Fahrenkopf ending 17½ years as AGA boss

Jan 9, 2013 7:16 AM

Special To GamingToday

AGA President Frank Fahrenkopf was describing the ease with which a part time gig can turn into a career. This was as he contemplates the end of his 17½ years at the helm of the gaming industry’s Washington-based lobbying association.

It was close to 20 years ago, he said, that gaming leaders recognized the need for a continuing strong presence near Congress after the industry narrowly escaped a proposed 4 percent gross receipts tax that would have been used to help fund President Clinton’s call for a national health insurance program.

That was a challenging time, he remembers, a time when the national perspective on gaming was still based “more on myth than reality.” Expansion beyond Nevada’s borders was well under way but the tendency of many legislatures to tax casinos to the Nth degree made for difficult negotiations.

“What happened after we avoided the Clinton tax proposal was the top guys formed a search committee that included Skip Avansino who was then president of Hilton gaming operations, former IGT chairman Chuck Mathewson and Steve Wynn.

“I was one of the people they talked to about putting this lobbying organization together. My first reaction was that I was not inclined to take the job, but the way they put it was, ‘look, do it just for a year, just long enough to get us up and running.’ I never imagined that year would turn into more than 17 years.”

Fahrenkopf opened that first AGA office in 1955 secure in the feeling that he could handle a year. But life is what happens while men and women are making other plans. 

It quickly became apparent that the Association and its staff were providing a helpful dose of facts, something to dispel the cocktail of myths and innuendo about a business that was providing a growing stream of tax revenue that was being put to good use in a number of states.

Time went by.

Fahrenkopf and his pal Senate Majority leader Harry Reid were recently yukking it up about their coming 30-year anniversaries in Washington, sharing old war stories, wondering where the time went. Reid was elected to Congress from Las Vegas in 1983. Fahrenkopf was chairman of the Republican Committee for six of Ronald Reagan’s eight years in the White House and continues to serve as co-chairman of the Committee on Presidential Debates.

It’s clear that although he’s turning AGA leadership over to a successor he will retain close ties with a wide network of influential forces there.

“I’ve talked to a couple universities,” he was telling me this week, “and may do some teaching. There will be some opportunities to do writing and speaking and,” adding with a chuckle, “probably practice my putting.”

A search committee is already well into the search for that successor and the usual suspects have already received some mention in the daily news media about their standing on the list of possible successors – people like Caesars SR VP of Public Affairs Jan Jones and former representatives Jon Porter and Shelley Berkley.

Jones has reportedly said through friends that she is not interested in the job – she’s happy at Caesars, but also supposedly adds that she has not been asked. Whoever makes the short list, CEOs like Gary Loveman and Jim Murren will likely wield significant influence.

Another current industry talent worth mentioning as a candidate is MGM Resorts Sr. VP Alan Feldman who has traveled the world explaining the industry and its reality to the news media, legislators and assorted other watchers.

Fahrenkopf’s resignation date will be the end of June but he will be visible for sometime after that, probably helping with the planning of this fall’s annual Global Gaming Expo, the AGA and gaming’s annual big show in Las Vegas.

He doubts that’s that the new president “will want me hanging over his shoulder” for any significant time after that. One thing’s certain, he’ll be a resource for anyone in need of an articulate account of gaming and entertainment’s travel across the landscape of the last nearly 20 years.

I had one last question. Does he anticipate federal action on Internet gaming anytime soon, or should we all relax and hope Chris Christie accepts 2016’s GOP nomination and reaches the White House where his early actions might include a presidential order legalizing sports betting across the country?

That gets another chuckle before he says, “I know Harry Reid is still looking for the right piece of legislation to hang it (sports betting) on.”

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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