When Marcus Prater announced his intention to retire from his position as executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), there was a bit of consternation. After all, Prater had served AGEM ably for 14 years, growing the membership to a high of 190 members (there are still more than 170 members after the pandemic). With the hiring of Tracy Cohen as the European executive director and Connie Jones, who heads the responsible gaming efforts, the influence of the group grew exponentially under Prater’s leadership.
The solution, however, was right at hand. As the general counsel for Ainsworth Game Technology, Daron Dorsey had been a member of the AGEM board for several years and was familiar with the policies, procedures and issues that faced the organization going forward. Dorsey spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in June. (To hear the entire interview, see the video, above, or listen to the podcast, below).
GGB: Congratulations for being appointed as AGEM’s executive director. It’s a tough job given the accomplishments of Marcus Prater over the years.
Daron Dorsey: Thanks for that. Marcus did a great job for everybody for more than a decade, so my job is to pick up on the success that he built, and continue it forward on behalf of the entire supplier sector.
You’ve been in office for a few months now. Has it been drinking from a fire hose?
Not quite. Because as you’re aware, I was an officer in my role at Ainsworth Game Technology. But it has been interesting closing a financial year, and starting a new one. You learn a lot about the membership base, because it’s not just the big suppliers; it’s also the suppliers to the suppliers, and the different levels of our members, learning who all the different contact points around the world are. So it’s been busy, but it’s been fun, and I’m excited for where we get to go from here.
You were a member of the board when we all went through the pandemic. That was a very difficult period for everybody, but for an organization like AGEM, you had to take into account how your members were being impacted. So to soften the blow you didn’t collect dues for a year, correct?
It was over a year. Yes, correct.
Did you lose members during that period?
Just a handful. If you could go back to the spring of 2020, nobody really knew what was happening or what 2022 would be like. Some companies recognized that they needed to save money; thousands of dollars here, thousands there may have made a difference. But overall, an overwhelming majority—especially our members on the voting board of directors, member companies which are manufacturers, have the big restricted or non-restricted licenses across the world—all stuck with us. So we’ve paid dues for the ’21 year, and we’re 170-plus strong at this point in time.
And you keep adding new members.
We’re trying to find new opportunities, companies and people that want to be affiliated with AGEM, whether that’s professional associations, companies in the interactive gaming space, or sports betting and those types of opportunities. And anybody who wishes to join, they are welcome on the boat with us.
The members of AGEM are very fiercely competitive, as you well know having worked for a few of them in the past. In AGEM, however, they get together for the betterment of the industry. What does it take to continue that level of cooperation between all your members?
I think it really takes care of itself in a lot of circumstances. What I mean by that is, yes, everybody’s competitive in a commercial marketplace, because a business opportunity that one company gets, maybe they’re fighting with other member companies for that opportunity. But the privileged license, regulated business environment is the same for everyone. We all hold the same licenses, we confront the same regulatory challenges or issues that confront the industry as a whole. And so I think that’s where everybody can use AGEM and the American Gaming Association as well. We try to find issues that the industry can always agree about, and then find ways that AGEM can help solve those problems, whether that’s interfacing with a regulatory authority or a legislative authority. This is an industry-wide issue, not one company having a particular problem it wants to solve.
AGEM has always had great relationships with the regulators, especially in Nevada. We know that the chairman of the Gaming Control Board regularly addresses AGEM, as well as the leaders of its technology division. Do you have that same relationship around the world, with other regulators?
We’re working to get there. I was fortunate enough to be a licensee personally, through my prior role, so that’s part of my mission. Now that the world is opening back up in the months and years to come, the goal is to reengage a lot of those relationships on behalf of AGEM, and see how we can help our member companies.
Everybody’s always interested in gaming expansion, particularly the suppliers. How do you keep track of that around the world?
Since it’s a global, interrelated business, publications like yours are very good to keep us informed. Then again, regulatory conferences, trade industry conferences, those are interfaces where you’re able to have a preview of what’s coming down the road—having an idea of any roadblocks or stumbling blocks that people are confronting. So it’s really about communication.
You follow the Mexican situation very closely. What’s happening there?
The industry in Mexico is confronting all the challenges of the new oversight and regulatory regime that’s overseeing gaming there. One item that’s new there is one of our member company representatives for the Mexico subcommittee, Eduardo Álvarez from AGS, has taken that ball from Carlos Carrion at Aristocrat. Like Carlos, he’s got a direct relationship with them. There’s some ongoing efforts to try to get some engagement, almost education opportunities for those new regulators that don’t have any experience with gaming. We want to help them figure out what organizations can help, whether it’s the International Gaming Institute here at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, or the IMGLs or IAGAs of the world, and try to get those resources to those new regulators. A lot of people that don’t have exposure or experience with gaming are the ones that then end up overseeing gaming. So, there’s a lot of learning curve associated with that, and as the member companies, we try to provide that for them.
You’ve mentioned the alphabet soup of gaming organizations—AGA, ECA, IGSA, GGW, IAGA, ICRG, as well as NIGA, which is now IGA. How do you put that all under the same umbrella so that you’re all working together?
Everybody has a same common theme, which is, everybody wants to see expansion and continued progress for regulated gaming opportunities around the world. That’s where everybody is. We all have a common thread, and we can figure out ways to work together and solve issues, where we’re not stepping on each other’s toes.
