Geoff Freeman to Resign from American Gaming Association
Geoff Freeman, who has been president of the American Gaming Association (AGA) for the past 5 years, recently announced that he will be leaving the organization in August. During this term, Geoff Freeman improved relations between commercial and tribal casinos, while championing the legalization of sports betting.
Under Freeman, the AGA championed informational campaigns to prepare the American public for expanded gambling. Perhaps more important to the cause, Freeman’s AGA lobbied Congress to keep the IRS from making policy changes which would have undermined the privacy of America’s gamblers.
When Geoff Freeman took over for the AGA’s first president and CEO, Frank Fahrenkopf (1995-2013), Freeman faced a varied and sometimes contentious AGA board of directors. No leader could bridge all the divides among a coalition of the most prominent US gambling companies, but Freeman’s term is considered a major success, despite the challenging obstacles he sometimes faced.
One of Freeman’s best successes was bettering the relationship between commercial and tribal gaming interests. In July 2014, Geoff Freeman reached out to tribal leadership, to open lines of communication between two sectors of the gaming industry which had been traditional competitors.
Tribal and Commercial Casinos
By 2015, the two groups started discussing their differences and began to craft a common strategy towards expanding casino gambling in the United States. Geoff Freeman and Ernie Stevens, Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), developed an open relationship where they regularly gave joint keynote addresses. To this day, the two speak highly of one another.
Ernie Stevens said of the departing AGA president, “We had a relationship with AGA, primarily through the G2E [Global Gaming Expo] conference. I knew when Geoff became the new leader we would have an opportunity to develop a new relationship with the AGA, so I wrote a letter congratulating Geoff on his new role.”
Geoff Freeman gave similar sentiment about NIGA, “The relationship we’ve built with NIGA has been tremendous. It would not have been possible without giving us the benefit of the doubt. Our relationship is stronger today than it has ever been. I have said from the onset, that we have a stronger industry when we work together.”
Legal US Sports Betting
The AGA has long been on board with legalizing sports betting and opposing the PASPA. The American Gaming Association periodically highlighted the amount of illegal wagering that takes place on sporting events throughout the nation. Gaming media members grew accustomed to the yearly report in which the AGA announced that X-amount of US dollars would be wagered on the annual Super Bowl – and 97% of that amount was bet illegally.
Freeman and the American Gaming Association supported New Jersey’s legal case against the top US sporting leagues, despite having several of Nevada’s most powerful casino companies on the AGA’s board. While the lion’s share of the credit must go to the leaders of New Jersey who continued to fund legal battles, despite losing one judge’s decision after another, having a largely-unified American gambling establishment helped keep the focus on legal sportsbooks.
Geoff Freeman on US Sportsbooks
Now that the US Supreme Court struck down the PASPA federal ban, Geoff Freeman says other US states should take the Nevada sports betting framework as their model.
Freeman said, “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel as we go into all of these states. Nevada is a functioning market…. Most of those that are operating in Las Vegas today are operating in other markets around the country. I can assure you that those companies are excited about the possibility of bringing their expertise into these other markets as they consider sports betting.”
AGA and the RAWA
Though Freeman has had a tenure worthy of much praise, it was not all smooth sailing. One of Freeman’s biggest battles was trying to mediate between the long list of powerful AGA board members. The main issue was the legalization of online gambling. The AGA was never able to reach a compromise among its disagreeing members, so the association had to ultimately settle on the position that it had “no position” in regards to online gambling.
Thus, Geoff Freeman and the AGA was not instrumental in blunting attempts in the US Congress to pass Restore America’s Wire Act. Since Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands was a member of the AGA board and it was Adelson who backed attempts to pass the RAWA, Geoff Freeman had to moderate the AGA’s message while maintaining good standing with an influential member of the AGA.
At times, the hearings were contentious, as Sen. Lindsey Graham and Rep. Jason Chaffetz tried to convince the majority party to pass a 50-state online gambling ban. After 3 years of debate, the RAWA appears to be less of a threat than it once was – a service on behalf of New Jersey, Delaware, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. Many others deserve credit for the protection and expansion of online gambling in the United States, but due to the efforts of Geoff Freeman, the AGA was at worst a neutral voice on the issue.
“Get to Know Gaming” Campaign
In a more general way, Geoff Freeman and the AGA also created a new casino narrative that advertises the economic benefits of gaming. The Get to Know Gaming (G2KG) campaign has been demonstrated tremendous success. The G2KG campaign is centered around sharing key facts regarding the gaming industry.
As gaming continues to expand, the impact of this campaign grows. Beyond a straight line path to expansion, the G2KG initiative helped the industry continue to move in the entertainment direction.
The G2KG campaign’s website described the strategy: “Through narrative and hard facts, we will emphasize how gaming has been and continues to drive innovation far beyond the casino floor and is influencing other industries throughout America.”
The AGA vs. The IRS
Under Freeman’s leadership, the AGA helped in preventing the IRS from making big, unwanted changes for casinos. The AGA lobbied against the IRS’s attempts in lowering the reporting threshold on slot winnings from $1,200 to $600. They also worked against a move to use of information from casino rewards cards to track an individual’s slot winnings.
Had the association not interfered, singular jackpots of $1,200 or more, and possibly even as long as $600, would have to be reported along with any reward card that showed cumulative winnings of $1,200 or more over the span of a single day.
What’s Next on The Agenda?
The AGA has yet to announce who will be the next president for the association. The new AGA leader will need to oversee a thoughtful, industry-friendly rollout of sports betting and continue the improvement of commercial-tribal relations. Esports betting, skill-based gaming machines, and online gambling expansion will continue to be major issues.
The new AGA president is going to have to take a stronger stance on where they stand in regard to online gambling. With several issues that have come with their “neutrality”, the best way for the AGA to solve them would be to advocate for legal, regulated online gambling. Whether that will be possible is another matter.
One of the most issues the new AGA President will oversee is the issue of responsible gaming and problem gambling and the lack of funding it sees. With the nationwide growth of gambling this year has seen as well as the AGA’s desire to sell casinos as entertainment establishments, the AGA’s attention and support to these issues needs to be loud and clear. Expanded gambling could create a backlash, as the forces of reaction try to roll back gains made by the United States gambling community.
The AGA has supported the issue of problem gambling, but not always with the kind of funding one might have hoped. With a new leader in town, this is the AGA’s opportunity to make problem gambling a top priority exists. Of course, the new American Gaming Association president is likely to face issues that no one can predict. New technologies and the law of unintended consequences mean the new AGA chief will have plenty of unpredictable challenges. One hopes the new leader will follow in Geoff Freeman’s footsteps.