Gaming companies are eligible for additional aid under the $900 billion COVID-19 relief measures passed by Congress Monday, but the head of the American Gaming Association, while calling the industry resilient, is calling on federal lawmakers to do more when they return in January, especially to spur travel and tourism in 2021.
“The American Gaming Association is encouraged that Congress has agreed on bipartisan legislation, which provides important relief for many Americans and businesses that continue to struggle as a result of the pandemic,” AGA President and CEO Bill Miller said in a statement released just before midnight EST Monday. “While this much-needed aid is a significant step, it is imperative that the next Congress act swiftly on additional measures to address the economic challenges facing our nation and our industry.”
NEW: AGA’s statement on tonight’s COVID-19 relief legislation, the importance of continued support for American businesses, and our priorities for gaming’s recovery: https://t.co/orKhMdxPR0
— American Gaming Association (@AmericanGaming) December 22, 2020
In the package approved by Congress, businesses, including gaming companies can receive loans under the Payroll Protection Program for employee retention and tax credits if they meet eligibility requirements for those programs.
“Gaming communities, companies, and employees across the country have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic—enduring mandated closures and operating restrictions, investing heavily in health and safety protocols, and playing a key role in stopping the community spread of COVID. We’ve met these challenges with resolve and resilience,” Miller said. “Congress must do their part to provide meaningful relief for businesses and their communities, whose vitality are inextricably linked. Gaming companies support nearly two million American jobs, provide critical tax revenue, and serve as economic engines in communities all across America.”
As 2020 winds down, Miller said in a recent interview with Gaming Today that there’s no question this year was the most challenging for everyone in America and the gaming industry. At one point last spring, all casinos in the U.S. were shut down, he said. With rising cases across the country, some casinos temporarily shuttered or are closing hotel towers midweek as has been occurring on the Las Vegas Strip.
“We had air travel and hotels face almost existential threats because of the pandemic and because of the shutdowns because of the pandemic,” Miller said. “Challenges is an insufficient word for what we faced in 2020, but the industry is a very resilient industry.”
Miller highlighted in his interview with Gaming Today that he expects a robust recovery by this summer because of the dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Miller said in his Monday statement the AGA looks forward to working with the 117th Congress and the Biden Administration in 2021 to provide tax relief that will save gaming jobs and alleviate costs, liability protections that advance responsible reopening, incentives for reviving travel and tourism, and essential support for tribal nations.
“We still have work to do to get the aid to the industry,” Miller told Gaming Today. “We’re working hard to try and continue to ensure that we get tax relief to save jobs and alleviate costs. We need support for the travel and tourism industry to jumpstart that important element of the economy.”
Miller said a unified gaming industry can achieve a “great deal” and did with the previous COVID-19 relief. Miller, who’s celebrating his two-year anniversary in the job, said when he got to the AGA, there had been instances where the industry didn’t unify in its prioritization on government relief and government response to support the industry and that was to their detriment.
“I think in this case with this set of members we are fortunate to have, the industry put aside self-interest and focused on highest and best relief to the industry,” Miller said. “As a part of that, we saw extraordinary relief and support from the federal government.
The AGA has been working with the new members of Congress who will be in place in January to strengthen and grow the Gaming Caucus, Miller said. There are 60 new members in the House, and 45 are from gaming states and said they have “already communicated about the important role gaming plays in the states they represent,” he said.
Miller said as he looks back on 2020, there was some “important and significant movement” on relief for the industry. It was historic that the gaming industry was included in the (federal relief) Cares Act earlier this year, he said.
“The industry had been excluded after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, during the 2008 and 2009 financial collapse, and Superstorm Sandy,” MIller said. “The industry was included and treated the same as every other industry, and that was a historic first and important turning point in my opinion among how we are seen by government leaders. They recognize now the commitment we make in our communities, the jobs we create and taxes we pay. We are an important contributor to these communities, and we deserved the same relief as everybody else.”
Miller said he’s had numerous discussions with people with the President-elect Joe Biden transition team talking about the industry and sports betting. Biden hasn’t yet named an attorney general, and that person will have a role in how the 1961 Wire Act is interpreted by the Department of Justice. The Wire Act has the potential to stop online sports wagering and is tied up in the court system.
“My view is that we know that Wire Act is in the courts and while president-elect hasn’t named an attorney general yet, it’s going to be up to that attorney general and their solicitor on whether or not they want to pursue the Wire Act case in the courts,” MIller said. “We will stay tuned on that.”