AGA CEO: US gaming must translate positive public sentiment into political muscle

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Following three key promotions within the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) senior management, CEO Bill Miller spoke to Gaming America about the organisation’s strategic plans.

The AGA recently promoted Dan Bretl to the role of SVP, strategy and operations, Casey Clark to the role of SVP, strategic communications and Chris Cylke to the role of SVP, government relations. Talk us through the initial rationale behind the those changes.

For me, it really matches my priorities in terms of elevating the three promotions we’ve announced. When I joined the AGA, I had a pretty strong view of what our organisation and industry needed to do better. It took a little while to get to a place where we could really find the right talent to help execute that. But my view in the lead-up to getting this position, and in my first six months here, is the general public has a strong and very favourable view of our industry.

That comes from us being good partners in the communities in which we operate. We create jobs, we create economic opportunity, we exercise restraint and are responsible partners. But we are under-appreciated up on Capitol Hill. So the elevation of Chris, in particular, is a reflection of the importance I’ve put on making sure we can translate our strong public approval into similar favourable approval among lawmakers here in Washington.

How important is that kind of communication to the AGA and how has it managed to get its voice across so well? There is less of a voice for gaming associations in Europe, for example.

I’m glad to hear, on the one hand, we are seen as an important and influential voice here in the US. But I’m also disappointed that same kind of dynamic doesn’t exist across the pond. One of the things I was struck with in my early days at this job was how relevant and insightful some of the publications being conducted here at the AGA are. Whether it was our research on what’s going on on a state-by-state basis, tracking regulation, research into responsible gaming, the research and communications staff is incredibly talented.

Casey Clark has also done an excellent job showcasing the best of our industry, both from the economic viewpoint and a responsibility perspective. We recently released our self-regulation guidelines for advertising, as an example. Those were an attempt to foresee or prevent some of the backlash that’s happened with soccer in Europe. We want to put the industry in front of an issue that could potentially be negative. We think advertising in and around sports betting should target adults, be responsible and is not done in a way that’s overly aggressive.

That proactive approach is an interesting one considering the public perception in the UK and Europe, which is almost the reverse of US public opinion at the moment.

Our goal is to try and stay ahead of as many of these issues as possible. Sadly, some of those lessons we’ve already learned here in the US. If you think about the heavy, heavy introduction of daily fantasy sports and the heavy advertising taking place early in the US, curtailed via government agencies, it’s not just cautionary tales from Europe.

While I was over at ICE London, it was clear the reality of betting shops was the money was being made on fixed-odds betting terminals. There was recognition, maybe too late, the industry needed to do a better job of helping people betting within their means and budgeting. A £100 ($124.89) per spin limit can get you in trouble with regulators – and I think it did. For us in the US, it’s a cautionary tale.

We have such a strong vested interest in ensuring we are responsible business operators wherever we are in the country. Being regulated at the state level, we want to keep trying to make regulators understand how we operate. We have a responsibility to help problem gamblers get the help they need, as well as ensuring our taxes fund important programmes throughout the state and local level.

Bearing all of the above in mind, what’s the most important strategic goal for the new SVPs and the AGA moving forward?

There’s three things I talk about all the time, during speeches or when speaking to the board or the team. Because sports betting is so heavy in US news, we’ve gone from a dynamic where the only place you could legally bet on sports was Nevada. In just about a year’s time, we’ve now got 18 states plus the District of Columbia legalising sports wagering. It’s my belief that’s going to significantly affect the illegal offshore marketplace and we’re excited about that prospect.

The second issue, which really concerns the promotion of both Chris and Casey, is trying to translate the public sentiment into political muscle. What I mean by that is making politicians in Washington much more aware of the important economic benefit being created by our industry all over the country. I’ve travelled to places like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and New Jersey and seen what a positive impact our casino industry has had in these states. You can sit and talk to the casino manager who employs 1100 people; or the local florist who says the casino is by far her largest customer; or the fire chief who now has state-of-the-art equipment because of the additional revenue coming from gaming within their state.

The third piece, which is why we announced the promotion of Dan, is payment modernisation. In my early days at the AGA, I was surprised the industry is still so cash-based. Most of the transactions taking place in and around our properties and resorts involve digital currency. I’ve said in many speeches we as an industry need to keep pace with the next generation of individuals who want to enjoy gaming. Otherwise, we’re going to lose them.

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