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Midterm Election Breakdown

American elections signals change-but what kind?

As the votes cast during last month’s midterm elections were tallied, one thing became increasingly clear: Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. Our nation continues to grapple with a great many challenges—most notably, the growing federal deficit, a sluggish economy and persistently high unemployment—and the electorate longs for progress.

True progress, however, is not possible unless legislators on both sides of the aisle find ways to work together productively. The fate of both the Republican and Democratic parties in the forthcoming 2012 election—when, once again, Americans will choose a president—rests on their ability to achieve compromise. Exit polling results indicate that most Americans will have little patience with policymakers who stand in the way of constructive discourse and collaboration.

But, though the repercussions of the elections to the broader nation have yet to be determined, I am glad to report that, for the most part, the election results spelled good news for the gaming industry.

The election of Senator Harry Reid to a fifth term was an important victory for our industry, as well as the state of Nevada. In this era of economic uncertainty and political volatility, gaming faces a host of opportunities and potential challenges—from the possible legalization of internet gambling to the ever-lurking specter of increased taxes on commercial casinos.

Senator Reid understands the value of the gaming industry, and he has demonstrated a willingness to protect it when its interests are threatened. Without a doubt, our industry is well-served with Senator Reid in a position of authority in Washington.

The election of Brian Sandoval to the Nevada governorship is likewise promising. An alumnus of the Nevada Gaming Commission, his knowledge of gaming—and its importance to the state’s economy—runs deep. As he begins addressing Nevada’s many pressing issues, I am certain that he will do so in close partnership with our industry.  

Across the country in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie’s proposed public-private partnership with the gaming industry and local officials to reinvigorate the city’s tourism district also stands to yield significant developments next year.

Election Day also brought our industry encouraging news from other corners of the country—news that is likely to translate into exciting business opportunities, and, perhaps more importantly, indicates the public support of gaming continues to grow.

In Cape Girardeau, Missouri, more than 7,500 residents voted in favor of establishing a casino in the community. At press time, state regulators were on the verge of deciding whether the town will be awarded the state’s 13th and final commercial gaming license.

Local leaders—particularly Cape Girardeau Mayor Harry Rediger—have expressed a great deal of optimism about a possible gaming establishment, and for good reason. It is expected the casino would generate $87 million in annual revenue, making it the largest-grossing facility outside of the state’s two metropolitan areas.

In Maryland, 56 percent of Anne Arundel voters approved plans for the largest casino in the state—a facility with 4,750 slot machines that will be located adjacent to the community’s shopping mall. In anticipation of the new casino, the mall plans to open four new restaurants within the next six months, which are expected to bring 270 jobs to the area.

In Maine, the majority of residents supported a referendum to develop a casino in Oxford County. Though, at press time, there are murmurs of a recount, it seems likely that plans to build the $165 million gaming resort will move forward.

Perhaps the best news comes out of Iowa, where every eight years residents of counties with casinos must vote on whether to keep casinos in their community.  Across all the participating counties, an average of 78 percent of gaming community residents approved renewing casino gambling. The measures have passed easily since commercial gambling was legalized in the state in 1989.

This year, however, casino referendums in several counties were favored in record-breaking numbers. In Worth and Palo Alto counties, an impressive 86 percent of voters said “yes” to continued commercial gaming. These statistics fly in the face of critics who claim that casinos are somehow detrimental to communities; clearly, those who live near Iowa’s casinos consider them important community assets.

Despite these positive developments, the midterm elections serve as a reminder that the gaming industry has much work to do in Washington. We currently know very little about some of our new members of Congress—including their positions on various issues that directly and indirectly affect our industry. We must redouble our efforts to educate them about the benefits of commercial gaming to millions of working families, and to ensure that our industry has a seat at the table when crucial policy decisions are weighed.

In addition, the vulnerability of Senator Reid during the election—the race in Nevada for his seat was particularly bruising—reinforced an age-old truth: Politics is a dynamic, ever-changing game.

Elected officials do not stay in office indefinitely; likewise, one political party will not maintain control of the legislative process for long. Therefore, it is crucial for our industry to assemble a broad base of allies in Washington—one that includes policymakers of all stripes who represent both gaming and non-gaming states.

Doing so will be one of the American Gaming Association’s top priorities in the coming year. We are embarking on several major government outreach initiatives that will strengthen our industry’s voice and communicate its value to communities nationwide. For example, 2011 will witness yet another gaming industry Washington fly-in event, during which industry leaders will meet with key policymakers and members of the Obama administration.

As an avid spectator of the midterm campaigns, I must admit that the recent elections were extremely exciting. But nothing would be more exciting than watching those we elected join forces to identify solutions to the many problems our country now faces—solutions that will bolster businesses in our industry and measurably improve the lives of the thousands of people who work for them.

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