Those of us in the industry laugh when we read books or see movies with casino owners portrayed as sleazy criminals, connected to the mob, committing all kinds of heinous crimes while being protected by dirty politicians. We know those kinds of things could never happen in the modern casino industry.
The regulatory oversight in modern casino jurisdictions is so complete that even a whiff of illegality is enough to bring incredible scrutiny down upon an operation, a company or an individual.
But that message has rarely gotten out beyond the jurisdictions where gaming is located. Unless you work closely with members of the industry, those old stereotypes and mistaken perceptions reign supreme. In fact, one of the first goals of gaming when it enters a new jurisdiction is to dispel those notions that gaming is somehow shady or scandalous. So we continue to labor under that shadow, despite some incredible people who lead our industry.
An amazing thing happened for the gaming industry in October. On one of those Sunday morning political talk shows that month, a casino executive was brought on to discuss an issue that had nothing to do with gaming or criminal activity. And the questions from the interviewer were non-gaming-related and non-accusatory. The casino executive responded as an American, a businessman and someone who cares deeply about the direction of the nation.
Now, these media moments are a formula. In this case, the topic was the impact of the stimulus plan that was proposed by President Barack Obama, passed by Congress and implemented by the administration. So the plan was to get a politician, a businessman and an economic expert and let them go at each other. But in most cases, the businessman in the equation would be someone like the head of a major American manufacturer, an auto company or a high-tech organization. The appearance of a casino executive on any TV news program was heretofore limited to stories about crime, gaming or the legalization of it.
The casino executive in this case was, of course, Steve Wynn. The program was on Fox News and the impact was immediate.
Wynn’s criticism of the stimulus package and the health care initiative currently being pushed by the Obama administration created a firestorm in and out of the gaming industry. The politician in the equation was Governor Jennifer Granholm of the hard-hit state of Michigan. She called Wynn’s assertion that a government has never raised the standard of living for the working class as “simplistic.”
Wynn criticized government spending, the health care initiative and other administration efforts.
“From day one,” he said, “the goal should have been job creation.”
Within the industry, executives with Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Mirage took issue with Wynn’s remarks, crediting the stimulus package-and their home state senator, Majority Leader Harry Reid-for saving jobs in Nevada.
A few days later, MGM Mirage Chairman Jim Murren appeared on the Fox Business channel to emphasize those issues.
But the point is, here’s at least two executives in the gaming industry becoming involved in a national debate on whether or not a program developed by Congress and the president is good for the nation. Whatever you think of their arguments, this has to be good for the gaming industry.
By appearing on these national programs, casino executives show themselves to be thoughtful observers of the state of the nation. It demonstrates that they represent thousands of employees-on Fox News Sunday, Wynn was described as an employer of 20,000 people-who vote and have a real opinion that matters.
Harrah’s Entertainment Chairman Gary Loveman has often complained about mistaken perception of the gaming industry in the mainstream media, and the regulations that result.
So it’s people like Loveman, Murren, Wynn, AGA leader Frank Fahrenkopf, Donald Trump and many others who need to get out in front of the issues that affect our communities, our country and our world. We need more visibility and more attention to our views because our views are just as genuine and important as the views of any other industry in the world.
No, we many not agree every time one of us speaks up, but there needs to be more of it. So even if we don’t agree with the opinion of someone within the gaming industry, it’s important that we defend their right to voice it, because it only helps to bring legitimacy and respect to our business.