Time magazine recently called it “The Decade from Hell.” Indeed, our nation and the world endured significant tragedy during the past 10 years, and these tragedies were not lost on the gaming industry. To start the decade, 9/11 forever altered the travel experience and our industry’s approach to safeguarding its employees and customers. The end of the decade presented an altogether different kind of crisis, this time in the form of failed banks, frozen credit markets and spending declines that also forced our industry to alter its approach to doing business.
But when I look back on the 2000s, I cannot help but be heartened by the progress our industry has made in the midst of such difficult national circumstances. I see an industry that was spurred forth by innovation, growth, endurance and compassion. These traits helped secure the industry’s place in the fabric of America’s entertainment landscape, and they will carry us forward as we face heretofore unknown challenges in the future.
Indeed, it is somewhat staggering to look back on how much our industry has changed and accomplished during the past decade. Perhaps no evolution has so altered the perception of gaming entertainment than the rise of non-gaming amenities that began in Las Vegas in the early 90s and has since spread to casino communities across the country. Who would have believed 10 years ago that revenues from restaurants, spas, shows, shopping and other amenities would so quickly outpace gaming revenues on the Strip?
Customers now expect a multi-faceted entertainment experience when they visit our casinos, and if you don’t have a plan for amenities built in to your proposal, you can forget about competing for a license in new jurisdictions. While slots and table games will always be our bread and butter, our industry now is about so much more.
The opening of the Borgata in Atlantic City epitomized the breadth of this trend, ushering in a new era of luxury to the Atlantic City casino experience and forcing other casino resorts in the market to upgrade their facilities and enhance their offerings. Since the Borgata’s opening, there has been a flood of gaming expansion in the mid-Atlantic states, as Delaware, Maryland and, most importantly, Pennsylvania have legalized new forms of gaming and introduced a new level of competition that is testing the resilience and ingenuity of operators throughout the region.
I noted earlier the tragedy that marked the past decade, and perhaps no tragedy impacted our industry more directly or more brutally than when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. I will never forget the stories from the immediate aftermath of the storm, as companies struggled to locate their employees and set up emergency relief centers to distribute basic necessities and provide services for workers and the community.
Never has the generosity and enduring spirit of our industry been more on display than in the weeks and months following the storm, as gaming companies throughout the country rushed to contribute donations to help affected employees, far-flung properties welcomed displaced workers, Gulf Coast casinos provided shelter for emergency responders and construction crews, and companies continued to provide pay and benefits to the more than 14,000 affected employees months after most companies in the region had ceased to do so.
The commercial casino industry was a leader in Gulf Coast recovery efforts, helping communities rebuild at the same time it worked to bring its local casinos back online. And back online they came – bringing jobs, customers and sorely needed tax revenues back to the region. In an incredible display of commitment and determination, most casinos reopened within a year after the storm, and, to this day, the industry continues to spur development and rejuvenation throughout the Gulf Coast region.
Development of a different sort marked another major milestone of the past decade – the debut and subsequent growth of Global Gaming Expo (G2E). When the AGA, along with our trade show partners at Reed Exhibitions, debuted G2E in Las Vegas just a few weeks after 9/11 back in 2001, we did so with a clear goal to develop an event by the industry and for the industry, a mantra I have repeated many times during the past nine years. G2E has grown into the largest, most comprehensive and most responsive event of its kind in the world and has become essential for doing business in our industry.
Beyond domestic activities, we cannot look back at the decade’s most significant events without turning an eye abroad – specifically to Asia and Macau. Gambling in Asia has been a mainstay for centuries. But when the Chinese government opened Macau’s gaming industry to competition in 2002, a new international phenomenon was born.
By 2006, gaming revenues in Macau had overtaken those of Las Vegas, establishing the tiny peninsula and island as the world’s largest gaming market. The rapid growth of Macau has been accompanied by significant challenges, from labor issues to the lack of infrastructure needed to support such a fast-growing population and industry. The Chinese government has been wary of allowing the industry to expand too rapidly, and vacillating visa restrictions have frustrated license holders.
But despite these and other challenges, the opportunities of the market and its growth potential are undeniable. In 2007, G2E Asia debuted in Macau to much success, bringing the region’s industry together like never before. And as other nations – most notably Singapore – prepare to welcome gaming, there is no doubt the Asian region will continue to be a global gaming leader in the decade to come.
No doubt these are but a few of the developments we have witnessed during the past 10 years. The resurgence of poker spurred by televised tournaments, the rise of online gambling and ongoing efforts to control and regulate that sector, the continued expansion of racetrack casinos, blockbuster mergers and the influx of private equity into the industry, technological revolutions in slot design and security systems – all these changes have shaped the gaming industry we know today.
Now we embark on a new decade. I cannot fathom the changes that lie ahead, much as I could not have imagined 10 years ago where we would be today. Wherever the future takes us, and whatever challenges we face, I am confident our industry will continue to lead, taking entertainment in exciting new direction and creating opportunity for communities and employees throughout the world.