June 1, 2017
By John Brennan
The audience at last week's East Coast Gaming Conference in Atlantic City surely knew it would get a pep talk from American Gaming Association president Geoff Freeman.
But they may not have expected the level of intensity.
For instance, Freeman declared 2016 to be "the most monumental year in gaming industry history."
The NHL's pending debut of a new franchise in Las Vegas, the NFL's approval of the Oakland Raiders' relocation to the same city, and the election of former casino owner Donald Trump were cited by Freeman as part of what he sees as dramatic trendlines.
Freeman noted that while Trump's casino bankruptcies in Atlantic City drew criticism during the campaigns, it wasn't too many years ago that having been a casino owner previously would have been a disqualifier for many voters. The takeaway, he said is that the gaming industry has achieved "mainstream" status.
The next potential multi-billion dollar new revenue stream, Freeman added, is sports betting. He estimated that legalization from four states to 50 would be worth about $8 billion to the industry on the bets alone.
"The demand has never been greater, and I'm confident we can get it done," Freeman said. "It's about understanding how Washington works. [Congress] is reactive: It responds to problems. It fixes things when there is no other choice."
That's why, Freeman said, efforts have ramped up to get Congress members to see legalization of sports betting as a consumer protection issue. He said the sports leagues - although they have spent six years successfully battling New Jersey's sports betting law - "are now asking the right questions."
The fight now is getting repositioned to continued opposition to state regulation of sports betting while support for federal regulation is increasing. The key year? Freeman predicted 2019.
The footprint of the U.S. gaming industry, Freeman added, is a $240 billion entity in 40 states, with 1.7 billion jobs and the generation of $40 billion in tax revenue.
Federal murmurings about banning resort fees was "beaten back," Freeman noted, citing those unpopular charges as being worth $500 million on the Las Vegas Strip alone. He said that the AGA found that formal complaints were few and far between.
The Internal Revenue Service late last year dropped a plan to lower the threshold of winnings at which point the casino must file tax information from $1,200 to $600. But Freeman said that 40-year-old threshold should be more like $4,800 in 2017. That would save the casinos millions in costs.