Since the founding of the American Gaming Association (AGA) in 1995, our highest priority has been to protect the interests of our members and their employees on Capitol Hill and before federal agencies. As the political landscape has evolved, so have the techniques required to remain an effective force in our nation’s capital.
At the core of any effective government affairs program is an educational component to help build a better understanding of the business that is represented, and when the AGA first opened its doors nearly 10 years ago, we decided to take a slightly different tack than some other associations. Instead of buying tables for “rubber chicken” fund-raising dinners in Washington, we helped organize smaller, industry-specific Las Vegas fund-raisers for congressional campaign committees. The primary benefit of this approach was that it allowed us to give members of Congress a tour of a sports book, take them on a visit to the Culinary Union’s training facility or show them first-hand the extensive security and surveillance in place in our casinos. That way, members returned to Washington having learned something about our industry, rather than just leaving with pockets full of our cash.
Now that new campaign finance laws prevent us from holding these types of corporate fund-raisers, we must refocus our efforts to ensure that members continue to be informed about our industry. The main vehicle to accomplish that today is through the AGA political action committee, or PAC. The AGA PAC will contribute to campaigns and sponsor events for political candidates who support the views of our industry.
Because the political action committee has become such a vital tool, we have launched an effort to strengthen our PAC to help ensure that employees affiliated with the commercial casino industry have the same voice in government as they had under the previous system. In addition to educating current AGA members about this new business imperative, we have launched an individual membership program to broaden participation in our PAC. Through this program, we hope to empower individual casino employees, industry suppliers and vendors, and others to get involved so we can educate lawmakers about the issues that are important to our success. It is also critical that we support those members of Congress who support us in Washington.
Beyond reinvigorating the AGA PAC, we have expanded our participation in some more innovative educational initiatives. We’ve partnered with the Congressional Economic Leadership Institute (CELI), which organizes educational trips for members of Congress and congressional staff. So far, we’ve hosted four trips to Las Vegas with dozens of participants. The CELI trips allow members and staff to learn how gaming has become an economic engine in Nevada. We emphasize the gaming industry’s efforts in security, surveillance, responsible gaming and employee training as well.
We also take advantage of the fact that gaming jurisdictions are popular destinations for both tourists and conventioneers. For example, when members of Congress travel to Las Vegas for trade shows, meetings or even a vacation, we piggy-back on those visits and arrange for them to get back-of-the-house tours to give them a better understanding of what we do and how we do it.
Outreach to specific blocs in Congress that support us — or at least those that are open to learning more about our business — has been an important undertaking for the AGA. For several years now, we have worked closely with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to help keep its members informed of the industry’s diversity initiatives. We’ve hosted caucus briefings for members and staff. We’ve had personal meetings. We’ve spoken at the Political Education and Leadership Institute annual event. And we’ve participated in the Gaming Industry Business Opportunities Roundtable.
One of the keys to our success in this area has been the effort of Dorothy Jackson, who as a government relations consultant to the AGA served as a liaison to the CBC and the NAACP. Her work has helped us strengthen our relationship with the minority community — so much so, in fact, that we’ve hired her full-time as our newest vice president of government affairs. As a leading political professional with more than 15 years of experience in Washington, Dorothy brings considerable expertise to the AGA. She served as legislative counsel to a U.S. Rep. Donald Payne of New Jersey when he was CBC chairman, and she’s also been chief of staff to three members of Congress — all following a career as an English teacher in the New York City Public Schools! In her new role, Dorothy will be responsible for broadening our government affairs representation, advancing our industry’s minority outreach program and building on the already significant accomplishments of our Diversity Task Force.
With Dorothy on board, we are poised to take our education efforts to another level. Because our business is so often misunderstood, there will always be challenges. But as we’ve done in the past, the AGA will work in its second decade to look for innovative ways to reach out to lawmakers and give them a better understanding of the commercial casino industry — continuing to fulfill our mission to protect the interests of our member companies and their employees.