Miller acknowledges setback

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Bill Miller, the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association said the gaming industry is suffering a setback with rising coronavirus cases and government restrictions — including closures in some states — but that casinos need to “ride it out” until the dissemination of a vaccine fuels a recovery by this spring and summer.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Sunday extended a pause he put into effect just before Thanksgiving that will now go until Jan. 15. That leaves in place a 25percent capacity limit in casinos, a limit on gatherings of no more than 50 and the possibility of more restrictions if infections and hospitalizations don’t improve.

“I think we’re experiencing a setback right now across the country with spikes in cases and hospitalizations and deaths,” Miller said in an interview with Gaming Today. “It’s appropriately forcing government leaders to shut down different parts of the economy, albeit maybe less so than they did in March and April.

“Nonetheless, it’s a stress on our industry in the same way it is a stress on much of the economy.”

Miller said there will be “continued challenges before we get to April, May and June,” but he said the industry is prepared. He said he doesn’t want to be a pandemic expert and critique government decisions, but added COVID-19 is a global issue.

“I think (casinos) learned a great deal from having to go through absolute shutdowns in March, April, May and June and in some states longer than that,” Miller said. “That has created a level of resilience that will be helpful in navigating these next few dark months, but it will be an extraordinary spring and summer for the industry.”

Miller said there aren’t many people who earlier this year predicted by the end of 2020 there would be several vaccines that are above 90 percent effectiveness. He called it a remarkable achievement by global health experts and that people should be grateful.

“It’s realistic for us to think as we get to spring and summer that we will have an economy and leisure sector and gaming sector that is very healthy and robust by summer 2021,” he said. “I don’t know if there are too many people that would be able to predict that without these miraculous developments by health and safety experts in the world.”

That recovery includes the Las Vegas Strip, which has trailed behind regional and local casinos in gaining back its customer share and revenues compared to 2019. Miller even cited a recent quote from Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox that Las Vegas will have a Roaring Twenties-type recovery when a vaccine is disseminated.

“I agree with that wholeheartedly,” Miller said. “There’s no place in the world like Las Vegas. I believe U.S. savings rates have never been higher in the history of our country. People have been cooped up in their homes for months and months. The ability for them to go out and enjoy themselves safely and responsibly is something people are craving right now. When they believe it is safe, they will come up in droves.

“While I believe the business traveler and conference element to Las Vegas and Orlando and New York and San Francisco and Dallas and Chicago — all of the places that had significant conference and convention business — is going to be slower. But I think the intense pent-up desire to travel and have fun may well make up for that in the short term.”

Miller said there’s a lot of work to do to get aid for an industry that’s still reeling for the next round of COVID-19 relief from Congress, possibly not until early 2021 when the Biden Administration is sworn in. It’s also important that the travel and tourism industry get aid as well. It was a significant milestone when the casino industry, which has been shunned in the past, got federal assistance in the federal CARES Act last spring.

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One focus of 2021 will be to work with states and make sure they’re not shortsighted and raise taxes on the gaming industry to make up for any revenue shortfalls, Miller said. In Nevada, a teacher’s union has called for an increase in gaming taxes to fund education.

“We’re such important taxpayers already and that we shouldn’t have our taxes raised at a point in time when we’re all trying to climb out of the rubble of last year,” Miller said.

Miller said the other focus in 2021 will continue working on sports betting expansion in states and with new business partners — sports leagues, teams and arenas — especially on responsible gaming.

Miller said there’s no momentum for a federal sports betting bill because states have rolled it out so well. Since casinos have reopened and sports resumed en masse, states, including Nevada, have set sports betting handle.

“Sports provides this exciting outlet for people who have limited outlets right now as they are hunkered down in their homes,” Miller said. “Sports have always been a great outlet and diversion and a great way to immerse yourself in fun. The increase in sports betting and the increase in the ability of people to have a more exciting interest in the game is part of why sports betting shouldn’t have ever been limited only to Nevada but offered legally to people all over the country.”

Miller praised the professional sports leagues and college conferences for getting through the coronavirus pandemic so far and playing a lot of games.

“It’s a very challenging environment running the leagues or being any one of the university conferences in terms of scheduling of games,” Miller said. “Every week it seems a game like Ohio State and Michigan is canceled or we recently had what seemed like an NFL game every day of the week. They’re definitely struggling with how to continue putting it on.

“But I think Americans need it. They need the diversion.”

About the Author

Buck Wargo

Buck Wargo is a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times and has been based in Las Vegas as a business, real estate and gaming reporter since 2005.

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