January 20, 2017
By Geoff Freeman
2016 was a remarkably consequential year for the gaming industry. Just consider the following things that took place: The National Hockey League announced that Las Vegas will host the newest expansion franchise; the National Football League entertained very public discussion and consideration of Las Vegas as the best future home for the Oakland Raiders; the Commission on Presidential Debates hosted the final debate—watched by 71 million people—in Las Vegas; and a former casino owner was elected as the next president of the United States.
Two things stand out as remarkable about each of these occurrences. First, all of them are unlikely to have taken place just five to 10 years ago, and second, antiquated concerns about casino gaming did not appear as an obstacle in any of these situations.
This is a remarkable transformation for the gaming industry—one that solidifies its place as a mainstream industry that is a critical provider of high-quality American jobs, needed tax revenue, and a proven partner to organizations seeking to strengthen communities from coast to coast.
It is an incredible time to lead the gaming industry, and I could not be more excited about what the future holds.
Today’s American Gaming Association is leveraging the industry’s national footprint and never-higher approval ratings to pave the way for vital reinvestment and exciting innovation. The AGA—once seen as a promoter of Las Vegas Strip properties—has succeeded in uniting the gaming industry. At the start of 2017, we now represent nearly 90 percent of the commercial gaming sector, 95 percent of the supplier sector and nearly one-third of the tribal gaming community based on total revenue in each category. This is a remarkable transformation.
As a unified industry, we are better positioned than at any prior point to achieve our objectives.
Three critical examples of this in 2016 included the IRS choosing not to pursue a misguided policy to lower slot tax thresholds and track player activity through a “Big Brother”-style program, the Justice Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the international Financial Action Task Force praising the gaming industry’s commitment to anti-money laundering compliance, and the Federal Trade Commission’s important decision to respect the business value of and consumer benefits associated with resort fees.
In each instance, the casino gaming industry’s unified position and strategy drove a favorable outcome.
As we build on the success of 2016, the incoming presidential administration and new Congress present new opportunities and potential challenges. In both areas, we will be aggressive and clear in advocating for what is best for gaming and our customers.
AGA is eager to work with the Trump administration, and we’ve sent a memo to the Trump transition team detailing policy issues critical to gaming’s success. In the letter, we detail how the AGA seeks to build a public policy environment that is conducive to reinvestment and innovation—two essential elements of a successful entertainment product. In addition, the AGA hopes to highlight two key initiatives to the Trump team.
First is illegal gambling. The gaming industry has forged strong ties with law enforcement to expose and eliminate illegal gambling activities, which fund large criminal enterprises involved in human trafficking, racketeering, money laundering, extortion and fraud. Last year, AGA worked with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as it examined the nomination of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and received assurance that the Justice Department would dedicate attention to illegal gambling. A few months later, we formed a partnership with the FBI to help solicit tips from citizens about illegal gambling activities.
Second is sports betting. President-elect Trump has expressed his views on sports betting and appears to agree that current law has failed. His comments acknowledging the vast illegal betting market that exists are encouraging. We are optimistic that states and tribes will soon have the opportunity to choose if they wish to regulate sports betting in the same way they have chosen whether they wish to regulate other casino gaming products. But we have a lot of work to do—even before we see any type of legislation begin moving on Capitol Hill.
We’re also encouraged by President-elect Trump’s desire to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. There’s no doubt that making it easier for people to get from point A to point B, whether it’s going across the country or across town, will help our industry grow and generate even more tax revenue. Further, more people finding well-paying jobs as part of an investment in infrastructure means more discretionary income for working families who have not recovered from the recession as quickly as others.
Another important issue is travel. Clearly, this matters to gaming companies, who rely on significant travel from around the world. We will continue to support a robust and secure Visa Waiver Program and encourage a welcoming environment for foreign visitors, many of whom are interested in enjoying the casino gaming experience.
Finally, it’s important to keep Yucca Mountain a figment of the federal government’s imagination. It simply makes no sense to store the country’s dangerous nuclear waste a mere 90 miles from the world’s premier tourist and business travel destination. One accident could devastate not just the gaming industry and Las Vegas, but the entire state of Nevada.
2016 was a year of tremendous growth for the casino gaming industry. The AGA looks forward to working with the Trump administration in 2017 to advance key issues important to gaming’s future.