Entering a new year is always a good opportunity to look ahead, and this is especially true right now. Most notably, last year’s election—the longest and most expensive of my lifetime—is finally behind us, which means that here in Washington the new 113th Congress soon gets to work. And for us at the American Gaming Association (AGA), this presents opportunity as we continue our efforts to represent the commercial casino industry in the nation’s capital.
At first glance, the result of last November’s election is a continuation of the status quo. Despite the billions spent, we still find ourselves with a Senate controlled by Democrats and a Republican-led House. The GOP’s majority in the House is 234-201 (it was previously 242-193); and in the Senate, two Independents caucusing with the Democrats means they hold a 55-45 majority (it was previously 53-47). To those who followed the last Congress, this probably does not inspire much hope for any vast changes in legislative cooperation.
However, a closer look reveals more change than one might expect. In the House, there are 83 new freshmen members (35 Republicans and 48 Democrats)—with 50 hailing from commercial gaming states. In the Senate, there are a total of 12 new freshmen (three Republicans and eight Democrats)—two of whom come from commercial gaming states.
I do not mention these numbers merely for partisan score keeping, but rather to highlight what this presents: an opportunity to educate. Not only are there many new members, but this incoming freshman class is the most diverse in history, and one-third of the entire Congress will have three years or less of experience in federally-elected office. This means that the AGA and our industry have the opportunity to educate a new set of stakeholders who should come to their positions with open minds and ready to listen. In the coming year, we intend to let our voice be heard.
It is not for me to say how much this Congress can, and will, work together to reach solutions on the issues we face, but, at the very least, we know the possible major legislative priorities they will address. They include (but are obviously not limited to): a debt ceiling increase, government funding (when the current continuing resolution expires in March), tax reform, immigration reform, spending and entitlement reform (such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), deficit reduction, energy and trade.
Many of these priorities are ones that our industry, either directly or indirectly, has a stake in. We, of course, want to see comprehensive immigration reform, as this has an impact on many of the workers in the commercial gaming sector. With broader tax reform, we continue working to ensure our voice is heard so that our industry and employees are treated fairly with the best opportunities to remain competitive, continue creating good jobs, and keep positively benefiting communities where we do business. Additionally, we remain active in the pursuit for the long-term extension of the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, and depreciation tax deduction—which will all unquestionably have an immediate and positive impact on our entire industry.
While federal legislation specific to gaming and casinos is less likely to be at the forefront of this Congress’s legislative agenda, there are several other issues that, if addressed, will have a direct impact on our industry, so we remain engaged and continue to monitor them diligently. These issues could include, among others: off reservation gaming; visa waiver reform; and the so-called Carcieri fix, which refers to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2009 case, Carcieri v. Salazar, and how the Department of the Interior could grant reservations for Native American tribes.
Last, but certainly not least, we continue to outline the need for clarity on the issue of online poker. We believe congressional action is necessary—and have strongly advocated not only to establish federal minimum standards that address consumer protection, prevent underage gambling and other criminal activity, promote responsible gaming, and provide help for those with gambling problems, but to effectively combat illegal online gambling once and for all.
So with important issues in the mix and new lawmakers ready to listen, it remains more important than ever that the AGA work to communicate and advocate on the Hill. Whatever the climate in Congress, it does not change the fact that we will push for our priorities.
Communicating the impact of the industry and the issues that matter to our members—and telling the story of the modern commercial casino industry as a whole—is a large part of our work. As we tell this story in Washington and on the Hill in 2013, our stakeholders will continue to have the opportunity to engage with us in a variety of ways. This includes through our social media platforms, which have increased in visibility during the last year. Follow all our latest news and activities—as well as updates from around the industry—via Twitter (@AGAUpdate) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/americangaming).
In Washington, for the AGA and the entire gaming industry, 2013 looks to be a busy year full of opportunity to advance our businesses toward further success. We look forward to working with our members and the broader industry to ensure just that.