The American Gaming Association played a crucial part in the passage of the CARES Act, which provides relief for the gaming industry in this critical crisis. On March 30, AGA President and CEO Bill Miller talked with GGB Publisher Roger Gros from his home in the Washington, D.C. area, to discuss how the process evolved and how the industry reacted. This interview was conducted prior to the Small Business Administration announcement it would ban small gaming companies from participating in the Payroll Protection Plan.
GGB: Are you satisfied with the way the gaming industry was handled with the CARES Act?
Miller: Yes. It’s a terribly difficult time for the industry. For all intents and purposes, the entire gaming industry across the country is shut down right now. Our estimation was 650,000 direct employees and 350,000 small businesses that are part of that ecosystem, whether it’s in Las Vegas or Washington, Pennsylvania, or in Indian Country in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And then the suppliers and manufacturers are suffering just as badly.
So across the industry, there’s a lot of pain. A lot of tough decisions have to be made by our member companies and their leadership. The dynamic of that is, if you don’t have any revenue, it’s kind of hard to continue to keep people on payroll.
There was a chart published recently that puts the gaming industry right below airlines in terms of how brutally it would be impacted by the virus. And that’s certainly been the case.
It has. When going up to the Hill, we had great representation and advocacy by the Nevada delegation, but we also had a parade of advocacy by a number of other members of the Senate and House, on both the Republican and Democrat sides. They recognize the importance of our industry in the states they represent. That’s really important.
We’re an industry that’s now in 43 states. And because of that, it wasn’t so terrible that we don’t have a figure like Harry Reid (former Senate majority leader and Nevada senator) to rely on. But I have to compliment the great work that the two Nevada senators and congressional delegation did. And because of our economic and community footprint around the country, we were able to draw on support from people from Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Michigan—members willing to step up on our behalf at a time when it was needed.
Your staff did a great job handling the optics on this. As you said, in the past we’ve been left out of some stimulus and aid bills because of anti-gaming rhetoric.
I think our team did exceptionally well. Our GR (government relations) folks were on it. I was making phone calls into the administration, talking to people on the Hill, trying to understand specifically which provisions were most beneficial to different elements within our membership.
With a membership as diverse as ours—commercial, tribal, suppliers and manufacturers, companies that are domestic, international and regional or Vegas-based—trying to coalesce around a limited number of highly beneficial provisions is not always the easiest thing to do. And I would argue that in the past, infighting among people in the industry has hurt its ability to speak with one voice.
In this case, both our team internally and the collective of the AGA membership really acted with a unified voice and with aligned priorities. And I think it really helped us.
When did the AGA first come to grips with the fact that all U.S. casinos would close?
I remember going to Chicago to meet with Rush Street CEO Greg Carlin in March. It was the day the Ohio governor was considering closing the casinos in his state, and the day after the governor of Pennsylvania began to talk about restricting gatherings of 250 people. I remember Greg and I talking about J.B. Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, who was also considering this. I came to the conclusion, probably on that day, that these dominoes were going to fall. One state may hold out longer than another state, but ultimately when these governors began to make these decisions around 250 people or 100 people or 50 people, we were in the crosshairs of that dynamic. It would be hard for us to remain open under what was increasingly an effort to reduce the number of people congregating in any place.
What’s the AGA role going to be as we move toward reopening?
I think that we have multiple responsibilities right now. One is to make sure that all of our members understand what was in the CARES Act, and how they can participate and benefit from it. We’re going to be a 24/7 customer service center for our members to help them access benefits.
Secondly and more importantly, when do you begin the process of understanding the American customer and what they need? What confidence do they need before they’re going to go to sporting events again? What will convince them to go to casinos and hotels and restaurants and have a good time? It’s important to understand those things, and sharing that with our members will be a very important exercise in advance of the opening back of America.