Even as casino gaming has evolved into a mainstream form of entertainment that drives economic growth and supports nearly 2 million jobs across 40 states, misperceptions about our industry persist.
However, with scores of 2016 presidential candidates crisscrossing the country and visiting voters in swing states, the American Gaming Association’s first-ever Gaming Votes initiative is capitalizing on the campaign season to tell the story of today’s gaming industry.
After all, gaming supports more than half a million jobs and generates $75 billion in economic activity in the key presidential states of Iowa, Nevada, Florida, Michigan, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among others. We have an opportunity to not only inform the hundreds of thousands of gaming employees about where candidates stand on their industry, but to educate candidates about modern gaming. And our message to candidates is clear: Gaming is no longer a niche, novel industry, but a nationwide economic engine approved of by nine out of 10 American voters.
As part of Gaming Votes, we held our first event outside of Nevada last month during a stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The event in southwestern Iowa featured a panel discussion with a 15-year casino marketing professional, a local small business owner, the CEO of the city’s chamber of commerce and the area’s representative in Congress.
The panelists provided a snapshot of how gaming provides fulfilling careers and opportunities for advancement, boosts small businesses and produces a positive ripple effect for local economies. They also highlighted why candidates should better understand the industry and the people who drive it. In Iowa alone, gaming supports 17,000 jobs, generates $730 million in tax revenue and contributes $2.4 billion to the economy.
Additionally, we released a new poll while in Council Bluffs showing that likely Iowa caucus-goers are more likely to support a candidate who supports gaming. Whether very conservative or very liberal or somewhere in between, majorities of likely caucus-goers across the political spectrum in Iowa agree that gaming creates jobs and boosts economic development. Further, by a two-to-one margin, Iowans say gaming has had a positive effect on their state.
One panelist, Congressman David Young (R-Iowa), emphasized that those who understand the benefits of gaming should share their experiences with candidates when they’re visiting. “We have a chance to elect the next president and a chance to put the candidates on the record,” he said.
While gaming is regulated mostly at the state level, and while we don’t expect casinos to be a central issue in the presidential race, we can’t miss this opportunity to tell our story. Decisions and comments from federal officials can directly affect gaming.
For example, in a speech shortly after he took office, President Barack Obama discouraged business travel to Las Vegas and other destinations—and his comments cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars in the midst of the Great Recession. Further, the Department of Defense recently proposed a blanket ban on the use of government credit cards at casinos—a misguided policy that would ignore the legitimate business-related expenses incurred at today’s casinos.
It’s our responsibility as an industry to get ahead of these types of harmful comments and policies. We need to show them how we operate and that we’re good, committed community partners. As a result, the next president and other federal officials will be better informed and less likely to inflict undue harm on a major American industry and the nearly 2 million workers who rely on gaming.
We recognize, though, that educating is a two-way street. As presidential candidates travel to swing states, we encourage them to demonstrate an appreciation for gaming by visiting a casino resort or gaming supplier facility. They should take a back-of-house tour to see firsthand how thousands of hard-working employees power the industry. They should meet with stakeholders who directly benefit from our industry, such as charities whose programs would not exist without contributions from casinos.
As we compile a voting guide for employees over the next few months, we plan to include candidates’ views of gaming and other business issues—such as immigration, tax reform and cyber security—to ensure they have all the information needed to make their decision during caucuses, primaries and on Election Day in November 2016.
Through Gaming Votes, we look forward to showing candidates the ins and outs of our dynamic industry and the significant positive impact it has on the economy in Iowa and across the country. Every candidate seeking votes in states where gaming is a major economic engine should take a stand in support of gaming.