Have you noticed the increased visibility the gaming industry has had in the United States lately?
Let’s start right at the top and get the controversial issue out of the way. Donald Trump is running for president, and he very well might win.
I’ve been doing an informal survey of his former executives since he announced his candidacy 18 months ago. At first, it was with incredulity that he began to win the early primaries. Those of us who knew him in the 1980s and ’90s in Atlantic City were shocked that so many Americans were responding to his brash and overblown personality, but he clearly hit a nerve, and people have been responding to it. Most (not all) of the former executives I talked to think he could do very well as president. Some think he’d be a disaster. Kind of mirrors the general electorate, actually.
But let’s put aside politics for now and talk about what this means for the casino industry. Here’s a man who was a very powerful casino owner at one time. Again, you can debate how effective he was since he lost ownership of all his casinos, particularly those in Atlantic City, and how that occurred. Let’s not forget, however, that every casino that was open during Trump’s heyday in Atlantic City has also closed or gone bankrupt at some point. But the very fact that Americans are willing to consider voting for a former casino owner is a positive for our business.
We already know the power Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson yields in the Republican Party. Yes, it’s all connected to money he contributes to party candidates, but his views are well-known and respected. Then, MGM Chairman Jim Murren, a presumed Republican, says he’s going to support Hillary Clinton, and it’s front-page news. And whatever Steve Wynn decides will generate lots of tweets. Clearly, this indicates a general acceptance that the casino industry is now mainstream.
Let’s not ignore the role the American Gaming Association is playing with its “Gaming Votes” campaign, designed to show politicians in almost every state how important casino employees are when it comes to Election Day. To be truthful, this isn’t a new idea. Previous incarnations of the AGA have also pushed this agenda to varying degrees, but the current campaign is tied to an issue: the legalization of sports betting.
The campaign has been very effective by marking milestones in individual jurisdictions, bringing together casino executives, regulators, local politicians and other stakeholders to highlight the good casinos have done in those communities and why a legal sports betting industry would help even more.
The AGA has worked with different law enforcement organizations to point out that legal sports betting would likely wipe out the illegal variety, which today dominates the activity. The campaign is getting traction and support from very high levels.
Major media outlets are now recognizing that millions of people bet on games and are no longer shy about quoting spreads, line movements and late game moves that may impact gamblers. iGaming sites in New Jersey have already sponsored major-league sports teams. Can it be long before you begin to see advertisements from mobile sports books on uniforms of U.S. teams, the same way you do in Europe and around the world?
At the state levels, casinos have a definite seat at the table. You’d expect that in states where gaming legalization is being considered. And there are two referendums this year: Arkansas and New Jersey (to expand casinos outside of Atlantic City).
Other states have gaming issues that they are grappling with. Massachusetts is still wondering whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal casino will become a reality, while waiting on the first true integrated resort to open. Florida has compacting issues with the Seminoles, while racetracks and parimutuels outside of southern Florida want to get into the game. Alabama citizens almost got a say on a state lottery until no consensus could be reached. California once again teased us with online poker but in the end it failed. Pennsylvania actually built iGaming revenues into its budget, even though iGaming is not yet legal.
So, the gaming industry has definitely gone from marginal to mainstream. It really matters what our industry does and how it reacts. Now maybe if we could be treated like every other business on regulatory and tax issues, we’ll really have made some progress.