In the 20 years since the formation of the American Gaming Association (AGA), casino gaming has evolved into a thriving economic engine within hundreds of US communities. Gaming revenues nationwide total $240 billion and support 1.7 million jobs in 40 states.
The AGA has successfully improved the public image of gaming, thanks to former President/CEO Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. and current President/CEO Geoff Freeman. However, we can never assume that favorable perceptions are set in stone or that different opinions do not exist. Every so often, we should recognize the need for more public relations and outreach work.
Case in point. My husband Norman and I recently saw two family members in New York City. The husband – I’ll call him Steve – is far left politically and this couple always votes for the most liberal Democrat.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, their preferred candidate, lost the primary delegate race to become the Democratic presidential nominee. Despite their disappointment, they will support Hillary Clinton.
Over the years, we have agreed and disagreed on issues, so Norman and I avoid heavy discussions with Steve. It usually works, but Steve always manages to inject at least one line into the conversation as bait.
This time was no exception. Knowing my job, Steve questioned my comfort level with possibly having former casino executive Donald Trump as president. He contended that Trump‘s operation of a “vice” business entices susceptible people to gamble their money away.
Really? Of all the possible gripes Steve could have against Donald Trump, this was it? I couldn’t believe this 75-year-old lifelong New Yorker, familiar with Trump’s long career in Manhattan, would be so uninformed and unsophisticated to focus on gaming.
I explained the job-creating, tax revenue and economic development benefits of successful casino projects. Using statistics, I described the millions poured into research programs to identify and combat problem gaming. However, in those moments, Steve grasped little of what I said.
Unfortunately, there are probably too many US voters like Steve, but the AGA still has time to educate those who will listen. Months ago, the AGA introduced its “Gaming Votes” national initiative at Aristocrat’s Las Vegas manufacturing plant. The program aims to educate presidential candidates about the industry’s positive economic impact while also informing voters on how candidates’ positions on gaming will impact their lives.
In the 2016 “battleground” states that are politically up for grabs, gaming has created more than 500,000 jobs and generated $75 billion. Oxford Economics research reveals that gaming‘s employment of minorities (45 per cent) and women (48 per cent) exceeds the national average.
MGM Resorts International CEO and AGA Chairman Jim Murren claimed most of his employees are minorities and women, offering them great future career opportunities. That is good news since MGM will acquire Boyd Gaming’s 50 per cent stake in the Borgata in Atlantic City later this year. As a gaming jurisdiction, Atlantic City’s casino employees reflect an international spectrum of nationalities. MGM’s inclusive philosophy should continue to fuel Borgata’s growth.
Among Donald Trump’s campaign issues is a cloudy gaming history that I have previously documented, but Clinton has her own problems. She often takes identity politics, which may overlook the facts, to new heights.
Clinton repeatedly rails against “systemic racism” against minorities while also pushing for women’s rights. Yes, women comprise only 20 per cent of Congress, 11 per cent of the governorships and mayoral positions in 19 per cent of America’s largest cities, but reasons could include how many women actually run.
My own experience in gaming debunks her claims. Since 1994, I have met/interviewed countless female and minority executives and managers who have risen from entry-level positions. Before Clinton’s supporters demand generic equal rights and opportunity, her advisors should study how gaming and other industries empower their members.
Through election day, the AGA’s public relations/education team should move at full speed to inform people like Steve about all gaming-related issues. Sadly, they seem clueless about the truth.