The Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection completed its initial three-week, $250,000 media campaign to fight against a federal ban on Internet gambling, spending the money on advertisements that ran on the home pages for the websites of The Washington Post, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Politico.
The coalition took over the front page of The Washington Post's site in the D.C. region with a banner ad across the top of the front page, additional boxes on each side of the Post masthead and a rollover box giving facts above the site's popular stories. The ads urged readers to “stop the congressional ban on online gaming” and to click through in order to get the facts at the C4COP website.
Spokeswoman Kristen Hawn indicated that the coalition has yet to receive funding or decide on a focus for the next campaign, though she implied that it will be sooner rather than later. Hawn declined to say exactly who is funding the coalition. She will only say that Caesars, MGM and the American Gaming Association are supporting it.
"We just got started," Hawn said. "This is a sustained effort. This is not a series of campaigns here, campaigns there. We're here to stay and make sure there isn't an across-the-board ban."
In the meantime, the coalition is remaining active in social media and its leaders continue to speak publicly and write opinion pieces on the issue. Co-chair Mike Oxley, the former Republican congressman from Ohio who served as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act passed in 2006, had a piece published on The Hill website this week.
The coalition is reminiscent of FairPlayUSA, another Caesars-MGM collaboration, in that it is run by a public relations firm that insists on controlling the message. No matter the question asked of Hawn, she attempts to respond with one of her talking points. It's an old strategy in politics, and one that has proven to be less effective in the era of social media, blogs and reddit AMAs, when campaigns are finding that people are more likely to be enthused about a candidate or a cause by allowing them into the conversation rather than directing a one-way monologue.
Similar tactics caused a rocky relationship between FairPlayUSA and poker players. John Pappas, executive director of Poker Players Alliance, says C4COP should be looked at with less skepticism because its message clearly aligns with that of poker players. The PPA has pledged to support the coalition with its influence and grassroots efforts
"This organization is solely focused on stopping this Wire Act expansion effort," Pappas said. "They're not out there promoting a specific legislation. The other group was out there advancing a poker-only bill that poker players didn't like. I think they recognize that playing this defense is the best way to go now. They're not trying to push anything on the poker community, they're just trying to make sure we don't get screwed."
A group like the Coalition for Consumer and Online Protection is needed to respond to what is being put out there by Las Vegas Sands' CEO Sheldon Adelson's Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling.
Adelson has said he will spend whatever it takes to stop online gambling, and he has a lot to spend. Advertising can influence public opinion, and we don't want to have Adelson's coalition getting to make ridiculous commercials without the reasonable counterpoint that prohibitions do not work and regulation is better. C4COP will never match the spending of Adelson, but an advertising budget funded by casino heavyweights such as Caesars, MGM and the AGA can make sure the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling does not go unchecked.
"I think they're a counterbalance to what Adelson is doing," Pappas said. “They have some resources that the PPA doesn't have. Like with the advertisement on The Washington Post website, the PPA does not have the resources to do that sort of advertising."
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