In looking back on this year, I think it’s safe to say that 2003 has been eventful for the gaming industry. Talk of gambling expansion dominated the airwaves and newspapers, and for the AGA that meant weighing in on industry issues. For the most part, it’s been an exercise in setting the record straight. Our experiences this year reminded us of an ongoing need to fulfill our important mission as an information clearinghouse for the gaming industry.
To fulfill that mission, the AGA has provided information resources to help advance public understanding of our business. One of our most important tools is our Web site—which averages more than 7,500 unique visitors monthly—and this year we made it even more of an asset. Last month, the AGA launched a new Web site with an updated design. But the improvements went beyond cosmetic. We’ve improved the site’s functionality, making it easier to navigate and find what you need while preserving the essential elements that first made the AGA’s site a one-stop shop for gaming information.
We’ve also added valuable new content. You’ll be able to find updated third-party resources, including contact information for gaming experts and gaming-related research, both organized by issue area. We have facilitated the information-gathering process for reporters with our new “Create a Press Kit” section in the Press Room, which allows them to collect all the materials on the site relating to a specific topic as well as general information about the AGA. And we have updated our popular “Myths and Facts” document to reflect the latest research, which now can be found on the site under FAQs.
AGA members will have password-protected access to additional materials, from full AGA studies to in-depth analyses of federal issues affecting gaming to resources for regulatory compliance.
As in the past, you’ll continue to have access to current and archived editions of State of the States: The AGA Survey of Casino Entertainment; the e-store for ordering AGA publications and materials; a dedicated events section; articles from AGA newsletters; and information on industry trends and initiatives.
In addition to the Web site, we have begun work on updating our economic impact studies, diversity snapshot and responsible gaming materials, all of which will be valuable resources as we continue to face challenges in both our existing and prospective jurisdictions.
While these initiatives are pro-active, we also spend a great deal of time responding to incorrect information. Not only did we respond to nearly 500 media requests, but I took on a new task: testifying before state legislative committees. This year, I testified in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Thus far this year, we also have responded regularly to inaccuracies in the media through letters to the editor.
As more and more Americans experience casino gambling firsthand, our job becomes easier, because fewer people are willing to accept the myths and stereotypes perpetuated by gambling opponents. According to Harrah’s annual survey, more than a quarter of the U.S. adult population visited a casino last year, making 297 million trips. And, as the AGA’s annual survey showed, acceptability is at its highest level in years, with 85 percent of Americans saying casino gambling is an acceptable entertainment option for themselves or others. That number climbs above 90 percent when the same question is asked of adults under age 40.
The growing acceptability of casino gambling is evident in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways. For example, in organizing the third annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E)—which attracted a record 22,700 attendees and more than 600 exhibitors—we were able to generate news coverage of our industry with the national media. The themed slot machines on display at G2E, which have become a fixture on casino floors nationwide, were featured in a business story in The New York Times—evidence that our products have become mainstream, just like electronics, video games and software.
Further evidence of our acceptability could be derived from recent campaigns by blue-chip companies, such as Delta Air Lines, DreamWorks, Ford Motor, the NBC division of General Electric, Levi Strauss, PepsiCo and Time Warner, which have invoked gambling themes in their advertising. As Al Merrin, vice chairman and executive creative director at BBDO Worldwide in New York, said: “The idea that gambling is more acceptable now, more of a mainstream activity, helped a lot” to inspire a plot with a gambling theme for a new PepsiCo commercial for Lay’s potato chips.
While we can be encouraged by these cultural trends, the fact remains that we continue to face obstacles in conveying information about our industry to the general public. And so we will continue next year to get our message out through various vehicles, whether it’s our Web site, media outreach, testimony before legislative bodies or other pro-active measures. The industry may have gotten a good workout in 2003, but that also means we’re in good shape for 2004.