The departure of Geoff Freeman and the January 14 arrival of Bill Miller as the new president and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA) has been of great interest to any number of industry actors, not least the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), which enjoyed a productive and close working relationship with the AGA in the Freeman Era.

If the tone and tenor of the first public meeting of the heads of the AGA and NIGA is any indication, things are going to pick up where they left off.

Miller and Ernie Stevens, the chairman of NIGA, shared the stage at ICE London last month. Miller said he has known the AGA and executives in the industry for many years, having spent 13 years at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a number of senior leadership roles. Most recently he was chief lobbyist for The Business Roundtable, which is comprised of 204 Fortune 500 CEOs. “Creating alignment around CEOs who care very deeply about very different things is a good background but I think, most importantly, this is an exciting industry,” said Miller. “Certainly, the partnership with NIGA and Native American tribes is massively important.”

Stevens had briefed Miller earlier in the day on the background of the NIGA/AGA relationship. “We’re probably at the best place in our history in terms of our work together,” he said. “It’s very important that we understand each other and that we walk together in this industry because we create so many jobs and opportunities in the world that we live in. I think we’re going to hit the ground running and not miss a beat. We have a lot of work to do. I look forward to sharing with Bill what tribal government gaming does for our communities, not just immediately but for the next seven generations.”

Miller, for his part, said, “The Chairman this morning outlined something incredibly important: We need as an industry to do a better job talking about the economic value that we create in communities across this country. My message is there’s no such thing as a company town without the company. In the gaming industry, whether it’s the tribal or commercial space, we are re-creating company towns across the country, adding tax revenue, good jobs and small businesses. People who regulate us, at the state and federal level, need to have a much better understanding of the value we create.”

Stevens noted that Indian gaming now represents over 40 percent of Global Gaming Expo (G2E) attendance. “We were able to help that show grow by getting people to understand the importance of Indian gaming,” he said. “When we first started we relied on consultants from Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now our people have become the experts. I have five children who have grown up in this industry. In the last economic downturn, we kept our jobs rolling, not just Indian gaming, but all gaming.”

Miller’s personal experience in Indian country has previously been limited, but he showed a clear grasp of the stakes involved with tribal gaming: “There is no question that, going back centuries, our country has in many cases done terrible things to its Native American population.  To me, the notion that Indian gaming has provided a chance for economic opportunity to a portion of the population that for so long was treated so badly makes me proud to be part of an organization that supports creating a much different economic dynamic for Native Americans presently and in the future.” 

Miller’s first day on the job was a bit of baptism by fire. That was when the Department of Justice reinterpreted the Office of Legal Counsel’s view of the Wire Act. Miller, who has a law degree, revisited the Wire Act, the intricacies surrounding it, how it would affect membership across the board from commercial operators to lotteries, iGaming and tribal gaming.

“That was a pretty intense introduction,” he said. “The Wire Act was enacted in 1961 and intended to stop bookies and organized crime from running books across state lines. Then you had an interpretation in 2011 that kind of opened up the world and an interpretation in 2019 that arguably refined and narrowed that.  It’s unclear what this latest opinion means. There are people who view this as very worrisome. It’s unclear, but I look at what has happened since January 14. We’ve seen additional states introduce new sports betting legislation. So state legislatures have basically said we are not going be chilled by this federal opinion.”