The concept of a national trade association is hardly a new one. But as a new group of maritime and security experts assembled recently to tackle the latest challenge facing the gaming industry, it struck me how successful this model has been for us in addressing legislative and regulatory challenges as well as confronting a host of other national issues.
Just before adjourning in November, the 107th Congress approved a measure that could have major implications for a large contingent within our industry. The Maritime Transportation Antiterrorism Act of 2002, signed into law by President George W. Bush, is part of an effort to ensure that U.S. waterways are protected against any future terrorist attack. The legislation calls for operators of any vessel or facility that could be considered a potential target - including riverboats and dockside facilities - to prepare and submit an antiterrorism plan to handle catastrophic emergencies. The responsible federal agency - in this case, the U.S. Coast Guard - is now tasked with developing regulations to implement the legislation.
Working closely with our state associations, the AGA has pulled together a task force to craft a response to this challenge. Our challenge is to ensure that the unique nature of our operations is recognized by the Coast Guard and taken into consideration as regulations are developed. By working together, the industry is able to benefit from the knowledge of numerous companies and their employees with an expertise in maritime, security, operations and risk management issues, as well as from those who are most familiar with individual state policies. In this way, we can be confident that the end result will reflect the best thinking within our industry.
We’ve seen before how a unified effort by our members is greater than the sum of the parts. For the past five years, we have coordinated an effort with some of the top tax and finance experts in our industry working with FinCEN, a division of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to develop a new rule for federal suspicious activity reporting (SARs). We were able to see concrete results from our partication, as FinCEN incorporated several of the recommendations that came through the AGA in drafting the final rule, which takes effect later this month.
This model also was successful during the deliberations of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. By marshaling our significant resources, including experts in widely divergent areas, we were able to represent the industry’s interests effectively and help shape a final report that documented the benefits of casino gaming.
Of course, as most of you know, the very reason for the AGA’s existence was the threat of a federal gross receipts tax on gambling - a challenge that required, and received, a strong, organized and unified response from our industry.
Whether it’s legislation that would impose a federal ban on state-regulated college sports wagering in Nevada, negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to develop a new Tip Rate Determination Agreement (TRDA) policy, or a proposal to garnish legal gambling winnings of “deadbeat dads,” the industry has seen that it is best served when it harnesses the knowledge of all its companies and employees and responds with one voice on federal issues. As the old saying goes, there is strength in numbers.
A unified voice also serves us well when we present our case to Congress or other federal officials. The AGA is developing materials that will help enumerate the economic benefits of the commercial casino industry by state and by congressional district. Based on aggregated data from participating AGA member companies, the Gaming Legislative Impact Program will document jobs, spending with local suppliers and vendors, taxes paid, charitable contributions and more. With this tool, we will be able to quantify the impact of our industry to individual members of Congress. The greater the participation, the greater the effectiveness of this tool for everyone in the industry.
Our success working together applies not only to federal legislative and regulatory issues but also to other issues that have drawn public scrutiny. For example, working with our members the AGA has developed an industrywide response to disordered gambling. To improve prevention and treatment, we created an independent organization, the National Center for Responsible Gaming, to fund peer-reviewed, scientific research on pathological gambling. To increase public and employee awareness, we also spearheaded initiatives such as Responsible Gaming Education Week and the AGA Responsible Gaming Lecture Series. We have pooled our resources in a similar fashion to develop responses to issues such as diversity, unattended minors, and casino marketing and advertising. None of these efforts could have been successful without the financial support from our member companies, and, more importantly, the time, talents and efforts of literally hundreds of member company employees who assist the AGA when duty calls.
It might be cliché to say, “United we stand, divided we fall,” but in the world of associations, it definitely applies. Our job at the AGA is to ensure that your views are represented whenever the federal government considers proposals that could affect your business or when issues of public concern are raised. While we’ve had our share of difficulties, we can also say that with each challenge we’ve shown how effective we can be as a group. With the continued support of our member companies, we hope to continue to build on our record of achievement for the gaming industry.