Where does the time go? It seems like just yesterday, the American Gaming Association (AGA) was celebrating its 10th anniversary, but now we’re another year older and the industry is another year further in its continued development into a major force in the global economy. Fortunately, the AGA has a lot to show for the past year.
As always, the AGA’s first priority is representing the gaming entertainment industry and protecting its interests here in Washington, and the legislative and regulatory agendas were packed in 2006. Internet gambling legislation dominated headlines for much of the year, and while the AGA was neutral on the version of legislation that ultimately was signed into law, the board in April did alter its position to support an independent study commission to evaluate the impacts of Internet gaming. The AGA also was active on the issue of immigration reform, joining with UNITE HERE, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other national business groups in calling for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that takes into account both border security and the creation and protection of employment opportunities for the millions of immigrant workers who help our industry succeed.
After 10 years of AGA efforts, FinCEN recently announced a proposed amendment to Bank Secrecy Act regulations that would exempt from currency transaction reporting requirements jackpots from slot machines or video lottery terminals, which will greatly reduce the compliance burden for casinos while still ensuring the government has full access to these important reports.
In the second half of the year, the AGA worked with its casino members and their employees to press the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to adopt fair and reasonable tip rates for gaming employees, as well as to resolve a snafu of erroneous IRS tax notices sent to employees who were supposed to be protected from audit under current reporting agreements. And, during the lame duck session in December, the AGA worked to gain an extension of the final date by which affected gaming companies can benefit from the Katrina relief depreciation tax benefit.
Throughout the year, the AGA continued its work with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on various issues related to maritime security for riverboat casinos, as well as continued to monitor and address new developments on issues surrounding suspicious activity reporting, reform of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, indoor air quality and more.
Beyond Washington, the AGA in 2006 demonstrated its ongoing commitment to promoting business innovation and opportunity through the continued growth of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) family of events. In March, G2E launched a new Web seminar series featuring interactive panel discussions on the latest trends affecting the gaming entertainment industry, and in May we debuted G2E Institute, providing an intimate, tailored, workshop-style educational platform where industry professionals could learn the latest trends in key industry growth areas. Then in June, representatives from Reed Exhibitions and I traveled to Macau to announce our purchase of the Asian Gaming Expo and the launch next year of G2E Asia.
Finally, November brought the sixth annual flagship G2E event to Las Vegas. Created by the industry and for the industry, G2E continues to be the single most important event for the international gaming community. Showcasing the next generation of global gaming, this year’s conference and trade show featured across-the-board growth in attendance levels, the number of exhibitors, size of the show floor, international and Native American participation and more.
Responsible gaming continued to be a major focus of the AGA’s industrywide initiatives in 2006. This year marked the 10th anniversary of the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), with the organization entering its second decade with a broader focus on collaboration and on enhancing the positive impact of vital research within casino communities nationwide through a decidedly public health approach to disordered gambling.
One of the first programs the NCRG will introduce as part of its expanded mission is EMERGE, a new tool for training employees about responsible gaming developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School. In 2006, the NCRG tested the program with employees at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and a group of employees from casinos in Iowa, and the complete program will be made available to gaming companies across the country beginning in 2007.
2006 also saw the continued success of the “We’re Banding Together to Keep it Fun” campaign, with more than 140,000 English and Spanish responsible gaming wristbands being sold during the AGA’s ninth annual Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW). RGEW also featured the debut of a new responsible gaming workbook for employees, as well as the completion of a project to translate all of the AGA’s responsible gaming materials into Spanish.
The AGA continued its commitment to diversity in 2006, participating in a number of events designed to educate minority-, women- and disadvantaged-owned businesses (MWDBEs) about opportunities in the gaming entertainment industry. This summer, the AGA also launched Winning Hands, a quarterly e-newsletter designed to keep AGA members, stakeholders and the media abreast of diversity activities in the industry. And in November, the AGA launched a new Tier II Diversity Reporting program for suppliers, which beginning in early 2007 will require suppliers of participating gaming companies to submit quarterly reports detailing the amount of business they contract with MWDBEs.
In our ongoing mission to serve as a clearinghouse for information, the AGA has maintained its commitment to providing reliable, informative research on the industry. 2006 saw the continuation of the AGA’s popular 10th anniversary Research Series through the release of white papers exploring indoor air quality issues and analyzing Internet gambling and its policy implications, respectively. The AGA’s 2006 State of the States survey, which included the results of an in-depth survey of online gamblers, also garnered significant attention by.
Looking ahead, the reshaping of Congress in the recent election could prove favorable for the gaming industry. With several leadership roles in Congress being filled by individuals hailing from gaming states or having extensive experience with our industry, it is likely they will be more educated and open to industry concerns. We look forward to working with the new Congress on issues like immigration reform, as well as renewing our call for an independent study commission to explore Internet gambling.
2007 also will mark the 10th anniversary of RGEW, the broad launch of EMERGE, and an entirely new look for the NCRG. We’re bringing G2E Institute to New Orleans this April, then will travel to Macau in June for the debut of G2E Asia. Throughout these and other planned activities, the AGA will continue to safeguard the interests of our industry and its employees, ensuring the next generation of gaming entertainment is as successful as the last.