AGA SVP: It's been a real whirlwind of a couple years for US gaming

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Gaming America catches up with Casey Clark, of the American Gaming Association (AGA), who was recently promoted to the role of SVP, Strategic Communications.

Congratulations on your recent promotion. How would you describe your time with the company so far?

It’s been a chaotic few months of transition but we’re excited about where we are, where we’re headed and it’s certainly a fun place to be. I started in mid-September 2017 and it’s been a real whirlwind of a couple of years: everything from the shooting which happened in Las Vegas, which happened on my 11th day on the job; to the Supreme Court’s hearing and ruling on sports betting, to Geoff [Freeman] moving into his new position and Bill [Miller] coming on board as CEO.

Amid all the proliferation of legalized gaming in the US and, not to mention, the day job of promoting and protecting the industry’s reputation, it’s been a real exciting, fascinating time here at the industry and at the AGA. That’s what attracted me in the first place.

Would you say you were prepared for what came or did it exceed your expectations in terms of activity?

I’m not sure anyone could really be prepared for those kind of events. But certainly a long career in the crisis communication business has helped me adjust quickly to these kind of things. What has made this a fun time amid the whirlwind is the team I get to work with every day.

We get a real high calibre of talent and have been able to really build a team here that is representative of the best of Washington and the communication business. We’re doing great things for the industry and it’s a really exciting proposition.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned at the AGA in your time so far?

When I got here, I was told it would take a year before I knew anything. By year two, I’d realized I didn’t know anything in year one. The key learning is I’m always learning. This industry is so dynamic and robust; it’s been an ongoing learning curve, with everything going on in sports betting and beyond, but that’s what makes this a really interesting opportunity for a communicator like me.

I like rolling up my sleeves and spending a lot of time diving into one industry and really getting to know the complexities here; the professionals throughout this industry are just top notch. My exposure to that and my opportunity to continue learning from them has been very rewarding.

When I spoke to Bill Miller last week, he praised how you have showcased the best of the industry; how co-operative have other industry stakeholders been in helping you achieve this?

The best associations are ones where members are actively involved. They’re not just driving an agenda but supporting the industry’s progress against major milestones. If you look across the industry, from our tribal membership, commercial casino membership and supplier membership, there have been any number of people who have been remarkably additive to the association’s business while also doing a day job.

If you look at how an association has an opportunity to tackle problems in the industry an individual company cannot, or to really be able to play a role of convening like-minded interests to achieve an outcome that’s additive to a whole industry, it’s hard to pinpoint one person. But I would say I’ve been very fortunate to have a really active membership here involved in not just promoting their own interests but the interests of the industry as a whole.

Something else your CEO spoke of is turning positive public sentiment into "political muscle." Can you walk us through the exact steps for getting through to politicians?

In my 10 years before coming here, I worked in the communication consulting business. I spent a lot of time discussing stakeholder engagement. Our research indicates a higher level of approval and receptivity to gaming’s role in mainstream entertainment among the gaming public than there’s ever been before.

But there’s always going to be an educational opportunity and an obligation for the association to protect and enhance the reputation of the industry. Regardless of how antiquated some stereotypes might be, or just general misperceptions about what we represent, our opportunity is to go into these communities and articulate the millions of jobs being supported, the billions of dollars in wages provided and the outlaying of opportunity for local businesses.

So I think it’s a real opportunity and an exciting one for me because I can tell a different story in every state: in Ohio, or Oklahoma, or Indiana, or Pennsylvania. It’s an exciting proposition because I get to help tell this story and the benefit of having solid facts about what our actual contributions mean for that community makes that story pretty easy to tell.

Is there any difficulty to this aspect of the job and how much of your time is spent in this area?

Quite a bit. We’re an advocacy organization that represents the interests of our broad industry. Some of that reputational tackling and storytelling has to happen directly with people who are making decisions about how we are legislated and regulated.

So we spend a good deal of time working collaboratively with government, working through how we make sure people understand the contributions our industry makes to their community; rather than relying on any misperception or antiquated stereotype there might be.

What would you personally single out as the organization’s biggest goal at the moment?

You might get a different answer depending on who you ask. Certainly, Bill’s got everyone focused on getting sports betting right and looking at payment modernization as an opportunity to unlock for the industry. One of the things I spend a great deal of time on and what our members are committed to is responsibility.

As an industry, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on traditional responsible gaming programmes which ensure our employees are trained to help people who need it, fund problem gambling centres and ensure people are enjoying our product in the right way. If you take a step back and look at the way every other industry talks about responsibility, it includes their commitment to the environment and communities.

These are things our industry really excels at. We’ve historically not done a great job of articulating all we do in these important areas. By no means are we going to shift away from all our commitments to responsible gambling. We will continue to lead on that effort. I think you’re going to see greater efforts on articulating our industry’s commitment to responsibility at large, to our employees, to our communities and to consumers. It’s going to be an ongoing effort but I think you’ll see a continued emphasis being placed there.

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