NIGA, AGA seek to strengthen gaming industry

5 October 2016

(PRESS RELEASE) -- On Tuesday, 27 September, the morning session titled, "Stronger Together: Gaming Ties That Bind" brought together the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and the American Gaming Association (AGA). As the morning Keynote, the leaders of both organizations took the center stage and focused on the issues that would make the gaming industry stronger as a whole.

The discussion was moderated by Victor Rocha, owner and editor of and President of Victor's Strategies, LLC. Rocha started the dialogue of the two gaming leaders and said, "This is a historical event." He spoke about earlier years, pointing to the early 1990s when Indian Gaming really took off beyond high stakes bingo and entered into casino style gaming. He said, "There were natural concerns with Indian Gaming expansion. Over the last two decades the facts have changed. NIGA and AGA weren't on the same page, although both associations were going in the same direction. What was the big change since then, he asked Freeman.

It was an opportunity to bridge differences the organizations had over the years to strengthen their new partnership and pave the way for addressing future industry challenges.

"What's changed from then to now is that gaming is present in 40 states. There was a point when gaming started in Nevada, and then New Jersey and as it spread from beyond those two states, there was a natural concern from the constituents that they would somehow lose market share. Over the past few decades, the rising tide is lifting for the better," Freeman said. "Visitation to Nevada has never been higher than it is today. Revenue in Nevada has never been better despite the expansion of gaming around the country. It has given us the opportunity to embrace all aspects of the gaming industry and to work together."

"I'm going to disagree right off the bat," Stevens said. "Nothing here has changed. We are tribal government gaming. Our right to engage as governments in the gaming arena is our right guaranteed to us through treaties and acknowledged in the U.S. Constitution and that's the way it has always been."

"What we're doing is building our communities and exercising our right to engage as governments in gaming, which people didn't understand. It is about education and enhancing people's appreciation for Tribal Government Gaming. Helping to get the general public to grasp our industry hasn't been an easy task. We'll work together to help understand each other's goals and priorities," Stevens continued. "I think that people finally understand that Indian Gaming is what tribal governments engage in for the betterment of Indian country and what it does for America as well." Stevens's disagreement was delivered in a friendly way so he could relate back to the historical context of Tribal Gaming and highlight what education and understanding has brought to the industry. He said, "The answer, when it's all done, is not about disagreement, it is about understanding and Geoff and I understand each other. It will help us to understand what's best for our constituencies and while there will be disagreements; I think that we will find a strong common bond for all in this industry."

Rocha said in the past, there was friction between the two gaming associations and asked what the approach would be to resolve differences in the future.

Stevens said, "I think you resolve the friction the way that Geoff Freeman has: by being straightforward and having dialogue and communication. When we understand one another it makes the world a better place."

Freeman said there are differences in the membership of tribal gaming and differences between members in commercial gaming. "There are differences in every industry. Our job is to focus on what brings us together. What are the issues we have in common? If we address those together, our likelihood of success is that much stronger," Freeman said.

He went on to say, "The two associations have worked together on common issues like the IRS proposal to lower the slot tax threshold from $1,200 to $600, or the plan to use the loyalty marketing programs, which both commercial and tribal casinos offer to track the gaming activities of players, which both organizations oppose.

"This is an easy opportunity to work together to send a consistent message to Washington that they are not going to do this on our watch and we are going to stand up together, and I think that is what is most important," Freeman said.

He continued, "Let's talk less and think less about what can divide us and think more about what can unite us."

Rocha posed the question concerning those who might be suspect of the association partnerships. Chairman Stevens said, "This is about making America understand our respective industries, and if you compare the numbers we [Indian gaming] is right on the heels of the overall industry as far as our share of the market. We are a major force in this industry, and if you are a major force in unity, that is something that is important. We have got to move forward together."

Chairman noted that tribal government gaming has made it past many milestones and noted that the industry would celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the Cabazon decision, which opened the door for the Indian gaming industry and said that it is important to maintain solid working relationships to build upon the industry as a whole in unity.

Freeman echoed Stevens and said, "I think we are doing that one hurdle at a time, by being who we are, by being transparent, by having these individual discussions," he said. "Giving each other the benefit of the doubt will make the partnership a lot stronger."

When asked about the industries stance on iGaming, Chairman Stevens said, "Indian Gaming is prepared; it is an inevitable component to change America's economy. We will continue to push for the rights of tribes as governments to get involved so it doesn't take off without us. It must respect our compacts. The National Tribal Gaming Commissioners and Regulators have draft technical standards and we're ready to go."

While Freeman responded, "There is no consensus in commercial gaming and it drove us to other areas where we have consensus (sports betting). We are taking a new approach with sports betting and the old policies based on social harm - which are the furthest from the truth - these policies restrict us from offering products in a seamless way for our customers. The world has moved on while we have these existing debates, and sports' betting continues to operate in the gray market, that's where innovation is taking place. The 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) must be repealed and consumer protection must become the focus."

Rocha then turned to both influential leaders and asked them to share a closing remark with regard to their historic dialogue. Chairman Stevens said, "It is important for our organizations to bring our minds together, to understand one another, to reach agreement when we can and to treat each other fairly. We can get it done!" Freeman said. "We are one industry, supporting one another and we need to continue to consider what we can do together for years to come, making us exponentially greater! We should be excited about what the future can hold!"

Chairman Stevens added, "Unity is important. There were many folks who lived through the era of concern for Indian Gaming. We need to leave that behind; we've made it through all of those obstacles. Our 184 members won't always see eye to eye, but we'll keep moving forward. We've changed the whole world through the Indian gaming industry, now we need to keep moving with that same momentum!"

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2016
American Gaming Association
Indian Gaming Association
National Indian Gaming Association
National Indian Gaming Association