AGA version 2.0 By Aaron Stanley February 17, 2015 at 4:29 pm If the American Gaming Association 1.0 was built around the rolodex of longtime chairman and political operative Frank Fahrenkopf, the AGA 2.0 is built around the savvy pragmatism and consensus-building approach crafted by Geoff Freeman, who in 2013 brought a wealth of knowledge to the AGA as a former public relations man and trade association executive. The chic new office space in Washington is just the tip of the iceberg. The revamped AGA has fashioned itself as a relevant voice on a growing range of gaming issues, as well as broader tourism and entertainment-related matters. In the process, it has expanded its representation of the casino business by reaching out to more Indian tribes and game manufacturers, while attracting significant positive press coverage to an industry that is accustomed to attracting headlines mostly for the wrong reasons. Take as an example the group’s recent efforts to leverage the growing attention surrounding sports betting and illegal wagering on the Super Bowl. Sports betting roared back onto the national stage in November when New Jersey governor Chris Christie doubled down on his ongoing scuffle with the U.S. government over bringing sports wagering to the state’s casinos and racetracks, while National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver shook the world in a New York Times op-ed by calling for a federal framework for the legalization of sports betting. The AGA quickly seized the moment by urging FinCEN and other regulators to more closely monitor illicit sports wagering. The campaign was topped off by the release of the gaming industry’s first-ever estimate of the total amount unlawfully wagered on the Super Bowl – $3.8bn this year, according to the AGA. The announcement was cleverly pitched to the press and a scoop was offered to – and picked up by – Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook, the must-read morning newsletter that is required for any aspiring member of the Washington political in-crowd. The $3.8bn figure garnered considerable press coverage and even prompted Senator John McCain to call for congressional hearings on the state of sports betting in the US. That’s not bad for a figure that was more or less pulled out of thin air. The $3.8bn number was extrapolated from an estimate produced by the National Gambling Impact Commission in 1999 – back when dial up internet was king, AOL was big enough to buy Time Warner, the other Clinton was president, and Y2K was a bigger threat than Islamist extremism. While the AGA insists this number is a conservative estimate, there is no way to accurately gauge it without a more in-depth study. But while the figure can’t be confirmed, it can’t be disproved either. And the main point is not the exact amount wagered illegally on one event, it’s the fact that the estimate drew substantial attention to a prohibition that most observers deem to be silly and in need of review. The message was heard loud and clear, a success which validates the AGA strategy of adding the casino industry’s voice to whatever the zeitgeist issue happens to be. Last month, it was an outspoken advocate in urging Congress, along with countless other business groups, to renew a terrorism insurance measure that shockingly was left unfinished in December. The AGA’s “Get to Know Gaming” campaign and an economic impact and job creation study released in conjunction with Oxford Economics have strongly resonated in what is perhaps the most disjointed recovery from a recession in U.S. history. The national unemployment rate has dropped in recent months, but the working class is undeniably still falling behind. Promoting the well-paying, often-unionized jobs found in casinos plays fantastically into the current conversation on how to continue the resuscitation of the economy. The AGA has also wisely backed away from contentious intra-industry issues such as online gambling, instead focusing on equally important ones that everyone can agree on, such as anti-money laundering controls and working with law enforcement to crack down on illegal forms of gambling. Other areas that the group has weighed in on appear to be for the sole purpose of scratching the backs of other interest groups in return for favors later on down the road – which isn’t the worst strategy in a town in which ideas only advance when promoted by formidable coalitions. Patent reform is an obvious example – the AGA is a member of the Main Street Patent Coalition, which is urging Congress to restrict the ability of so-called patent “trolls” to sue over infringement claims. There doesn’t seem to be any indication that these trolls are scourging the casino industry (if I’m wrong on this, I’m happy to be corrected). Furthermore, the retailers, restaurants and hotels in the coalition were assembled by Google and other tech firms looking for proxy fighters in their bid to water down the litigation rights of patent holders. This change in patent law is unlikely to pass in Congress because it is vociferously opposed by universities, who are powerful interest groups within specific congressional districts as well as in some entire states. Still, the move shows the savvy strategy of partnering with other industry groups on common issues and using strength in numbers to influence policy, as opposed to simply schmoozing lawmakers. This is what will continue to make AGA 2.0 an effective industry representative in a political environment in Washington that is becoming increasingly more toxic. Aaron Stanley is the Washington Bureau Manager for the Financial Times, where he writes about US politics and business – including the gaming industry – for a global audience.