December is a month when we are often reflective, looking back on the past year and our accomplishments. This time, I’m doing so through a lens of what will be, in 2005, the 10-year anniversary of the American Gaming Association (AGA). As we’ve done every year since our inception, the AGA has strived to be the voice of this industry and give you tools to build on your success.
From the AGA’s perch in our nation’s capital, we are proud to say that, with the assistance of the Nevada delegation and others supporters, no adverse federal legislation was passed in 2004. We followed the progress of Internet gambling to ensure that a version of the legislation approved by the Senate Banking Committee — which did not respect states’ rights and did not provide for a level playing field among all segments of the gaming industry — would not be added as an amendment to a spending bill that could win easy approval. We worked with our members in riverboat jurisdictions that were subject to the Maritime Transportation Security Act to keep them informed of changes to Coast Guard requirements. And we continued to monitor any possible movement on the House and Senate bills that would ban college sports wagering in Nevada. Both were introduced at the beginning of the 108th Congress and referred to their respective committees, but neither has seen any action.
One policy issue that’s been top of mind but has been fought outside the Beltway is smoking. We have worked closely with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), a standards-setting organization, to emphasize our support of reasonable, science-based solutions to indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. As part of that effort, we successfully completed our petition drive to establish a separate standards committee within ASHRAE to address concerns specific to the hospitality industry. Now that the requisite number of petitions has been gathered, ASHRAE’s full membership will vote early next year on whether or not to establish that committee. We also established a board-level subcommittee to address IAQ issues.
To help us fight some of our legislative and regulatory battles, this year we opened up membership in the AGA to individuals. This new individual membership program will not only broaden our representation but also give them a direct voice on issues affecting our business.
In addition to our progress on policy issues, the AGA continued to fulfill its mission as an information resource. We were invited to testify in January before the British Parliament as that country explored how to best regulate gambling. At their request, I shared the industry’s perspective on a wide range of topics, including taxation and problem gambling, based on our experience here in the United States.
We disseminated the facts about the industry in other ways as well. The Gaming Industry FAQ, as its name implies, answers frequently asked questions about our industry and dispels common myths. The same information is available online with references to the resource material. We also published our annual State of the States survey, which for seven years has provided reporters, policy-makers and the public with economic data and public opinion polling results on gaming issues. In the coming weeks we will be re-releasing the Industry Report, a compilation of testimony before the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.
Another significant milestone was the implementation of the AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming. To help our members fulfill the provisions of the code, we created an online Code of Conduct Resource Guide. One of the new tools offered in that resource guide is an “odds brochure,” which will satisfy a provision of the code calling for our members to make available to customers information generally explaining the odds of winning and losing.
Other new tools added to the AGA Web site this year include the online Diversity Resource Guide, which was developed as an information resource for gaming companies, disadvantaged and minority and women-owned suppliers, and individuals interested in learning about industry best practices, licensing and certification, state regulations and employment.
On the commerce side, the AGA has continued to expand its role in providing educational and business growth opportunities for our industry. Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the industry’s flagship trade event, saw dramatic, across-the-board increases in attendance. Just over 25,000 people were at G2E this year, a 10 percent increase compared to 2003. Nearly 16,000 attended the conference and show, up 11.6 percent from last year. International attendance jumped nearly 30 percent, and Native American attendance was up almost 11 percent. The word from our exhibitors was phenomenal, and all you had to do was walk the crowded show floor on the afternoon of day three — when shows typically start to shut down — to see that G2E was different. Likewise, the launch of F&B at G2E was a success and provided a good foundation for the future.
Another new venture for us this year was the addition of two shows to our portfolio: Casino Design, which was held in June in Atlantic City, and Racino, which was held last month in Toronto. We fully expect these shows to have the same success as G2E and help satisfy the professional needs of our industry in these two growing areas.
And so now we look forward to 2005. With no shift in the control of the White House or either house of Congress, we don’t expect any dramatic changes in the legislative agenda. There will, however, be other differences that could affect our industry. The most significant is the likely ascension of Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to become minority leader in the U.S. Senate, giving us an ally in a position where he can stand up for our interests. There also will be changes in the leadership and makeup of committees that handle gambling-related legislation — changes that could impact policy decisions.
The casual observer might say that 2004 was “same old, same old” for the casino industry — more tax increases and more trumped-up arguments about social costs. But we’re also seeing the industry mature, expand, diversify and become more of an economic force. As we begin a new year with a new Congress and a new term for the president, we hope to build on what we have accomplished in a decade of work on behalf of our industry.