If there’s something that’s in Europe that AGEM member companies need to be aware of, we have those relationships there with the European Casino Association (ECA).
On responsible gaming issues, we’ve got a great resource with Connie Jones, and she represents our organization very well. She’s got longstanding decades relationships, in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. And Tracy Cohen, who helps us as our representative in Europe, does valuable work. She’s been in the industry for decades, and represents our member companies there. She’s got her ear to the ground, and knows what’s going on and can create opportunities for us to engage and communicate on these issues.
So, there are a lot of great people, and I’m excited and I’m looking forward to building on these prior relationships that Marcus had and AGEM had in the past.
Let’s talk about the responsible gaming. Connie is a terrific resource. But the fact that AGEM has really put its reputation and its funds behind her to battle this important issue in the industry—is that the way you see it?
Yes, Connie understands the commercial issues. These are companies that provide tens of thousands of jobs, and provide lots of direct and indirect economic revenue, while at the same time, we operate in a privileged license/regulated environment, and we need to be doing so in a responsible way. So, she at least has experience in that balanced approach. Remember, gaming, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It’s a very good thing. It just needs to be done in a responsible manner, and if there are issues or needs fore certain research, certain resources allocated to helping solve or confront some of those issues, we want to seek the industry’s involvement and engagement in helping solve those problems.
The AGEM-JCM golf tournament has raised millions of dollars for the International Center for Responsible Gaming. I’m guessing you have a great relationship with their new leader.
Yes, it’s a great organization, and its new President Art Paikowsky is a fundraising whirlwind machine. We’ve had conversations with folks at the ICRG, and it’s great for them to hear that the mission is, “Let’s really separate the wheat from the chaff and identify the issues.” Just because something might have some bad effects or some negative effects on a small basis, let’s then direct the resources into solving and researching those issues. We can’t just create a giant one-size-fits-all approach. Art is putting together a lot of great efforts—whether that’s fundraising, engaging, and bringing new people into ICRG that haven’t been there in the past, from the operator side and from the manufacturer side, and from the academic side.
AGEM has moved into the new UNLV Black Fire center in Las Vegas, which also features many of the gaming companies in that same building. What does that mean to AGEM?
It means we’re growing up. And I think that’s where we’re trying to be. You know, AGEM started a decade and a half ago, with a handful of companies, just trying to have a voice for the supplier industry to not get drowned out by operator-specific issues on gaming. And like I said, my predecessor, they built this thing up to be something that is meaningful and can do a lot of good. Having a new office in such a prominent location is a good for our organization. But more importantly, to be involved in a project that has both UNLV and some of the major gaming companies is truly a step up. Caesars was an original investor in that, and a co-partner in getting that development off the ground. It’s a great synergy for what AGEM wants to be a part of. We support educational initiatives, both at UNLV and other places, and our commercial gaming partners on the outside. And being able to have an office location that spotlights gaming, and where gaming is now, and where gaming can go, that’s the perfect place for AGEM to be, and to build its future in the next several years.
Sometimes there’s not agreement between the suppliers and the operators—for example, in the states where they want to introduce the slot routes, things of that nature which may compete with the casinos. How would you handle something like that?
At AGEM we try to take a collaborative, cohesive approach. And if there’s consensus on a particular issue, that’s where AGEM wants to get involved. But if there are situations where for our member companies themselves there’s not agreement, that’s an area where AGEM will simply be agnostic; we’re going to be Switzerland, because that’s a competitive issue between our members, and we try not to get in the middle of that. So, it’s either we want to advocate on behalf of everyone, or we want to let the marketplace decide what the ultimate outcome is.
AGEM and the AGA have had a good relationship down through the years, and the relationship extends to G2E. It’s an exciting time for the industry with the show back in full force. What plans do you have for G2E this year?
I think that’s the expectation: that it’s going to be a little bit closer to what “normal” is, and we’re excited for that, because we really have a vested relationship with the AGA and RX on that show. And again, it’s another showcase to show the world that the gaming world has come to pass, another step towards getting back to 2019/2018, or pre-pandemic levels. Because as last year was successful, it wasn’t quite full, because you still had international travel a little bit impacted. Hopefully we’re a little closer to where those doors are opened up further, for a lot of the participants to be there.
So, we’re excited, and we hear that it’s going to be another successful year. It’s trending in the right direction. From AGEM’s perspective, we just want to be there to support the AGA and the show operator, so that’s as successful as possible. And on a personal level, I live in Las Vegas, and events like this are great for the Las Vegas community, because a lot of people from a lot of different places come here and get to experience all the good of Las Vegas.
Where would you like AGEM to be in the next few years? What kind of goals have you set for yourself?
We want to continue on the course that we’re on. We’ve got a great foundation in building that. I think what would be a good opportunity for AGEM is when there will be new emerging markets—whether that’s domestic in the U.S., or possibly some other international markets—AGEM can be there on behalf of the supplier sector to advocate on the supplier-specific issues, whether that’s technology standards, regulatory standards… We’re different than operators; our technology companies, and supplier companies, they operate everywhere. They’re licensed in every jurisdiction around the globe, because they supply customers of all shapes and sizes, in the regulated gaming space. The supplier sector has a really good handle on what those issues are, and some of the best practices, and how they can be improved. We’d like to see AGEM have a seat at the table, and to be able to help as those new markets come to pass.