Thank you for coming. Your presence is an important milestone for the gaming-entertainment industry. It also belies the unfair portrait anti-gaming zealots paint of an uncaring, ruthless industry with no concern for problem gamblers.
I don’t want to take too much of your time, but I do want to offer my perspective, learned over the last year from dealing daily with the media, political leaders and the public, on the issues of problem and underage gambling.
The growth of our industry has clearly proven that gaming-entertainment means jobs, economic opportunity and increased tax revenues. And as more and more people have been exposed to gaming, we have garnered more and more friends.
But, that growth has also spawned an avid set of opponents. Driven primarily by either moral considerations or by a misguided understanding of the impact of the industry, these opponents today weild an influence far beyond their numbers. And it would be very wrong to misjudge the danger they pose.
If we are to continue to prosper as an industry, we must face the problem and underage gambling issues head on. And we begin from a solid foundation.
The majority of the public supports legalized gaming. Harrah’s survey puts the number of U.S. adults who say casino entertainment is acceptable for themselves and others as high as 91 percent.
The results of recent survey done by the Virginia Center for Urban Development in the state of Virginia are also interesting. By 47 percent to 40 percent a majority of Virginians supported a specific proposal for legalizing riverboats. What was most interesting is that even 32 percent of those who identified themselves as “born again” or “evangelical Christians” favored the proposal.
So, the truth is the public wants to support gaming. The average American understands that gaming is great entertainment and a positive addition to communities.
We obviously have the public’s support and we have right answers to every single question and criticism raised by our opponents. Our Achilles heal, however, is the issue you address today.
Our enemies, failing to make headway in the moral, economic and crime arenas are increasingly focusing on the issue of problem and underage gambling.
In their crusade to crush our livelihood, they are finding two very receptive and important audiences. Elected officials and the media.
Elected officials because they see political advantage to catering to enemies of gaming and problem and underage gambers give them a “reason” to take a closer look at our industry.
And, the media, which is fascinated by problem and underage gambling because they lend themselves to sensational, heart-wrenching stories.
The problem gambling issue played a major, if not the major role, in convincing many members of Congress—who would otherwise have opposed the national gaming study legislation—to support it. The issue was considered so important by the Congress that the only independent study being funded is of problem gambling.
At the state level, many legislatures and regulatory bodies are requiring that gaming companies set funds aside for problem gambling. Other states are considering even more aggressive (perhaps intrusive) action. Missouri, for example, may adopt a voluntary exclusion regulation. Such a regulation would allow an individual to place his or her name on a list of people to be excluded from a casino and it would be the responsibility of the casino to see that the person was not allowed in.
As for the media. Well, gaming has been a hot topic for every major form of media this year. It has in fact been an obsession with some, such as The Washington Post. In the last year, The Post has written eight editorials, printed four anti—gaming opinion pieces and eight news stories. Now, I know The Washington Post doesn’t mean much to most of you (and I wish that were the case for me), but in Washington, its opposition is important because it is what every member of Congress and every official in the White House and the Administration reads at breakfast.
Literally hundreds of other stories have been written about our industry by other newspapers and dozens of television and radio reports have been done just in the last few months. Almost without exception problem gambling is mentioned in those stories.
Ultimately, media stories and political posturing on this issue affects an even more important audience: the public that supports legal gaming and may enjoy the entertainment. They support the industry now, but don’t want to be associated with an industry that is responsible for the ruination of innocent people.
The growth of our industry is certainly endangered by the issue and, it is not hyperbole to say that the industry’s very existence is at stake. We must respond appropriately and—importantly—proactively to this issue.
Our industry cannot afford to make the mistake made by the tobacco industry years ago. When the assault against tobacco began, at their own peril, the industry failed to admit that there were problems and stalled in their commitment to acting responsible to deal with them.
Today they are paying a heavy, heavy price, which, in addition to billions of dollars, could include the indictment for perjury of a few CEOs.
The first issue I raised with the AGA board when I agreed to take my present position was the necessity of acknowledging that problem and underage gambling is an important issue.
