By Lou Filardo
Despite casino gaming’s wildfire growth across the country, not every new jurisdiction or community welcomes it with open arms. Opponents and special interests create barriers that are often the result of misconceptions about gambling.
The gaming industry can counter myths spread by its opponents by providing information about how legalized gambling benefits the communities it serves and by dealing more effectively with the local media.
That was the message from a panel of experts at the recent G2E conference.
Nancy Mathis, a consultant for First Take Communications, said that casino interests should mount "a proactive campaign" extolling the virtues of gaming and what it can do for the community.
"You have to keep up a constant drumbeat about what the industry can do for that population," Mathis said. "It’s a waste of time to go toe-to-toe with the opponents (because it would be a battle) the industry will never win."
Instead, Mathis said, the gaming industry should try to soften up an area it wants to move into with issue ads. "The best way to answer the hardest questions is before they’re asked. Plant the flag" for gaming, she recommended.
Another expert, Terry Wade, president of The Wade Group, said it’s important to put a face on the industry.
"It’s important for people to see that we have children in Little League, that we go to church," Wade said. "If you’re looking (at) how to get rid of an issue, put a face on it."
Wade added that gaming proponents need to do more than offer "carrots" such as tax revenue for local governments and jobs for the community. He suggested that casino developers point out what would be lost to the community by opposing gaming.
"We’ve never had the stick," he said. "There’s no downside for people opposing us."
Aside from economic issues, gamers must often confront moral concerns. Dean Hestermann, director of issues management and strategic communications for Harrah’s Entertainment, said that most moral issues stem from ignorance about the industry.
"Once people understand what we do about underage gambling, problem gambling and our contributions, our standing in polls goes way up," Hestermann said.
When a gaming company tries to enter a new jurisdiction, it finds about 30 percent of the residents are opposed to gambling on moral grounds, according to Lesley Pittman, vice president of corporate relations for Station Casinos. "We want the 30 percent to not influence the other 70 percent away from gambling," Pittman said.
The battle to save "the other 70 percent" is often carried to the media, which may not be sympathetic to casino gaming.
Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage, said dealing with the media is often "hand to hand combat."
"The entire journalism community is moving away from fact-based journalism," Feldman said. "It’s not true that newsmen are unbiased.
"You’ve got to be fearless in dealing with the media and you must be prepared with facts," Feldman said. "Put your answers in writing and use e-mail to (remind) reporters what (you) told them."
Mathis added that a Time magazine story on tribal gaming "was riddled with inaccuracies" and that reporters and editors could not be reached.
"The quality of journalism is not what it was," Mathis said.