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Gaming Association Stepping Into Politics For 2016

Nevada and New Jersey were once the only places to legally gamble in this country, but that changed several years ago when tribal gaming was introduced followed by more and more states allowing casinos and gambling.

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Today, legal commercial casino gaming is allowed in 40 states, and it's a $240 billion industry that supports 1.7 million jobs.

While the money commercial and tribal casinos handle is enormous, the industry's trade group has largely stayed out of politics. The reason, the American Gaming Association's membership includes a variety of companies from Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. to MGM Resorts International and bookmaker William Hill.

But the days of being a neutral party are over. Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association, says the industry has launched Gaming Votes, a national initiative in conjunction with the 2016 presidential campaign.

"We are a national industry," Freeman told KNPR's State of Nevada on Wednesday. "It's time we engage these candidates. We want to get these candidates to think about gaming and the important role we play in putting people to work."

The AGA's Gaming Votes initiative will feature events in several battleground states, including Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada. Gaming accounts to more than 500,000 jobs and contributes about $75 billion in economic benefits in those states.

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Freeman said the campaign education the industry's workforce so they can inform the candidates about the role gaming plays as a job creator and a tax base for communities nationwide. He said the goal is to get  casinos workers "to begin to ask the candidates questions ... do you respect the gaming industry?"

According to an Oxford Economics report titled Gaming Careers: A Path to the Middle Class, the gaming industry is expected to add gain 62,000 jobs over the next decade. The report also described gaming industry as a "gateway to the middle class," with annual salaries ranging between $75,000 and $90,000.

The study also found gaming employs a workforce in more than 200 job classifications, including high-tech, engineering, and software development. Oxford Economics' research says 45 percent of the gaming industry workforce is composed of racial or ethnic minorities, above the U.S. average of 33 percent.

Researchers also say women make up 48 percent of the workforce.  The AGA released the Oxford Economics data during Freeman's news conference in Las Vegas announcing Gaming Votes.

During his interview with KNPR's State of Nevada, Freeman said Gaming Votes doesn't tackle the issues of online gaming or sports betting. He said the idea is to "focus on issues where there is alignment across the industry."

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Freeman did say the AGA is taking legalizing sports betting very seriously, and "doing the due diligence internally to see where we align on that issue." Betting on sporting events in Nevada rose 7.7 percent to $3.9 billion, and revenue increased 11.8 percent to $227 million in 2014,  according to the Gaming Control Board.

"Clearly, we have a federal law that is failing as hundreds of billions of dollars are being bet on sports illegally," Freeman said. "We need better enforcement or a better law."


Geoff Freeman, president, American Gaming Association
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(Editor's note: Chris Sieroty no longer works for Nevada Public Radio)