Casino lobbyist: Time to go on offense

It’s time for the gaming industry to go on offense in Washington, the new chief of the American Gaming Association (AGA) said on Tuesday.

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the casino lobby, said the AGA is strong as any trade association when it comes defending against policies that could restrict gaming. But where the group needs to improve is telling how the industry creates business and jobs, he said.
 

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“It's time for us to make that transition from being more of a defensive organization to being one that is trying to put some goals up on the board,” Freeman told The Hill. “The next-generation association is trying to figure out how do we help make the industry grow? How do we advance our agenda, not just defend or protect the status quo?”
 
Freeman was in Barcelona on Tuesday, where he gave the keynote speech to the European iGaming Congress. The AGA billed the address as his first major speech as head of the trade group, and Freeman made clear he intends to chart a new course.
 
“Our story has not been well-told. Perceptions of the industry are quite dated,” Freeman said. “I look at this industry as providing extraordinary value in local communities, the jobs that have been created, the spending that's been generated, the local businesses that have benefited. Those are the stories we have to tell to reposition how the industry is understood.”
 
Freeman said the AGA needs “to help policymakers see the industry as the economic engine that it can be.”
 
Freeman, the former chief operating officer for the U.S. Travel Association, took the helm of the AGA on July 1. He replaced Frank Fahrenkopf, a former Republican National Committee chairman who had led the trade group since its creation in 1995.
 
One area of expansion for gambling is the Internet. States have rushed to legalize online gaming after a 2011 Justice Department ruling found that the Wire Act only banned online betting on sports.
 
This year, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) has introduced legislation to set up a federal regulatory regime for online gambling, while Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) has offered a bill to license and regulate online poker. 
 
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) have also been working on legislation regarding online poker after Reid’s effort with former Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) failed to move last year.
 
Freeman said the AGA isn’t ready to back those bills yet when it comes to online gaming.
 
“What we have seen is good things in a lot of different bills. When we get to the point it's about supporting one specific bill, we'll get there. We are not at that point yet. There needs to be a critical mass of support for doing this. We don't yet have that critical mass of support,” Freeman said.
 
There is some discord within the casino industry when it comes to online gambling. Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp., as well as a Republican super-donor, has come out hard against legalizing online gaming.
 
The trade group is interested in the federal government helping to set up minimum standards to root out bad actors and protect consumers. Freeman argues that Internet gambling is already happening and needs to be regulated.
 
“I know the industry writ large supports a regulated framework for online gaming,” Freeman said. “It's here. Online gaming is here. It's not a matter of should we do or not do it. Americans are doing it. Now are we going to regulate it, or we are going to let the black market thrive?”