February 28, 2017
By Aaron Stanley
Seeing the grand opening of MGM National Harbor outside of Washington, DC last December carried a special significance for Sara Slane, senior vice president for public affairs at the American Gaming Association.
Slane, who previously used the last name Rayme but has reverted to her maiden name, played a critical role in bringing the property from the conceptual phase to reality during her stint on the government relations team of MGM Resorts.
Watching the project come to completion was surreal, but there was no shortage of hurdles, she recalls. She was involved in all of the heavy lifting – from the community outreach and education efforts to the passage of the epic Question 7, the $87 million ballot measure that authorized the issuance of a casino license in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
But for the past three years, Slane has broadened her horizons to advocate for the gaming industry as a whole. In 2014, she made the jump from MGM to the American Gaming Association, which had come under the leadership of new chief executive Geoff Freeman.
As Freeman was building his communications team from the ground up, he reached out to Slane seeking her advice on who could fill the top public affairs role.
“He asked me if I knew anyone who would be good for the position,” she said. Shortly thereafter, she realized that the role would be an optimal next step to her career and threw her name into consideration.
In particular, she saw the potential underlying Freeman’s vision of revamping the group from a defensive lobby group that sought to protect the industry from attacks to a more proactive organization, one that would advance gaming’s interests and message more broadly.
“I really admired Geoff’s approach to communications, government relations and research all working in tandem,” she says.
In the years since, she has played a key role in all of the group’s major public relations campaigns and coalitional efforts – from the Get to Know Gaming campaign to the current push to repeal the federal prohibition on sports betting.
Particularly rewarding has been the substantial positive attention garnered by the sports betting push – including comments by sports league commissioners, 50-plus media mentions of the illegal Super Bowl wagering effort, and even President Donald Trump addressing the issue.
These successes are particularly sweet for Slane because of the groundwork that she and the AGA put into building consensus of the group’s diverse membership around a policy position that wasn’t in everyone’s immediate interest. “Getting the industry to come around a unified position on sports betting was a major accomplishment,” she says.
For Slane, this victory is emblematic of the inherent challenges that come with transitioning from a company to a trade association. She has gone from looking out for the singular interests of MGM to advancing the much more expansive interests of the gaming industry as a whole. It has been a sometimes tricky role to navigate, she explains – particularly as the industry is still in search of its bearings on numerous areas.
The heavy regulation of the industry and the limited number of available licenses also means that competition and disagreements within the member base can be more heated compared to other sectors. “It’s still a young and dynamic industry,” she notes, which in turn creates more room for debate and a critical need to approach all issues diplomatically.
Slane is also at the forefront of advancing the AGA’s bread-and-butter issues and public education efforts, intended to serve as the bedrock for future growth as the industry matures. These areas include responsible gaming, common sense regulatory reforms, and the continual countering of negative stereotypes about the industry.
Taken together, this all adds up to an impressive resume for someone who first broke into gaming in 2006 with MGM following a stint as a campaign staffer for Catherine Cortez Masto, who was then running for Attorney General and is now a U.S. senator representing Nevada.
What’s Slane’s secret to success? “I won’t be outworked by anyone,” she says.
Slane describes her and her team’s approach to public affairs work as relentless. Every day, her and her team are looking for creative ways to weave the perspective of the gaming industry into whatever issue is driving the day.
That determination has been a driving force behind the AGA’s remake into a 21st century trade association and gaming into a 21st century industry.