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Bill Miller

President and CEO, American Gaming Association

Bill Miller

Bill Miller just celebrated five years as president and CEO of the American Gaming Association. Many of those years were very challenging with the advent of the pandemic and its aftereffects. But he has also presided over an industry that is growing at record pace year after year. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros via Zoom from his office in Washington, D.C. in January. To hear and view a full version of this podcast, visit GGBMagazine.com.

GGB: Much has happened since we last talked. First of all, can you give us a nutshell version of what the AGA has accomplished in the past year?

Miller: Well, No. 1, we are still moving out of Covid. I know we all try and forget about it, but what an incredible time it was when just about 1,000 casinos across America were shut down for a significant period of time. But what we’ve seen is a pretty remarkable comeback. And so, as our business continues to grow, one of the things we want to do is continue to showcase this mainstream entertainment form for millions of people across this country, and that is the AGA’s job—making sure that policymakers and the general public understand what we’re doing in the communities where we operate, and how we are doing everything that we can to foster responsible play.

Given the state of the economy, it’s been quite surprising that gaming’s winning streak when it comes to gross gaming revenue has continued. To what do you attribute that?

Let’s remember that the casino industry was one of the first to open up. There were other entertainment options that didn’t open up as quickly as we were, so I think what that allowed us to do was introduce the industry to a younger demographic. And I think that stuck. And then you layer sports betting on top of that, and then some elements of iGaming, what we’re continuing to see is strength, in the traditional verticals that we’ve had before, plus a real migration of people that have been betting on sports—for as long as there’s been sports to bet on—from the illegal marketplace over to the legal marketplace by the tens of millions. This is something that has allowed the industry to be appreciated and accepted by more Americans than ever before.

Let’s talk about illegal gambling, starting with the so-called skill games. Are people finally waking up to see how damaging these games can be not only to the economy but to the individuals who play them?

One thing that we try and remind our friends who are both in the policymaking space and the law enforcement space in the communities in which we operate, we’re almost always the highest taxpayer in that jurisdiction. So in a state like Pennsylvania, to operate a casino, it’s a $50 million licensing fee, and then a 52 percent tax rate. And so what we contribute to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, both at the state level and in the local municipalities, is massive and significant. And it is undercut seriously by the mad growth of these gray-market skill machines. So we have been pounding our fist on the table about how important our industry is in these states, and we need your help because you wouldn’t allow other highly regulated industries like ours to have a lookalike industry operate alongside them.

There have been lots of instances where the mainstream media quotes odds from illegal offshore websites. How can the AGA help them out?

Well, I can tell you that our media team here at the AGA spends a lot of time trying to talk to our friends in the media about when they go and they cite an illegal website’s odds, or talk about some of the more preposterous types of bets that would never be allowed by a regulator. Unfortunately, it’s a whack-a-mole game. We send hundreds of emails a year out to reputable media outlets who, whether it’s because there’s a new reporter on the beat or because it’s someone who is just lazy, do these things. At the end of the day, what they’re doing, though, is giving lift to illegal operators who are competing with the legal, regulated marketplace.

Let’s talk about the legalization of online gaming in the U.S. Right now, it’s legal in some manner in just seven states, far below the number of states that permit sports betting. Why does it seem to be taking so long?

The ability to move quickly on sports betting was something that was easy for policymakers to allow their constituents to do—something that they’d already been doing for years. But this was supported by the leagues; it was supported by the franchises in the various states, so it was a pretty light lift. As you know, iGaming comes with a number of different stakeholders in different states who have different, and often varying opinions around iGaming. And so with seven states now, I think that we will see continued growth in the iGaming space, but at a slower pace.

The National Center for Problem Gambling is endorsing a federal bill that would dedicate a large chunk of the federal sports betting taxes to fight problem gambling. Where does the AGA stand on that bill?

We have been pushing back against the federal excise tax on sports betting for some time because it was a wrongheaded idea. It might have had a purpose at a point in time when there was a lot of illegal gambling, and this was a way to ensnare those bad actors. But this is anachronistic tax. And so our view is that it is important to have this tax removed, and that’s what we’re working on. The NCPG has an agenda and oftentimes our agendas align. But in this case, they don’t. Our view is that this tax gives an additional advantage to the illegal marketplace because it creates an additional tax burden on the regulated industry, including a head tax, and we think that should be removed.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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