What challenges do you confront in representing a state whose economy depends heavily on the gaming industry?
Like much of America, Nevada has experienced a booming economy with rapid growth. With that growth, Nevada more than ever depends on the gaming industry and the financial benefits it provides. However, as evidenced by recent developments in Washington, the gaming community has come under increased fire. It is time for us, as Nevadans, to renew our commitment to fighting for Nevada’s economic future in the halls of Congress.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated portions of the Gulf Coast, the region’s business community suffered catastrophic losses. Among the hardest hit was the gaming industry, as many area casinos experienced the worst of the storm.
In order to provide immediate economic relief to the region, Congress passed $8 billion in tax incentives aimed at getting businesses back on their feet. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of a very vocal group of anti-gambling members of Congress, area casinos are only allowed to receive partial benefits.
The gaming community was not looking for any special deals or exceptions – they were only trying to be treated like the other legal businesses adversely affected by a tragic natural disaster. However, by perpetuating negative stereotypes about casinos and ignoring the positives, this anti-gaming group was able to limit the assistance casinos can receive, and strike a blow to the industry as a whole.
How quickly anti-gaming members of Congress forget what casinos have done for local communities, cities and states across the country. Mississippi is a perfect example. Since allowing casinos to operate on barges floating on the Mississippi River or in the Gulf of Mexico, casinos have become the region’s economic powerhouse. Before Katrina hit, Mississippi casinos employed 17,000 people. In fiscal year 2005, the state collected $99 million in tax revenue from casinos.
The gaming community’s treatment post-Katrina was a warning sign, and stresses the need to rebuild gaming’s image on Capitol Hill.
Gaming’s presence in Washington, for the most part, consisted of lobbying efforts on behalf of the American Gaming Association (AGA) and individual representatives and senators with gaming interests in their district or state. As chairman of the AGA Board of Directors, MGM Mirage’s Terry Lanni has done a remarkable job of presenting the positives of the gaming industry, as have a number of government affairs representatives. But the fact remains they can’t do it alone.
How can government officials and members of the gaming community improve the way the industry is perceived and help “put a face” on Nevada?
We can start by expanding bipartisan relationships with members of Congress and influential leaders in Washington. We need to do a better job of making it clear to them that the benefits of legal gaming reach far and wide, and impact millions of Americans on a daily basis. We need to paint the picture of the married couple, both making a good living working at a casino, whose children go to a school that has directly benefited from tax revenue generated by the local gaming community. We need to remind people that this industry cares about its own, as demonstrated by the relocation to Nevada of thousands who lost everything to Katrina’s wrath.
Concerns about gaming are never going to go away – instead, they will only grow as the industry is subject to repeated attacks. The recent controversy surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his dealings with Indian casinos – while no fault of the casinos themselves – only adds fuel to the anti-gaming movement on Capitol Hill. These unjustified attacks must continually be countered with the positives.
Gaming is not just about wins and losses. It’s about tourism, revenue and providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans. It’s time to drive that point home in Congress, so we can protect the industry that has helped turn Nevada into one of our country’s most desirable places to live.