As we welcome the new year, the American Gaming Association (AGA) is focused on several issues and initiatives on Capitol Hill that could affect the commercial casino industry in 2009. It is still too early to tell whether the power shift in Washington will have a discernable impact on the industry, but already there are several issues worth tracking.
First and foremost is Congress’ and the Administration’s ongoing efforts to address the recession’s impact. As anyone reading this piece is aware, our industry has been hit especially hard as consumers have tightened their belts and lenders have tightened their purse strings. And as the economy continues to worsen, the lack of available capital continues to be a major concern within the gaming entertainment industry.
Banks have virtually frozen lending, meaning expansion projects and property upgrades continue to be on hold. The $700 billion financial bailout passed late last year was supposed to restore some liquidity to the financial markets, but so far that has not occurred. If movement isn’t felt soon, the gaming industry and other capital-intensive businesses may have to ask Congress to step in to encourage banks to start lending again.
The recession also portends that tax issues also figure to be on the table in 2009, with alternative approaches yielding potential positives and negatives for the industry. On the one hand, tax incentives to help businesses weather the storm could aid struggling gaming companies. Alternatively, legislators could look to untapped or unexpected sources – like the gaming industry – for taxes to help finance government programs in the downturn. The AGA will vigilantly monitor both threats and opportunities on this front in 2009 to ensure that the gaming industry is protected.
Another issue members of Congress are likely to consider in early 2009 is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would require certification of union representation without a secret ballot election if a majority of employees sign authorization cards distributed by union organizers, a process commonly referred to as “card check”.
Under provisions of the bill, companies would be required to begin bargaining with union representation within 10 days of certification of the union through this method. If the union and employer cannot agree upon the terms of a first collective bargaining contract within 90 days, either party can request federal mediation, which could lead to binding arbitration if an agreement isn’t reached after 30 days of mediation. This would allow government arbitrators to determine contract terms and what business decisions must be taken to meet those commitments, stripping employees of their current rights to ratify the terms of any labor agreement. Additionally, the bill would increase penalties for violations of the National Labor Relations Act by employers, but not union representatives.
The commercial casino industry has a strong history of working with unions in Las Vegas and other jurisdictions to promote and protect the rights of our employees, and we value that partnership. But the card check method of union organizing potentially exposes employees to threats and intimidation, allows employees to hear only one side of the story in determining whether to sign the card, and threatens employee’s bargaining rights if arbitrators step in. Employees deserve the right to make an informed and – most importantly – private decision on whether to join a union. AGA members oppose the bill, and the AGA will work with allies like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to fight the legislation in the coming months.
The card-check legislation and availability of capital are just two of several legislative and regulatory issues that could have significant impact on the broader travel, tourism and hospitality sector in 2009, and the gaming industry has plans to increase its involvement in the Travel Industry Policy Council this year. The coalition of airline, hotel, amusement park and other travel and tourism industry groups formed last year in a national effort to promote travel to and within the United States and to protect the domestic travel industry through various legislative and regulatory initiatives.
One of the top priorities of the Policy Council in 2009 is the re-introduction and passage of the Travel Promotion Act (TPA), which would establish a nationally coordinated travel promotion campaign for the U.S. Travel and tourism currently generate $1.8 trillion in economic activity in this country every year, and one out of every eight jobs in the U.S. is either directly or indirectly generated by travel. There has been a decline in overseas travel to the U.S. since 2001, however. The TPA aims to bring the U.S. more in line with other nations that set aside federal resources to promote travel. It was passed by the U.S. House of Representative last year and is expected to be re-introduced in the new session, potentially in conjunction with the proposed federal stimulus package.
Initiatives to improve and expedite security screenings, reduce airport delays, relieve aviation congestion, stabilize fuel prices, improve the interstate highway system and address other travel-related issues are key components of the Policy Council’s 2009 agenda. The AGA board of directors recently created a travel and tourism task force to prioritize those issues most important to the commercial gaming sector, and the AGA will work with its members to address those concerns.
The AGA expects Internet gambling legislation to again be a subject of great debate on Capitol Hill this year. Despite the fact that final regulations governing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act will go into effect later this month, researchers anticipate that Americans will spend nearly $6 billion betting on offshore online gambling sites in 2009. Various interests will likely push again for legislation to regulate and legalize at least some forms of Internet gambling in the U.S.
No doubt, the year ahead will be a difficult one for the commercial casino industry. But the AGA enters 2009 with a renewed commitment to fight for the interests of all its members on Capitol Hill, and we look forward to meeting the challenges that lie ahead.