Showing its Worth
by Lloyd D. Levenson
Showing its Worth
The perception of the gaming industry in the eyes of the public and lawmakers has improved, but it still has far to go
Lloyd D. Levenson is CEO and chairmanof the Casino Law Department of the Atlantic City/Las Vegas law firm Cooper Levenson (www.cooperlevenson.com). He can be reached at (609) 344-3161 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Spectrum Gaming Group will soon issue its annual list of the 21 top trends facing the casino industry in the coming calendar year. This much-anticipated list is viewed by many in our industry as a crystal ball that can accurately chart where casinos are going.
In advance of the list that shows where the casino industry is heading, we must make a few important points about where the casino industry has been.
One perennial trend that regularly tops the Spectrum list is: Gamingâ€™s evolution into mainstream entertainment. That trend is not only becoming increasingly apparent, but it is also becoming increasingly important.
A measure of acceptance
Some years ago, Paul E. Rubeli, then chairman and CEO of Aztar Corp., commented at the Global Gaming Expo that casinos were a unique industry: everybodyâ€™s grandmother played at casinos, but nobody trusted them, the ever-thoughtful Rubeli pointed out. That lack of trust has clearly dissipated over the years.
The American Gaming Associa-tion, in its latest State of the States Report, noted that 82 percent of Americans believe that casino gambling is acceptable for themselves or others, and that â€œAmericans also view casinos as engines of economic development and sources of state and local tax revenue.â€�
This trend offers all sorts of implications. As casinos become more acceptable and are woven into the entertainment fabric of the nation, you can expect more states to approve casinos. Still, the presence of this trend on this important list begs the question: If gaming is evolving into mainstream entertainment, what was it before?
In one sense, casinos were viewed as less acceptable than other private enterprises, something to be tolerated. Sure, they were an economic engineâ€”but could they be trusted?
In another sense, casinos were viewed as tools to carry out public policy. As the logic went, casinos had to be approved by the public through a referendum, or through the votes of officials who were themselves elected by the public.
With that in mind, public officialsâ€”and some industriesâ€”have often viewed casinos as ripe territory for rules that might not otherwise apply to other industries. What other business, for example, has ever been required to float on a boat rather than be allowed on solid land, a rule that still applies in some riverboat states?
Those of us who have been around for decades might still remember that, when New Jersey became the first state outside Nevada to legalize casinos, the state required that casinos offer nightly live entertainmentâ€”even if the room was empty.
Still squeezed by rules
Vestiges of the view that casinos must operate under rules that might not apply to other businesses can still be found. For example, an ongoing issue in Atlantic City is whether Harrahâ€™s Entertainment, which owns four properties, can have a private shuttle to move its customers from one property to another, or whether it must rely on jitneys, which provide privately-owned mass transit in the city.
The jitney controversy is a potentially fascinating case study. On one hand, jitneys and their supporters argue that they are being unfairly hurt by competition, even though Harrahâ€™s only wants to service the needs of its own customers. Harrahâ€™s and its supporters argue that they are unfairly being restricted, when all they want to do is provide a service to increase the convenience, and hopefully, the loyalty of those customers.
Some legislators are considering legislation to prevent Harrahâ€™s from competing.
Those of us who are charged with leading this industry in coming years must recognize that perceptions count.
Gaming is clearly evolving, but it has not yet reached its destination. More important, it will arrive at different times in different states. And who knows? As gaming moves toward its goal, it might very well be traveling by jitney.
Stay tuned to that important development in New Jersey. It could offer important lessons for the rest of the nation.