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The Changing Game in D.C.

How the balance of power in Washington is affecting the gaming industry

Despite widespread discord throughout Washington, political players and spectators from both sides of the aisle can agree on at least one fact: The game is changing.

The recent election of Republican Scott Brown to the vacant U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts has upended the congressional balance of power, dismantling the Democratic supermajority. It has established an atmosphere of uncertainty on Capitol Hill, threatening to create an impassable legislative logjam. The national policy agenda-once firmly established-is now virtually unknown.

The upcoming midterm elections in November already promised to interrupt negotiations in Washington this year, as many lawmakers planned to return home to rally their constituents. However, those eager to exploit-or suppress-the opportunity presented by Senator Brown’s election are now likely to campaign with even greater fervor-and frequency.

It is difficult to predict how this change will impact the commercial casino industry. We expect the newly shifted playing field to affect almost every policy initiative with significant implications for gaming.

To that end, our industry continues to monitor health care negotiations, which were disrupted-though not entirely abandoned-in the wake of Senator Brown’s election. Likewise, we are following efforts to create a bipartisan jobs bill, which is likely to include tax credits and extenders that will affect businesses of all stripes.

Alarmingly, the jobs bill also might create an opening for card-check legislation, which has experienced very little movement to date. We plan to keep close watch for any attempts by union advocates to fold the legislation into the larger bill.

Also, our industry recently redoubled its efforts to advance the Travel Promotion Act, which would spur domestic and international tourism and bring millions of new visitors to casinos.

In addition, we are monitoring the renewed efforts of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) and other lawmakers to legalize internet gambling this year, as well as tribal gaming leaders’ activities to persuade the administration to overturn a ban on off-reservation gaming.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC represents yet another Washington game-changer. Effectively undoing campaign finance reform, the landmark decision lifts several previously imposed limits on campaign spending by corporations, unions and organizations.

Citizens United v. FEC significantly expands the type of political advocacy in which our industry can engage. Going forward, the American Gaming Association and its members can indirectly support political candidates without regard to contribution limits imposed upon the AGA political action committee. In addition, the AGA can participate in or support coalitions that sponsor independent political advertisements.

Still, not everything has changed; federal, state and local laws restricting or prohibiting corporate contributions directly to political candidates and parties remain intact.

But perhaps nothing will alter the political playing field more than the mid-term elections. Policy-makers frequently refer to a persistent “trust deficit” throughout the country; that is, the electorate is becoming increasingly skeptical of the motives and abilities of incumbent legislators. It seems very likely that the outcome of this year’s elections will further change the game in Washington.

Many elections in gaming states and communities will be extremely hard-fought. Arguably, longtime Senator Harry Reid’s (D-Nevada) bid for re-election will be among the most challenging. Recent poll results indicate that he would face a tough battle against a variety of possible Republican contenders in November.

It would be difficult to overstate the meaning of Senator Reid’s tenure to our industry. As the majority leader of the Senate, his influence is nearly unparalleled, which is a benefit to the industry. In fact, Reid and every member of the congressional gaming caucus are to be commended for their vigilant efforts to safeguard our businesses. They understand, far better than most, that casinos are engines of economic vitality, bringing innumerable benefits to communities across the country.

To be certain, gaming has not been immune to legislative exceptions in recent years; the massive economic stimulus package that passed last year famously included a carve-out for casinos. Still, members of the gaming caucus have protected our industry’s interests whenever possible.

In this challenging election season, it’s important to support those who support our industry. Particularly at a time when lawmakers are hungrily searching for additional sources of revenue, having those in positions of influence who understand our contributions and will fight for our issues is paramount.

Ultimately, however, congressional tenures are not lifetime appointments. Legislators come and go; the political pendulum swings from right to left, then back again. In order to achieve continued success in Washington, our industry must build a broad coalition of support. Diverse and bipartisan, it must include up-and-coming leaders, as well as reputable lawmakers in positions of power, who share Senator Reid’s deep understanding of gaming’s tremendous impact nationwide.

Enhancing the commercial casino industry’s network of support on Capitol Hill is among the AGA’s top priorities in 2010. Therefore, throughout the year, the AGA will arrange for gaming leaders to meet with non-traditional political allies, in an effort to familiarize them with our industry and how it contributes to the economic well-being of hundreds of communities.

In addition, in September, the AGA will host its second annual fly-in event, convening industry leaders on Capitol Hill to meet with a wide range of Washington influencers. Also, the AGA will further expand its bipartisan PAC, which will keep our industry well protected no matter how significantly the political playing field shifts.

Without question, these are interesting times in Washington; day to day, the game continues to change. It is impossible to predict what 2010 has in store for the commercial casino industry-or for the country. However, industry employees across the country-from Atlantic City to Altoona, Iowa-can rest assured that we are doing all we can to ensure that our nation’s leaders hear their voices.

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