In January, the 112th Congress convened with dramatic changes—112 freshman members (96 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 16 in the U.S. Senate) began their national political careers as part of the strongest Republican block since the 1994 Republican Revolution.
Most political pundits predict further dramatic changes in Congress as a result of the forthcoming 2012 elections. This substantial shift in power presents both challenges and opportunities for the gaming industry as we move forward into 2011.
In this remarkably different environment, the American Gaming Association has begun to build strong relationships with our newly elected leaders to advance our industry’s agenda and defend its interests. Many of these members have had little exposure to our industry, creating a unique opportunity for us to educate them about its significant and positive contributions before the fallacies of conventional wisdom regarding our industry impact their perspectives.
There is no doubt the AGA’s proactive engagement in Washington, and in the home states and districts of our new leaders, is a critical underpinning to our future success. In fact, it is vital that we secure a seat at the table during any congressional negotiations related to our industry. For those efforts to succeed, we need the help and support of everyone involved in the industry.
Since 1995, the AGA has helped set the course for the future of the gaming industry through effective outreach and program development. We have achieved significant accomplishments in Washington, including protecting casino employee tips from unfair taxation, blocking passage of legislation that would outlaw college sports betting in Nevada, and securing legislation to help gaming companies impacted by Hurricane Katrina and, more recently, the recession.
Our relationships with legislators are more important now than ever. As gaming continues to expand in states and jurisdictions across the country, it is important that members of Congress representing all these areas are aware of the billions of dollars we spend each year in their states and districts; our impact on jobs and economic opportunities; and the benefits we provide to their local businesses and constituents. Proactively educating members of Congress about our industry in advance of needing their assistance on specific matters is the most effective way to build meaningful relationships.
Delivering the message about the industry’s broad impact is much more than a feel-good story. As we continue to grow and expand, new laws and regulations could substantially impact our business, whether through taxation, regulation or other means. Many issues that may impact the industry will come up for debate in Congress in the coming years, and it is vital that the industry has told its story effectively in advance of these challenges. One of the key ways of ensuring we can do just that is through the use of a strong political action committee (PAC).
The AGA has carried our message for the last 15 years directly to Capitol Hill through a variety of engagements, events and media activities, and we continue to aggressively engage in those efforts. The AGA PAC helps build and nurture relationships with elected officials, acts to support political candidates who support our views, and gives added weight to the industry’s voice on political issues that impact our business. Recent campaign finance reforms have made PAC contributions to congressional candidates one of the most powerful ways to build positive relationships with legislators and others who develop public policy.
PACs are critical because of the continually increasing cost of political campaigns. According to the Campaign Finance Institute, winning a seat in the House in 2008 cost nearly twice what it did in 1980, when adjusted for inflation. If members want to reach voters with their messages, they must spend significant funds on their campaigns, and they rely on outside resources for those funds, including PAC contributions.
The AGA PAC raised just under $100,000 from 2009 through 2010 to contribute to political campaigns and fundraisers, helping the campaigns of elected officials who support our industry. However, the changes in the balance of political power in Washington that came with the 2010 elections and that are likely to continue in 2012, coupled with the pressure on the federal budget, make it critical that our industry increase the AGA PAC’s capability. A strengthened AGA PAC will enable the industry to ensure it can develop long-term allies on the Hill by providing support for those legislators who back the industry.
As we work to grow the AGA PAC, we continue to implement initiatives that ensure our messages are heard among the many other voices vying for attention on Capitol Hill. For example, in early May, industry leaders will come to Washington during our Capitol Hill fly-in to meet with congressional leaders and high-level members of the administration and talk with them about the value the industry provides to communities across the country. Our goal is to ensure that both new and established leaders recognize that the modern commercial casino industry is a critical economic driver locally, regionally and nationally.
While our Capitol Hill fly-ins have proven successful in the past, a larger, more sustained PAC will ensure the industry’s voice can resonate even further in Washington. And strengthening the AGA PAC will put us on a level playing field with other industries that are actively engaged in Washington and have much more significant PAC funds.
The strength of our PAC depends on the support of both companies and individuals, which will serve as the collective voice of the industry on Capitol Hill. Everyone affiliated with the gaming industry has a right to have a voice in Congress to fight for the issues that matter most. The AGA is that voice, and the AGA PAC, by demonstrating a unified industry, will ensure that the industry’s voice is heard loud and clear.