AGA CEO: The show must go on for US casino industry

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Bill Miller, American Gaming Association (AGA) president and CEO, speaks with Gaming America about the US casino industry's efforts to return to normality since casinos reopened. This article originally featured in Gaming America's recent US CEO special magazine.

It’s been a busy time for US gaming in the last few months and a crucial time since casinos have reopened. Can you talk us through the industry’s efforts to responsibly reopen?

Clearly the pandemic has shaken the industry. We had a point where the entire 989 casinos across America were all shut down. I’m happy to report that we’re getting closer to a better base line but that comes from a very a deep trough. We are at 87% of America’s casinos that have now reopened but they all reopened with restrictions. For the most part, I think if we were to put a frame around it, most are operating at 50% capacity. And then additionally the design around reopening has been one where you want to make sure you have the proper and adequate testing regimes for your employees because you want to create a safe working environment.

Then you want to make sure the customers understand and recognize they can have fun again in a safe manner. Just a couple weeks ago, the AGA released for the first time our commercial tracker that shows the relative health and strength of the industry on a quarterly basis. We just introduced this for Q2 of 2020, but our intent is to continue this as we begin to climb out of this hole.

The gaming market from a casino perspective is really divided into two categories: tribal and commercial. The tribal casinos report in a different fashion so our Q2 tracker only showed and compiled the information around commercial casinos for Q2, and we saw total revenue was $2.3bn for Q2 of 2020, but that’s down 79% year-over-year. We have every indication and every belief that that was the bottom. The monthly numbers are slowly but surely getting better.

When it comes to H2, what are your hopes? As you mentioned it’s slowly progressing month by month, but where do you think casinos can see themselves by the end of this year?

I think bottom line it’s going to be better. Our motto is it’s not about getting open, it’s about getting open and staying open. The way you actually make that happen is by creating a safe environment for your employees and customers. What we’ve seen is that our members have gotten important and relevant guidance from health officials, certainly from Governors and other state regulators in terms of what should be best practices. In many cases, our casino operators have even exceeded those mandates and those directives, or suggested to create the environment that is welcoming because we know this.

Our motto is it's not about getting open, it's about getting open and staying open. The way you actually make that happen is by creating a safe environment for your employees and customers.

We’ve all been scarred through this pandemic and that scarring is going to take a significant amount of time to get people to be comfortable with even the small things like going to a restaurant or a theater, or getting on an airplane or going to a casino. All of those things require from the consumer that it’s safe to go out and enjoy life the way you did before COVID-19.

Something that helps with safety is a move away from cash and payment modernization. What kind of progress is being made here across the industry?

It certainly was a top priority for me when I got this job about 18 months or so ago. While I think the industry was making important strides toward payment modernization in a manner that was reflective of consumer desires, what we’ve seen is increasingly because of CDC guidance and other guidance around cleanliness, germs and cash and reducing touch points. All of these things move us closer to a world where the casino industry increasingly is offering digital payments as an option on the casino floor.

Importantly, because this is a regulated industry by and large at the state level as it resorts to these sorts of things, or the tribal nation level, there have been some statutory prohibitions moving into digital. What we’ve seen so far is progressive regulators in places like New Jersey and Nevada that have led the way to open up this opportunity and we’re seeing it happening on casinos floors now. It’s happening in a more accelerated fashion than it probably would have before COVID.

The article is available to read in full here.

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