Each December, it’s instructive to take a look back at challenges and accomplishments of the past year to help plan for an even more successful year ahead. The American Gaming Association’s (AGA) activities in 2007 covered issues as esoteric as currency reporting requirements and as politically charged as Internet gambling. Throughout all our efforts both on and off Capitol Hill, we remained steadfast in our role as a national advocate for an industry that is a vital contributor not only to the communities where we operate, but to the national economy as a whole.
On the legislative front, Internet gambling retained its prominent place on our agenda in 2007. With several bills related to the issue introduced this year, the AGA took a position on only one. We endorsed legislation offered by Reps. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Jon Porter (R-Nev.) calling for an in-depth study of Internet gambling by the National Academy of Sciences to identify the proper response of the U.S. to the growth of Internet gambling. A hearing on the bill took place in mid-November and at press time had garnered 66 co-sponsors.
On the tax front, the AGA, through its Tax and Finance Task Force, helped facilitate negotiations with the IRS on tip rates, which were successful in obtaining key benefits for gaming employees.
The Tax and Finance Task Force also worked with the IRS to ensure that, beginning in 2008, casinos and other sponsors of poker tournaments will no longer have to withhold federal income tax from the winners’ pay- out if, in most cases, sponsors report payments to winners to the IRS.
In another important regulatory development, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the U.S. Department of the Treasury this year approved the first-ever reduction of currency transaction reporting (CTR) requirements for the gaming industry – an exemption from reporting jackpots paid out by slot machines and video lottery terminals that the AGA had pushed for nearly a decade.
The AGA continued to work with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on various issues related to maritime security for riverboat casinos. In that regard, the AGA amended its Alternative Security Program (ASP) to allow members to reduce the impact of the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program on gaming vessels and facilities, and secured approval of the amended ASP through Oct. 2012.
There were a host of additional matters that received – and continue to receive – our attention in Washington, among them: terrorism risk insurance, travel and tourism – including developments surrounding the Visa Waiver Program – as well as the tax reform bill, immigration reform and various pieces of employment legislation.
The AGA also continued to promote initiatives and opportunities for business innovation through such channels as the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) family of events. 2007 marked the seventh year of the flagship G2E in Las Vegas and was our most successful ever with more than 30,000 attendees and more than 330,000 square feet of exhibit space featuring 750 gaming industry suppliers from around the world.
June 2007 saw the debut of G2E Asia in Macau to better serve the expanding marketplace in this part of the world. The inaugural conference and trade show proved a huge success, and with G2E Asia 2008 planned for the new Cotai Strip Convention and Exhibition Center at the Venetian Macao, we are looking to grow that event into just as large and diverse a show as that in Las Vegas. This spring, we also held G2E Institute in New Orleans, where we were grateful for the opportunity to work with the people in the Crescent City.
As I have emphasized in this space before, the commercial casino gaming entertainment industry has been at the forefront in promoting diversity within its ranks, and the AGA continued to build on this commitment in 2007. This began with the implementation of the AGA’s new Tier II Diversity Reporting program for suppliers, and we continue to work with our member companies to refine that effort. In addition, the AGA added a construction working group to its Diversity Task Force to enhance diversity in that segment of our industry. The AGA also continued its ongoing collaboration with the Congressional Black Caucus.
2007 also saw the AGA continue to provide research and information on the commercial gaming industry. We released two new white papers as part of our ongoing 10th Anniversary Research Series, one detailing the results of a survey of employee attitudes about the industry, and one reviewing the difficulties in effectively estimating the social costs and benefits of gambling. Earlier in the year, the AGA also released a valuable research tool for the public and the media in “Facts at Your Fingertips” as well as the annual AGA State of the States report that included a special section on the Gulf Coast region.
Responsible gaming remains near the top of the AGA’s agenda, and this year marked the 10th anniversary of the creation of Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW). The theme of this year’s campaign, “Responsible Gaming: In Your Own Words,” encouraged employee and public involvement, and an event in Atlantic City highlighted national employee poster and essay contest winners.
The AGA continued to work closely with the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), our affiliated charity. The year began with a new look and new Web site for the NCRG, and the organization partnered with the AGA to promote and enhance many of the organization’s responsible gaming initiatives, including packaging the 8th Annual Conference on Gambling and Addiction with G2E, as well as sponsoring a broad launch of EMERGE, the tool for training employees about responsible gaming. The AGA and the NCRG also collaborated to promote a fundraising drive that raised $7.5 million, bringing the industry’s total contribution to NCRG to more than $22 million in 11 years.
Finally, but by no means lastly, the AGA has developed and is applying a comprehensive and aggressive media outreach program, designed to educate reporters about how our industry works, how it contributes to the economic progress of the jurisdictions, states and nations in which it operates, and how our good corporate citizenship has gained the trust and admiration of communities.
As we close the door on 2007, we look forward to a new set of opportunities and challenges in 2008. It certainly will be an eventful year, with national elections dominating the spotlight. As ever, we will remain committed to our members to protect their businesses, promote their contributions and to enhance their opportunities throughout the world.