling players such as Stations, IGT and even Churchill Downs. They are forming alliances in anticipation of the windfall when social gaming players are converted to die-hard gamblers. As the lines blur and race becomes more intense, mistakes can be made that will prove to be the industries undoing when it sits before a jury.

The game is under way. The “gaming litigation study group” has been formed and the deep pockets in the industry are in their crosshairs. All that is needed is creative lobbying to assist with the cause of action and a favorable jurisdiction to bring the case. When this happens, the industry will find itself wagering in a game in which the house advantage is tilted against them.

At the end of the day, if it comes up snake eyes, the gamblers who do not have a compulsive gambling problem will ultimately bear the costs. If you doubt laws are changed to influence the outcome of litigation against a well-heeled corporate titan who got a little too big for its britches, ask a tobacco lobbyist, and if you doubt me as to who ultimately bore the cost, ask a smoker.

— Marc W. Dunbar represents several gaming clients before the Florida Legislature and teaches gambling and parimutuel law at the Florida State’s College of Law.