It’s clearly not your father’s American Gaming Association anymore. The new Geoff Freeman-led staff at the AGA has diverse backgrounds, and there are only a few with strong gaming ties. One of those is Sara Rayme, a former MGM Resorts executive now AGA’s senior vice president in charge of public affairs.
Rayme says her experience gives her a leg up when she’s talking to other members of her staff and the AGA constituents.
“Having lived in Las Vegas and worked for a gaming company has been very helpful,” she says. “Understanding the nuances of this complex business has definitely been an advantage.”
While the AGA has always been an advocate for the industry, Rayme says the new “campaign-style communication effort” backed by Freeman is more aggressive.
“The AGA has always done a great job at ‘doing no harm.’ We’re trying to be more proactive,” she says.
Rayme says adding research and policy to the AGA’s mission has made a difference—organized within the “Get to Know Gaming” campaign that was hugely successful in 2014.
“We want to get out there and tell our story, give our side of the issues and not let the other side define the debate,” she explains. “Backing it up with facts and research is a more holistic way of looking at government affairs and public policy. It’s much more impactful than operating in silos.”
Unlike the former strategy, the AGA has gotten involved in legalization efforts in individual states.
“We provide a good perspective,” she says. “There’s been lots of competitive issues within the industry, and we think it’s our job to provide the macro picture of industry impact, as well as what works and what doesn’t work.”
But Rayme says the AGA avoids taking a position, urging the stakeholders to make that decision themselves.
Another area the AGA used to avoid was tribal gaming, contending that tribal and commercial gaming were two separate industries. Now, says Rayme, it’s clear that one affects the other, prompting a position against off-reservation gaming.
“The board had established a policy position on off-reservation gaming in 2012,” she explains. “It’s an issue that continues to arise across the country and it’s something that we’ll continue to address. We plan to add more expertise and counsel in this area.”
Sports betting is another issue that came up recently, when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called it “inevitable,” a position that was cheered by the AGA. But beyond, that, Rayme says evaluation about this form of wagering is ongoing.
Regulatory reform has been one of the success stories at the AGA over the past several years, and that progress is continuing.
“(Regulators) are thrilled about the open door we have at the AGA,” she says. “They have been completely open and receptive.”
As for the next two years in Washington with a lame-duck president and a Congress controlled by the opposing party, Rayme says the AGA looks at it as an opportunity.
“It’s a chance for us to advance our message that gaming is an integral part of every community where it is located, providing good jobs and tax revenues to the region and to the state,” she says. “We’ve got a great educational awareness campaign going on and we’re building champions in Congress.”