The American Gaming Association recently announced that Geoff Freeman is stepping down from his leadership role in August. After five years of Freeman’s steady hand on the wheel, the AGA needs to find a replacement to fill the sizable shoes Freeman leaves behind.
Freeman was thrust into a similar situation when he has named as the successor of the AGA’s first and only president and CEO of the AGA, Frank Fahrenkopf, who served in that role from 1995-2013.
Freeman confidently took the torch from Fahrenkopf and racked up a number of major successes.
Under Freeman, relations between commercial and tribal gaming have improved by leaps and bounds.
According to GamblingCompliance, Freeman first reached out to tribal leadership in July 2014.
In 2015 the two groups began hashing out their differences.
The biggest news to come out of G2E this year has to be the sit-down dinner between the AGA & NIGA. It was historic & good for the industry
— Victor Rocha (@VictorRocha1) October 2, 2015
It may not seem like much, but this type of engagement was hard to imagine, and a meeting of any sort was a big deal.
Now, Freeman and National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens routinely give joint keynote addresses where they praise one another and talk about their strengthening relationship.
“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,” Stevens said earlier this year.
“The relationship we’ve built with NIGA has been tremendous,” Freeman reciprocated. “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.”
Suffice it to say, a big part of Freeman’s legacy is the defrosting of the icy relationship between tribal and commercial casinos.
— Victor Rocha (@VictorRocha1) June 4, 2018
Everyone started lining up behind New Jersey once the Supreme Court agreed to hear Christie vs. The NCAA in June 2017. It wasn’t always that way. Before that, New Jersey was pretty much on its own.
But it wasn’t completely alone. One group that has been unwavering in its opposition to PASPA is the AGA.
The AGA has a longstanding tradition of highlighting the amount of illegal wagering taking place on key sporting events. When sports betting started gaining momentum, the AGA connected the need to crack down on illegal gambling with its anti-PASPA campaign to great effect.
Freeman and the AGA thought the path to legal sports betting would go through the federal government. It was also extremely bullish on legal sports betting coming to the US in within a few years time, a timeline that most believed was wishful thinking.
They may have been wrong about how PASPA would die, but they had the timeframe correct.
The AGA’s advocacy played a key role in the process.
As CDC Gaming Reports editor Jeffrey Compton wrote in December:
“But tomorrow’s climax does not result from New Jersey’s court filings as much as it does from the efforts of the American Gaming Association and its Chief Executive Officer Geoff Freeman. This statement is not made lightly – it is simply the truth as I see it.”
Under Freeman, the AGA crafted and stuck to a new casino narrative that touted the economic benefits of gaming. The Get to Know Gaming campaign has been a rousing success, with popular opinion of casinos transitioning from gambling dens to entertainment providers.
As gaming continues to proliferate, the impact of this campaign cannot be understated. Further, it’s helped the industry continue to move in the entertainment direction.
Another huge success for the AGA was preventing the IRS from lowering the reporting threshold on slot winnings from $1,200 to $600, and preventing the use of information from casino rewards cards to track slot winnings.
Had the new policies gone into effect, not only would singular jackpots of $1,200 or more be reported (and possibly $600) so would any reward card that showed cumulative winnings of $1,200 over the course of a single day.
The AGA pushed back aggressively on the IRS proposal. And they won.
Freeman is leaving behind an impressive legacy, but it’s not unblemished.
Early in his tenure, Freeman had to navigate a rift between powerful AGA members. The rift formed over the legalization of online gambling.
Unable to reach a compromise amongst its members, the AGA settled on the frustrating position that it had “no position” when it came to online gambling.
Whom the AGA is eyeing to replace Freeman is unclear at this point, and it will be interesting to see whom the group settles on. The new AGA chief will have plenty of issues leftover from the Freeman era on his or her plate.
Additionally, based on the zeitgeist, the new AGA head is going to have to take a stronger stance on online gambling.
Those are circles the new AGA head will have to square, and the easiest way to square them is to advocate for legal, regulated online gambling.
Finally, with so many expansions of gambling occurring across the country and the AGA’s desire to sell casinos as entertainment establishments, the issue of responsible gaming and problem gambling funding is going to be front and center.
The AGA hasn’t been silent on this issue, but problem gambling research and treatment is woefully underfunded in most states, and has been an afterthought in recent gaming legislation. With the upcoming leadership change, the AGA has the perfect opportunity to make this one of the core issues.