Last month, American Gaming Association (AGA) President & CEO Geoff Freeman announced that he was leaving the organization to take up the leadership role for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the $2.1 trillionfood industry. I can’t say I blame him for walking away from gaming; the move appears to be a big step up, at least from a market size standpoint.
To his credit, Freeman is departing on a high note, having helped to quarterback the defeat of the Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional thereby clearing the way for legalized sports wagering expansion within the U.S. Playing an important role in the most significant nationwide gaming victory in decades is not a bad mic drop on the way out the door.
But I hope Freeman is remembered for more than his role in expanding sports wagering. When he took over the role of president and CEO from Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. roughly five years ago, it was fair to say the AGA was primarily a gaming operator-driven lobbying organization designed to fight taxation and legalization threats to gaming on a federal level. That is no knock against Fahrenkopf, who did a masterful job establishing the AGA—by corralling the often disparate personalities and desires of gaming CEOs and getting them all firing in the same direction, at least when it came to federal attempts to curb growth and disparage the industry as a whole, while still finding time to establish Global Gaming Expo to fund the group’s effort in Washington D.C. and state capitals across the U.S.
What Freeman did, and did well, was open up the AGA to the entire gaming industry—under Freeman, the group reached out to the vendor and tribal gaming communities and was able to bring both under the big tent, so to speak. During Freeman’s tenure, AGA’s membership expanded by 200 percent and association revenue nearly doubled, according to press materials, which added: “Freeman’s approach to leading associations for industries facing complex issues centers around inclusivity, uniting members behind a common set of priorities and aggressively pursuing policy opportunities through strategic communications, modern-day government relations and compelling research campaigns.”
In addition to expanding and unifying membership, the AGA credits Freeman with “creating a next-generation trade association that has reshaped the narrative around gaming in America and opened new pathways for industry growth. Based on his conviction that perception drives policy, Freeman launched a multi-year, research-driven advocacy campaign to demonstrate gaming’s broad support among Americans across the political spectrum and the industry’s role in promoting economic growth, job creation and tax benefits in the 40 states where gaming is legal.”
It was this campaign that generated the tailwinds that led to the legalizing sports betting, according to the AGA.
With Freeman leaving, where will the AGA look next for leadership? Here’s hoping that the AGA continues to look outside gaming for guidance—Fahrenkopf was a lawyer and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Freeman was COO of the U.S. Travel Association—perhaps tapping expertise in an area that could be vital for gaming growth going forward. How about someone in the entertainment sector given the growing importance of non-gaming amenities to casino success? Or a leader from the technology sector who can steer gaming through its constantly evolving eddies and currents?
One thing is for certain: whoever is tapped to eventually lead the AGA will have some big shoes to fill.