AGA chief: Time to go on offense to push agenda, including web gaming

The American Gaming Association's chief, Geoff Freeman, recently sent an update to his board.

No, I'm not on the board. But I have it, with annotations:

AGA Board of Directors –

Thank you to those of you who joined us on December 12 for our final board meeting of 2013.  We had a thought provoking discussion that touched on many of the most pressing issues facing the industry today, including online gaming, the current regulatory environment and the AGA’s 2014 strategic plan. 

Key takeaways from the meeting include:                             

 

·         Shift in AGA’s Role from Defense to Offense – As the industry continues to evolve so does the AGA.  With the start of the New Year and the addition of new talent, we will drive a research-based campaign that improves perceptions of gaming by illustrating the immense economic value we bring to communities across the country.  This long-term initiative to champion the gaming industry will include groundbreaking research, aggressive communications and on-the-ground activities targeted to locations considering gaming’s expansion.  The attached 2014 strategic plan outlines the AGA’s agenda to establish gaming’s significant value proposition.

Alas, I do not have the strategic plan (yet). But this has been tried before. Sisyphus had it easier. The AGA has always played defense well, knowing that going on offense just shines the spotlight brighter on the industry. So this is high-risk.

·         Consensus on Preventing Online Prohibition – The online gaming debate has shifted FROM federal poker-only versus state-by-state regulation TO outright prohibition or state-by-state regulation.  The AGA Board (1) reaffirmed its support for regulated gaming wherever and on whatever platform gaming exists, and (2) committed to funding a campaign to defend that position as it relates to online.  In advance of a Board conference call at 1:00 EST on Monday, December 23, we will provide a proposed campaign plan and funding structure.  We will ask the Board to support 50 percent of the campaign’s costs with other interested parties providing additional dollars.  

I wonder if member Sheldon Adelson will pony up. I'm told the Las Vegas Sands doesn't plan to leave the AGA over this issue, but Adelson also isn;t likley to lose his zeal for stopping what Freeman is pushing. I know some members -- MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainemnt -- are gung ho. But what about the rest?

"While there are a variety of opinions on Internet gaming, we have consensus that prohibition is the wrong approach," Freeman told me.

Fascinating dynamic: An association head pushing an agenda opposed by arguably its most famous and most successful member. Fun for those of us with no stake in the fight to watch....

·         Agreement to Act in the Best Interest of the Greater Good – In some past instances, the AGA has deferred taking a strong position on issues that benefit the majority if these interests were misaligned to individual member concerns.  The Board agreed that the time has come for the industry to prioritize a pro-gaming, pro-growth agenda over issues of competition or individual member strategies.  Online gaming is an example of this approach.

I wonder if Adelson will see this as another thumb in his eye. I've dealt with these folks a lot longer than Freeman, and I still don't know how his predecessor, Frank Fahkrenopf, lasted so long. I don't know how long you can last if you begin to take positions that powerful members oppose. This will test all of Freeman's public relations skills.

·         Desire to Expand Membership – There is increasing interest among the Board to broaden membership and include more legal and regulated forms of gaming as a strategy to achieve growth and protect reputation.  Aside from being licensed and regulated, these members must also agree to uphold our industry’s strict code of conduct.  This broader definition of membership could include select tribes, lottery-affiliated companies and others in the gaming space.  AGA will create a task force to explore membership expansion and ensure that the interests of the commercial casino industry are protected as we grow.

This I gotta see! Strict code of conduct? Is that like what Bond told Goldfinger on the golf course?

·         Support for Organizational Alignment and 2014 Budget – The previous organization strategy was built for a different AGA.   With the 2014 strategic plan the AGA is committing to aggressive offense, effective defense and leadership on signature issues.  This requires several budget and structural shifts in 2014, including significant new investments in communication, education and advocacy, and expansion in experienced talent dedicated to promoting the interests of the gaming industry.  This shift received strong support from the Board.  A copy of the approved 2014 budget is attached. 

I'd really like to see that budget, too....

Thank you for your support during my first six months at the helm of your Association.  I am confident that together we can ensure the AGA becomes a more powerful force of leadership to drive gaming’s interests.  Please review the attached materials and never hesitate to share your questions, suggestions or concerns. 

Happy Holidays,

Geoff

I have some unsolicited advice for Freeman, and here it is.