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The American Way

Geoff Freeman is following in Frank Fahrenkopf's vaunted footsteps, but he's also creating a path of his own?one that benefits the overall gaming industry and all the members of the American Gaming Association.

The American Way

When Frank Fahrenkopf resigned as president and CEO of the American Gaming Association two years ago, it was the end of an era. Fahrenkopf very ably led the AGA through some turbulent times and prevented the federal government from doing any harm to the gaming industry. Even the establishment of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, a thinly veiled effort to attack the industry, turned out not to be such a big deal, due largely to Fahrenkopf’s efforts. So when he stepped down after 17 years, there was bound to be a void.

And walking into that void was his successor, Geoff Freeman, about half Fahrenkopf’s age, with very little gaming experience. Freeman had much experience with associations, however. He was the COO of the U.S. Travel Association, a group that represented almost every sector of the travel industry, which includes, of course, gaming.

Freeman’s desire to hit the ground running,

however, almost got him into trouble. When he took the AGA board’s recommendation to support legalizing iGaming in the U.S., he ran afoul of one of the most powerful members of the organization, Las Vegas Sands. He wisely backed off, went neutral on iGaming and began to concentrate on issues with which the entire industry agrees.

But first, he built a staff that was uniformly young and enthusiastic. They are very knowledgeable about all the social media channels, and have bought into the proactive style that Freeman has brought to the organization.

COO Ron Rosenbaum has loads of experience in Washington and with various associations. Senior VP Sara Rayme is a former MGM exec who completely understands the politics of the gaming industry, and communications head Allie Barth was hand-picked by Freeman from his former organization for her expertise in getting the word out—just to name a few of the qualified people who now operate from the spanking new offices just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

But it’s been the campaigns that Freeman started that have made the difference. To be fair, the AGA has always had conversations, meetings and alliances with federal and state organizations whose policies and procedures impact gaming, but the recent collaborations set up under Freeman’s AGA have been very interactive, with transparent reports sent to industry movers and shakers at each step of the process.

While the AGA has always stressed the number of people employed directly and indirectly by the gaming industry and their importance to a wide range of elected officials, the “Gaming Votes” campaign has brought home the impact of their ballots on many members of Congress. In this upcoming presidential election, it’s been enough to make the candidates think twice about their stances on issues important to gaming.

Also under Freeman’s watch, the AGA has signed up its first Native American gaming groups. On the board sits Seminole Hard Rock Gaming. Ho Chunk Gaming has also joined as an associate member, and several other tribal groups are considering joining.

While some question why tribes are now joining the AGA, it makes perfect sense. Many of the gaming issues on the federal level—anti-money laundering initiatives, the rise of illegal gambling, potentially destructive policies considered by Congress—transcend any particular segment of the industry.

So, there is power in numbers, and when tribes and commercial casino companies get together, they are powerful—and Congress has to listen. Freeman has also recruited new members from industries that are related to gaming, but not fully a part of gaming, a model he learned at the USTA.

The AGA’s thoughtful approach to legalized sports betting is also a big plus. When you have the commissioner of the NBA saying he believes sports betting should be legalized, the AGA has been filling in the blanks, explaining why this idea makes sense.

And the AGA’s vocal opposition to illegal gambling—sweepstakes parlors, grey machines in bars and restaurants, and others—demonstrates that illegal gambling hurts everyone, and efforts to stamp it out should be increased. The AGA has created an impressive task force with top law enforcement officials as members.

The proactive strategy of the AGA is evident whenever a gaming-related event makes the news. The AGA always releases a statement explaining why that event is good or bad for the industry and what it would mean if it were repeated. In this election year, the AGA has commented on the importance of gaming votes whenever a candidate visits a jurisdiction where the industry plays a major role, like Las Vegas, Cleveland, Iowa and others.

So it seems that Geoff Freeman is certainly following in Frank Fahrenkopf’s vaunted footsteps, but he’s also creating a path of his own—one that benefits the overall gaming industry and all the members of the AGA.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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