After nearly 12 years at the helm of the AGA and the many years I spent as a gaming lawyer in Nevada, I can say with all honesty that I am never surprised by the arguments our opponents use to attack us. The truth of the matter is that some people will never look favorably upon our industry and that a percentage of that group will always be vocal about their dislike.
What does surprise me is that these opponents continue to gain traction with policy-makers, media representatives and the public despite the fact that their claims are baseless. Particularly worrying is how these arguments gain even greater traction in new gaming jurisdictions and states that are considering legalizing gaming – places where officials and citizens are not as familiar with our industry.
A quick browse through the newspapers in these markets shows just how misunderstood our industry is, both in the media and by other audiences such as policy-makers and the public. Recent editorials in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Massachusetts all have misrepresented our industry in some way, one even going so far as to connect the industry with organized crime – a claim that should have been dead more than 50 years ago.
The misunderstanding in these markets is further fueled by the presence of so-called “experts” who claim to have research that proves the ills of the gaming industry. They are very vocal, and while their information may be flawed, they garner significant attention in new and potential gaming markets, playing on the emotions of citizens in these jurisdictions rather than presenting credible, scientific facts.
It’s often difficult to distinguish junk science from the real thing, but citizens who live in gaming jurisdictions see firsthand every day how the industry positively impacts their communities. They know the tax revenues from casinos go to their children’s schools, to important municipal projects and to other community needs. And casino jobs have helped them and their neighbors earn a better living, get off welfare and other public programs, and gain access to quality health care benefits.
All of these points are echoed by the findings of a 2005 survey of elected officials and civic leaders in gaming communities, which revealed that nearly 80 percent of the respondents believe casinos have had a positive impact in their communities. In addition, 82 percent of these leaders said casinos act responsibly, are good corporate citizens and look out for the interests of their customers.
On top of this, volumes of empirical research conducted over the years have put to rest many of the myths gaming opponents have touted as truths, reaffirming time and time again that casinos are not linked to organized crime, bankruptcy, increased crime rates or other ills.
And yet, somehow, our opponents’ voices often still seem to be heard above ours.
At the AGA, one of our primary roles is to serve as an information clearinghouse, educating all interested parties about the commercial casino industry. We provide information on a wide variety of topics and industrywide initiatives including diversity efforts, responsible gaming programs and legislative issues that affect casinos – and our efforts are very successful.
Our annual State of the States survey of casino entertainment provides the economic and public polling numbers on the nationwide casino industry that reporters, legislators and regulators use when writing or speaking about our industry. We also have produced a number of publications that provide detailed answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the gaming industry, as well as a series of white papers examining some of the most prominent, current issues surrounding our industry.
In addition to our vast library of printed materials, I have the opportunity to educate even more people about our industry and the noteworthy contributions we’re making every day through speeches, letters to the editor and other published articles. It’s a role I enjoy fulfilling because educating people about our industry and the magnitude of the benefits it provides always will be imperative to our ongoing success.
However, to be universally successful, this education effort must be a pervasive, industrywide priority. Throughout the country, we all need to play a role in continuing to educate decision-makers, media and the public about our industry: how it works, who it helps and why it is such a vital part of the state and community economies where our casinos are located.
In addition to the measures noted above, the AGA continues to do our part by developing new resources for our members to use in raising awareness about our industry in the communities where they live and work.
We recently published a new resource called U.S. Commercial Casino Industry: Facts at Your Fingertips, which provides brief overview information about the industry, our initiatives and the impact of casinos in the communities where they operate; references to academic studies and Web sites with more detailed information on particular subjects; descriptions of some of the industry’s organizations, events and publications; quick “key facts” about the industry; a glossary of commonly confused gaming terms; and other important information. As with our other resources, Facts at Your Fingertips is posted on our Web site so anyone who is interested can access it.
Undeniably, our opponents will always be out there, trying to discredit us and influence people to ignore the facts. Their presence will be felt most strongly in new gaming jurisdictions and states that are considering legalizing gaming. To make certain their voices are not the only ones heard, we as an industry must stand up together to ensure that the body of credible empirical research documenting the important contributions casinos make does not get lost in the fray. We at the AGA will continue to do our part – and we encourage you to join us in this critical endeavor to ensure the future success of the industry.