Gaming’s guardian, to be perfectly Frank

February 19, 2002 7:41 AM
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A lot can happen in six years. That’s how long the American Gaming Association has been in existence. And as the advocacy arm of the commercial casino industry, the AGA has had its agenda filled with numerous regulatory and legislative issues,  ranging from federal taxation to the National Gambling Impact Study to casino broadcast advertising to legal sports betting ... the list could fill several pages.

At the helm of the AGA since its inception is president and CEO Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., who has served as a tireless and capable advocate of the casino industry. Recently, he spoke candidly to GamingToday about some of the key issues currently facing the industry.

Last fall, casino operators were somewhat perplexed over the emergence of a new gaming conference, G2E, which went head-to-head with the World Gaming Congress & Expo. That dichotomy was dissolved last week when the AGA ”” the co-sponsor of G2E ”” announced that it had effectively bought out the Congress, and would stage a single exposition in the fall.

Although it looked like G2E’s knockout of the World Gaming Congress was a quick but lethal phantom punch, the sparring actually began years ago.

“We noted five years ago that most trade organizations stage their own trade shows,” Fahrenkopf said. “We wanted the same thing for the casino industry, but we had a four-year contract with the World Gaming Congress ””and it was actually a very successful relationship.”

GEM Communications bought out the AGA’s partner, and wanted to renew the contract in its third year, Fahrenkopf said.

“The problem is they were unwilling to share the ”˜nitty gritty’ financial information we needed to proceed,” Fahrenkopf said. “We created a subcommittee consisting of Chuck Mathewson, Phil Satre, David Thompson and Dan Snyder to negotiate with them. But our efforts were unproductive. Their representatives were not forthcoming with the numbers.”

So in 2000, the AGA along with newfound partner Reed Exhibitions, announced that they were going forward with their own trade show.

“In the first year (2001) we projected to sell 85,000-square-feet of exhibition space,” Fahrenkopf said. “The actual amount sold was 135,000 square feet. This year we hope to sell at least 150,000 square feet.”

In the inaugural G2E, all the major exhibitors and buyers attended the AGA show, some of them at the expense of the GEM show. “The reason they came to our show is contained in our motto: a show by the industry, for the industry.”

Fahrenkopf explained that the AGA involved the exhibitors in the decision-making process of staging the show. “For instance, many of the smaller exhibitors complained that the largest companies, such as IGT, were out front with all the heavy foot traffic,” Fahrenkopf said. “So we changed the floor plan to accommodate the smaller, less visible companies.

“We also incorporated their suggestions in creating the seminars and panel discussions,” he continued. “We asked them what they wanted and used their input.”

The result, Fahrenkopf said, is a “tremendous positive” for the gaming industry.

There are other positives for the industry.

“We’re bullish on the immediate future of gaming,” Fahrenkopf said.” It’s been a tough ride since September 11, but the business is slowly coming back, and there are new markets to tap.”

Among the new markets are those in foreign countries. Mexico, specifically, is on the threshold of passing legislation permitting gaming. There’s also potential in Korea, and the industry has pursued Macau with a passion.

An area that is not quite ready for commercial gaming is the Internet, he said. “The AGA doesn’t believe the technology currently exists to provide the regulatory and law enforcement oversight” required to legalize online casinos,” Fahrenkopf said. That’s why the organization is opposed to illegal and unregulated online gambling. But the “right” technology could change their stance, he added.

That’s why the AGA is not supporting Goodlatte, which would “ban online gaming forever, even if and when the technology becomes available.”

“The problem is you can’t make something illegal that is now legal,” he said, adding that the legislation has wording that could impact race books.

Also pending in the U.S. Congress is the Leach bill, which would make debts arising from illegal wagers on the Internet uncollectable by credit card companies. “The key word is ”˜illegal’ wager,” Fahrenkopf said. “The bill would not impact legal bets.”