When Geoff Freeman was announced as the new president and CEO of the American Gaming Association back in 2013, I had no idea who he was, but something nonetheless clicked. He had most recently been the COO of the U.S. Travel Association, and my son, Simon Gros, is in that business. He’s an executive with a big online travel company, so I gave him a call to ask him if he knew Freeman.
“Know him?” he responded. “He’s a very good friend.”
It seems they served on an industry panel or two and Geoff lived fairly close to Simon so they sometimes socialized together. (As an aside, it was Simon who got Geoff interested in playing hockey, since Simon has played since he was a teen.)
So I had an “in” with Geoff from the start. He knew very few people in the industry so I offered to introduce him to people who I thought were important players. It started with the top executives at AGEM, and some of the companies that Geoff would be interacting with, so I made those introductions and let Geoff learn what he could from those meetings.
One meeting I sat in on was with Bob Faiss, the legendary gaming lawyer responsible for much of the modern Nevada regulations—a man I consider a mentor. Bob was not in good health and passed away less than a year later, but the advice he imparted to Geoff I believed served him well. Bob pointed out that there’s lots of heated competition in gaming and that it sometimes could get personal. He advised Geoff to concentrate on things that we all agree on and let the disagreements take care of themselves.
Let’s remember that 2013 was the dawn of legalized iGaming in the U.S. This was—and still is in some quarters—a very controversial topic. Some of the larger gaming companies were dead set against it, and others saw it as a huge opportunity. Geoff wisely took a neutral stance on this issue and avoided a fracture within the organization that he wanted to transform into a wider and more inclusive association.
And to achieve that more inclusive group, Freeman had to convince the established
powers—the largest casino operators and manufacturers—to open the door to related companies to the industry and—gasp—tribal gaming enterprises. Freeman knew that the issues facing gaming didn’t stop at the intersection between tribal and commercial gaming. So he embarked on a strategy to bring in some of the larger tribes that wanted a voice in the overall gaming debate. Whether it was regulations, AML requirements, federal oversight, sports betting or a myriad of other issues, when the gaming industry speaks with one voice, we are that much stronger.
And while the AGA has always done research, surveys and outreach, Freeman’s AGA brought a new focus with a proactive approach. The “Get To Know Gaming” (G2KG) campaign bore lots of fruit as the AGA did research and held events in gaming jurisdictions where the impact of the industry had been overlooked. Whether it was Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma or any other state where gaming has provided jobs, tax revenues and positive community involvement, G2KG shined a bright light on the good news of casino gaming.
During his five-year tenure at the AGA, Freeman accomplished much, but clearly his most impressive achievement was the campaign to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). It was the perfect platform to feature Freeman’s strategy of inclusion, as he brought together many diverse organizations from law enforcement, academia, PACs and others to form powerful coalitions that advanced the message that PASPA was a failed law and should be repealed.
When the Supreme Court in May agreed, it not only opened up new opportunities for gaming, but it also will likely shut down many of the illegal websites and neighborhood bookmakers that preyed on our gaming customers—a good outcome for all involved.
So where does the AGA go without Geoff Freeman? I have no doubt that Chairman Tim Wilmott and the AGA executive committee will find a worthy candidate who will review Freeman’s accomplishments over the past five years and build upon them. For the AGA is nothing if not resilient.