American Gaming Association President and CEO Bill Miller said Tuesday the industry’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will take time and be uneven but the rebound will be strong.
Miller cited how the industry has broad support among Americans and is unified, and that positions it to hit the ground running after the Nov. 3 election, regardless of which party wins the White House or controls Congress.
Miller kicked off the virtual Global Gaming Expo Tuesday with an optimistic take about the future despite the industry getting hit hard by COVID-19. Every casino was closed in March by government mandates before the reopenings began, and states have lost more than $2 billion dollars in gaming tax revenue over the first four months of the pandemic alone, he said.
More than 90% of commercial and tribal casinos are open at reduced capacity per COVID-19 guidelines, and Miller said commercial gaming continues to rebound with some states even exceeding pre-pandemic revenue numbers. Regional drive markets are recovering faster than destination gaming hubs like Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
“While we’re all disappointed that we can’t be together this week, I just got back from Las Vegas, and let me tell you, there’s no stopping the energy and vibrancy that make that city the Entertainment Capital of the World,” Miller said. “It was great to see first-hand everyone’s efforts to reopen responsibly.”
Miller said the gaming industry has been through tough challenges before and has always “emerged stronger” on the other side.
“A full recovery depends largely on factors beyond our control: how quickly will a vaccine be developed and distributed; how soon can occupancy restrictions safely be lifted; and when will people feel comfortable getting back on airplanes,” Miller said. “But the things we do control provide reasons for optimism that gaming can and will rebound to the historic highs we were enjoying before the pandemic.”
Miller said the AGA’s American Attitudes survey shows that more Americans view gaming favorably than ever before as it has grown from two states in 1978 to 44 states today.
“They see the exciting experiences we offer,” Miller said. “They recognize the positive impact we deliver: The jobs we support; the small businesses we sustain; and the tax revenue we contribute. They respect our commitment to promoting responsible gaming and to operating with integrity. These are the reasons Americans have embraced gaming and they will fuel gaming’s recovery.”
Miller said the industry has made significant investments to deal with COVID-19 such as personal protective equipment and sanitation, employee testing and contract tracing. The casino floor has been reimagined to ensure a safe customer and employee experience, he said. Customers are being screened with thermal cameras and there are reduced touchpoints with contactless check-ins.
“MGM and Las Vegas Sands recently rolled out plans to safely reopen meetings and conventions,” Miller said. “Wynn Resorts is building an on-site lab to deploy and rapidly process thousands of ‘gold standard’ tests. The bottom line: gaming has adapted before, we are adapting today, and these actions are speeding our recovery.”
Miller said it’s important that gaming be treated the same as other industries, and it is united to fight discriminatory treatment from Washington, D.C. as the pandemic continues.
“And in fact, we saw this when the Small Business Administration tried to exclude gaming from the Paycheck Protection Program,” Miller said. “We didn’t back down. Rather, we came together with one voice to successfully pressure the SBA to treat gaming businesses the same way every other small business in America was being treated.”
Miller said there’s an agenda that unites the industry. In advance of the election, additional legislative relief is in a partisan stalemate.
“Rest assured that we are focused not only on ensuring that gaming is included in additional recovery assistance, and that these champions defend and advance our interests,” Miller said. “We’re seeking liability protections – so gaming businesses that follow public health guidelines aren’t hit with lawsuits. We will work for tax relief – to save jobs, alleviate COVID-19 expenses, and boost travel. We will push to help tribal nations that rely on gaming to support their communities. And we will continue to fight to lower regulatory burdens, like adjusting the slot tax reporting threshold and repealing the sports betting excise and head taxes.”
Miller said the AGA will also continue to support the expansion of legal sports betting. To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have joined Nevada to offer regulated sports betting, and Americans have wagered nearly $26 billion on sporting events generating more than $231 million in tax revenue since May 2018.
“States must create an operating environment that allows regulated sportsbooks to offer a competitive alternative to illegal operators,” Miller said. “That means keeping tax rates low and allowing conveniences like intrastate mobile and online betting that fans prefer.