Ten years ago, our industry was dawning on a new era. Nevada and New Jersey had recently lost their “monopoly” on the casino business, as South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri legalized commercial casino gaming in rapid succession, followed soon thereafter by Indiana and Michigan. Despite its growth, the industry remained provincial in many ways, seeing itself as individual companies, not a national force.
That all changed in 1994, when the Clinton administration proposed a 4 percent federal tax on gross gambling receipts. While the proposed tax went nowhere, it was a wake-up call for our industry. With our new visibility we had become more of a target for federal intervention. Individual companies recognized that a united front would be the most effective way to address an increasing number of industrywide issues. This was not a revolutionary idea: After all, even pasta manufacturers had a presence in Washington! Just a year later, the American Gaming Association (AGA) was founded, and we began an evolution alongside the industry we represent.
In recognition of a decade of work on behalf of our industry, I wanted to look back on our major accomplishments and look forward to what may be on the horizon for the next 10 years.
Our biggest priority as an organization has been to represent the interests of commercial casinos on Capitol Hill and before the federal agencies. For the past decade, we have faced ongoing threats — proposals from the IRS to tax employee meals and double or triple assumed taxable income of employees, from Congress to ban college sports wagering in Nevada, from the Clinton and Bush administrations to require casinos to collect from the winnings of deadbeat dads, and more — but, with the assistance of the Nevada congressional delegation and representatives from other gaming states, no adverse federal legislation has passed since the AGA has been in existence.
While a bill creating the National Gambling Impact Study Commission may have initially been viewed as negative, the final version signed into law called for an examination of the overall impacts, which we saw as an opportunity rather than a threat. In fact, our work with the National Gambling Impact Study Commission helped establish the AGA as a central, unifying force in the industry. To ensure that the commission did not conduct a one-sided examination, we monitored the panel every step of the way and coordinated the industry’s response on the ground. The fact that the final report confirmed the important economic and social contributions from the commercial casino industry and put to rest the erroneous anti-gaming rhetoric, myths and superstitions regarding regulation, crime and social problems is a sign that our response was effective.
At the same time, as an industry we recognized the urgent need to address problem gambling. After consulting with some of the nation’s top scientific experts, we established the National Center for Responsible Gaming, the first national organization devoted exclusively to funding independent, peer-reviewed research on disordered gambling. To date, the casino industry has committed more than $13 million to the NCRG and awarded $8 million in grants. These grants have resulted in the development of groundbreaking research and even spurred the federal government to begin awarding grants in this field.
Another milestone in the area of responsible gaming was the implementation of the AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming. This comprehensive set of guidelines represented a commitment to integrate responsible gaming into daily operations. The provisions, which cover employee and customer education, underage gambling, alcohol service, advertising and research, established a high standard for all companies involved in the casino business.
One of our missions when we were established in 1995 was to serve as an information clearinghouse, and over the years we have found many ways to achieve that goal. We have gathered economic data about the industry. We have compiled and organized a huge volume of information and posted it on our Web site. And we have served as the voice of the industry with the media, providing background information, conducting interviews, and responding to inaccuracies through letters to the editor.
We also developed a vehicle to help the industry achieve its goals for professional and business growth. Global Gaming Expo (G2E) has grown from a concept in 2000 to an economic force in 2004. The show had a record 25,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors in more than 250,000 square feet of trade-show floor space — a 78 percent increase in attendees and nearly double the show floor space of our debut in 2001. Coinciding with the AGA’s 10th anniversary, G2E in 2005 will celebrate five years.
It’s difficult to know what lies ahead for our industry, but there are certain things we know — and certain things we hope for — in the next decade. Legislatively, we are fortunate that Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada — someone who knows and understands our industry — will be the minority leader in the U.S. Senate. If bills that unfairly target our business are considered, we know we’ll have a champion in Sen. Reid. In the area of problem gambling, I hope we’ll continue to broaden the base that contributes funding toward research and make breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of this disorder. I hope that by disseminating facts about our industry we will continue to “normalize” our industry — in other words, put us on a level playing field with other businesses. And finally, I hope we will continue to grow G2E to serve the needs of our industry.
In 10 years, we have built a strong foundation for our industry that I hope that it will grow even stronger in our next decade together.