At that time, I was convinced that it is essential that the industry get ahead of the curve on the issue and recognize the importance of sending the message that we, as an industry, will take care of our own problems. I felt we must step to the plate, help identify the extent of the problem and then help find solutions that include not only treatment, but education and prevention.
The board agreed and at its first meeting authorized the creation of the National Center for Responsible Gaming. We intend for the Center to be on the cutting edge of efforts to find approaches and solutions for dealing with problem and underage gambling.
We announced the formation of the Center in Kansas City last February and have established headquarters there at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. We have also approved our first grant, which went to Harvard Medical School. That grant will result in the first comprehensive analysis of the myriad of gaming prevalence studies.
I told reporters who were skeptical of our efforts when we established the Center, they didn’t have to rely on our words. I encouraged them to look at our actions. By funding a studys by prestigious institutions such as Harvard Medical School’s Division of Addiction we are confirming our commitment.
Even Bernie Horne who is our good friend Rev. Gray’s lobbyist in Washington had positive words about Howard Schaffer who heads the Division of Addiction and is a member of the Center’s board.
The AGA has also appointed an active and aggressive Responsible Gaming Task Force it is responsible for this workshop today and the Resource Guide you have all received.
These are the first steps we are taking. We intend to do much more, but the importance of what the AGA does pales by comparison to what the men and women in this room can do.
Our goal must be to make this industry’s record so strong on problem and underage gambling that no criticism will stand up. And you are the ones who can make that happen.
Take the idea and solutions raised in this workshop and find ways to make them work within your companies.
We have a tremendous industry. The entertainment we provide is the best in the world and the jobs and economic opportunity we are creating is something we can all be proud of.
In closing I have to tell you that , considering my political background, I can not help but take a little pleasure in the political dilemma that the success of industry will pose for a few office holders and seekers. I recently heard what I consider is probably an apocryphal story about a politician addressing the issue whiskey drinking. I have altered the story to refer to a political candidate from a state that benefits greatly from gaming who has been asked to reply to a newspaper publisher who demands that the politician take a stand on gaming.
The candidate might say:
“I had not intended to discuss this most controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know…I take a firm stand on every issue…regardless of how I feel about gambling. And, brother, here’s where I stand on the burning question.
If you mean playing a high—risk game of chance with your moral fiber, betting the house, going for broke, shooting craps with two—time losing saps, cutting the cards with your loving and unknowing family in the balance, getting your thumbs broken by wiseguys with crooked noses, sporting a new pair of concrete goulashes in the bottom the river, coming up lemons, losing your shirt along with your morals and Christian ways, spinning Satan’s wheel, squandering all your money next to a Playboy bunny, screaming “all or nothing” at the top of your lungs knowing full well that if you win it won’t be to buy barefooted baby those new pair of shoes but to shout “let it ride” in the next breath—then, sir, I am against this devil’s playground known as a casino and the heathen’s game of high stakes with all my worldly power.
“However, if you mean a little friendly wager, a gentlemen’s bet, dealing a few hands with some good time Charlies, harmlessly hazarding a guess, spinning the wheel of fortune, pulling on the lever to happiness, clapping as old ladies yell “jackpot” with such cheer in their hearts, letting the chips lie where they may, hanging a pair of fuzzy dice from your rearview mirror, engaging in an innocuous little game of chance that generates billions of dollars worth of revenues into the good old U.S. of A’s economy, revenues that are used to provide tender care for little crippled children, our blind, our sick and to build highways, hospitals, schools—then brother, I’m for it. After all, isn’t our own precious God—given life a gamble.
“This, sir, is my stand. I will not…retract one word, nor will I compromise. You asked for my stand on this issue. There it is.”
The truth is, we are not strong enough politically—yet—to put political candidates in that position, but we should be and with the support of industry leaders, such as those who createdand are funding the AGA and with the effort of people like all of you, we will be soon.
I thank you sincerely for being here. I hope I have made clear how important I believe the work you are doing is.