Change is in the air in Washington, D.C. But before we move into the new year, I always find it instructive to look back at the past 12 months to take stock of lessons learned and accomplishments made.
There’s no doubt that 2008 was a year of great challenge for the U.S. commercial casino industry. While economists are only now willing to call this economic morass in which we find ourselves a recession, our industry has been feeling the impact of the downturn since late last year. The drop in consumer spending and freezing of capital markets has resulted in job losses and altered growth plans for the immediate future. But despite these hard times, millions of Americans continue to visit casinos and take advantage of the entertainment options we offer, and I am confident we will weather the storm.
Here in Washington, the AGA continued to work on behalf of our member companies to protect the interests of the industry and its employees on Capitol Hill, develop programs to help the industry achieve its goals and educate stakeholders about the benefits of commercial casino gaming,.
The AGA joined the travel industry policy council, a group of travel industry associations working to propose solutions to national and regional travel challenges and serve as a national advocate for the interests of travelers and travel-related businesses. On the regulatory front, the AGA coordinated the industry’s response to a proposed rulemaking by the Department of Justice to revise accessibility standards related to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently, the AGA is coordinating industry negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service to adjust the recently adopted tip-rate agreements in light of the current economic crisis and its impact on revenues in the industry.
The AGA’s diversity task force also was busy in 2008. The human resources subcommittee launched a new industrywide recruitment program to attract top graduates to careers in gaming, while an Opportunity Expo in Tunica, Miss. put minority- and women-owned businesses in direct contact with purchasers from the nation’s leading gaming companies. This fall, the AGA released the results of a new report on diversity in employment and purchasing throughout the industry. The results indicate the gaming industry continues to be a national leader in hiring women and minorities and that it far exceeds common industry standards in terms of the amount of business conducted with minority- and women-owned businesses.
The AGA continued its efforts to promote responsible gaming through its annual Responsible Gaming Education Week, and through the myriad education activities of its affiliated charity, the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG). Among the new resources launched in 2008 were a program to assist parents and mentors in talking with their children about gambling, as well as two new research monographs focused on gambling and public health.
June witnessed the second annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia event, featuring an exhibition floor more than three times larger than for 2007’s inaugural event. The astounding growth in attendance and exhibit space sent a clear signal that G2E Asia is the industry trade event for the Asian gaming marketplace.
And throughout the year, the AGA continued to pursue an aggressive outreach campaign to educate the media and other stakeholders about the impact of our industry. Through the development of informative industry surveys and publications, media education events and innovative new resources to assist with member communications efforts, the AGA helped shape public opinion about gaming and encourage the media to seek out the facts rather than rely on old stereotypes and misconceptions about the industry.
November was an eventful one in the gaming industry, beginning with Election Day. For all intents and purposes, November 4 was a banner day for the gaming industry. The victories in Maryland, Missouri, Colorado and West Virginia prove the value of the gaming entertainment industry and the vital role we play in providing jobs, development and tax revenues for states and towns across the country. The people have spoken, and they have acknowledged gaming as a vital community partner.
Final regulations to govern the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act (UIGEA) also were introduced last month. Under the new rules, credit card companies will be required to create some additional code numbers for gambling, but the inability to clearly define illegal online gambling and a reluctance to force financial institutions to even attempt to monitor individual customer transactions have largely robbed the law of its teeth. The rules are effective on January 19, with compliance required by Dec. 1, 2009, but the impact on current online gambling activities is roundly expected to be minimal.
November also brought the leaders of the international gaming community to Las Vegas for the eighth annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E). Nearly 30,000 participants saw first-hand how the industry continues to evolve and deliver the innovative products that keep our customers coming back for more. It was our biggest show yet, and proved a catalyst for forward-looking collaboration across all the sectors within the broader industry
Of course, history won’t remember this past November for the accomplishments of the gaming industry, but for the culmination of one of the most extraordinary presidential campaigns in our nation’s history. The decisive victory by Barack Obama – the most incredible presidential candidate I have ever seen – has energized the country and brought a spirit of change to Washington that hasn’t been felt for quite some time. The new administration certainly has its work cut out for it. It is too soon to tell how the changes in the White House and on Capitol Hill might affect the gaming industry, or whether a more-Democratic congress will be more or less likely to revisit Internet gambling or pass any other pro- or anti-gaming legislation. Time will tell.
Time also will tell how the economy continues to affect the gaming industry in 2009. The current outlook portends a lengthy recession, and the impact to customer spending and the availability of capital no doubt will be significant. Despite the economic situation, however, the gaming industry remains fundamentally strong. Ingenuity and innovation have long been the hallmark of our industry, and it is these traits that have often helped us overcome past challenges. I am confident that, armed with new ideas and renewed determination, there is no industry better positioned than ours to weather these difficult times and recover stronger than before.