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Political Participation

Voting is just the beginning

Political Participation

Frank Fahrenkopf, Member of the First Republic Bank Board of Advisors. USAGE: As per 2009 contract between Jamey Stillings Photography, Inc. and First Republic Bank. Photo ©2009 Jamey Stillings, All Rights Reserved.

Four years ago, as we approached a historic election, I wrote in these pages about the importance of each and every vote. Referring to voting as the “biggest small act,” I cited several instances over the course of history in which single-vote margins altered elections and had a lasting effect on our history. My hope is that this message still resonates, and it is worth pointing out that once again we head toward an election with enormous stakes.

Yet there is much talk in the media about how only seven so-called swing states will decide the election’s outcome. This kind of news coverage inevitably leads to people questioning whether they should be involved in the political process, or if their vote even matters.

To that point, I simply point out that in the 1980 election, Jimmy Carter was ahead in the polls against Ronald Reagan with one month to go before the election. As we all know now, Reagan ended up winning that election in a landslide—with 489 of 538 available electoral votes. Several factors led to that turn of events, but if people had simply tuned out of the process a month beforehand thinking their vote didn’t matter, history would have taken a different course.

And here we are once again. No matter where you stand politically, the actions of whoever ends up in office—locally or nationally—after this election will affect you and your family, whether it be in relation to health care, taxes, Social Security, immigration, energy prices or financial markets. So I will not only echo the importance of each vote, but go beyond that and assert that it is our duty to be informed citizens.

Our business offers a great demonstration of why participation and knowledge matter in this political process. Despite ample proof to the contrary, the gaming industry faces elected officials and those running for office who still use old myths and stereotypes in an effort to gain political advantage.

When gambling comes up as a political issue—as it will this fall on several states’ ballots in one form or another—we become a convenient whipping boy. In Maryland, for example, where allowing Vegas-style casinos in Prince George’s County will be on the ballot, there are those who claim that we shouldn’t be able to make contributions to candidates. (In fact, amazingly, it is the state law in some states.)

Although I admit there is some appeal to those of us in the industry to be spared the fund-raising efforts of political candidates, the reality is campaign contributions are an important part of our political process, whether we like it or not. Our industry is no different from any other that has an interest in creating jobs, protecting its employees and looking out for shareholders.

In the specific case of Maryland, anti-gaming commentators have failed to mention that several other industries—ranging from development and contracting to insurance and real estate—have also donated hundreds of thousands to candidates and causes. This proves the point that it is just as important to educate as it is to make informed decisions. Voting is just one element of being civically engaged. I am always proud—as all of us in the industry should be—to point out that our “All In for Giving & Volunteering” effort has been wildly successful. Earlier this year, the American Gaming Association surveyed commercial gaming companies and suppliers—about half of our member organizations—to gauge their charitable giving and volunteering efforts. We found that last year they donated a total of $133.11 million in corporate, foundation and employee cash and cash-equivalent charitable contributions.

The cash equivalent of total volunteer time spent by industry employees was $1.31 million. Industry employees took part in over 1,000 volunteer events, totaling 66,135 hours of time contributed. And the number of employees who took part in these events totaled 14,617. These are outstanding numbers (especially since they represent only a fraction of the industry at large); they show that our industry values the type of involvement that makes families, communities and countries strong. People and companies everywhere should strive for this engagement.

My purpose in mentioning politics is not to advocate for any position or candidate. The issues we face today are as serious as ever, and I only urge you to treat your vote and your participation seriously. Accept the responsibility to take a hard look at the issues that concern you personally. Think about the impact the people we elect locally, statewide and nationally will have on the gaming industry and, as a consequence, your job. Watch the presidential debates and the other debates and forums involving races for local offices.

And don’t take this involvement for granted. One of my great frustrations as a political professional, both in Nevada and later on the national stage, was the disappointing numbers for voter turnout in the United States—numbers that rank down with many developing countries. The truth is the people who win elections make decisions that touch every part of our lives. If you still don’t think one vote makes a difference, vote anyway—but also know that there are clearly other ways to make your voice heard.