AGA presentation underscores last year’s success as well as areas on which it should focus in the coming year.
The American Gaming Association (AGA) gave its state-of-the-industry address this week. It was a mostly upbeat affair during which CEO Bill Miller led the summary, imparting past successes while outlining the plan for the year ahead.
The recovery from the post-pandemic hangover has been truly impressive. The fact is that, while labour shortages and supply chain issues continue to hamper the industry, it still stands head and shoulders above the recovery seen in other areas of hospitality. Most surprising is that this recovery has occurred at a time when both business and international travel – often huge drivers for the gaming industry – are yet to return to pre-pandemic strength.
Data from last year (much of it extensively reported upon in these pages) took up the first half of the presentation: commercial gaming revenue in the United States reached $52.99bn, 21% higher than the previous annual record set in 2019. (2020 was a down year due to the pandemic.) If you look only at the fourth quarter – by which point gaming had really hit its stride – 2021 was 30% higher than in 2019. While numbers are not yet in from tribal operators, their performance is largely presumed to be record-breaking as well.
Some other facts: over two-thirds of the 34 states which are considered gaming jurisdictions had record years; brick-and-mortar casinos still hold the top spot in the US as the gaming industry’s primary generator of revenue, though this percentage is losing ground to online gaming and betting as those areas continue to grow. Additionally, 130 million adult Americans now live within a convenient distance of legal sports betting (unheard of three years ago); slot revenue came back to form at a faster rate than table games (a bi-product of anti-Covid measures that reduced capacity in many land-based casinos across the country). Ultimately, though, the players that did make it to the casino floor spent more money than they would have two years before (oh, what it is to relieve pent-up demand).
Miller then looked on to the year ahead, first noting the expansions due to take place in 2022. As is well known, mobile sports betting already went live in New York and Louisiana in January. Maryland is next on that list. Retail sports betting is expected to go live in Ohio and Nebraska. The Cornhusker State will also welcome brick-and-mortar to its amber waves of grain, something that will be arriving in the mountains, towns and ports of Virginia as well.
"2022 will be another great year for gaming. Topping 2021’s historic growth won't be easy but, as a united industry, we can build on our momentum, seize the opportunities in front of us, and take on any new challenges that may emerge”Bill Miller, AGA CEO
Most enticing are the new legalisations and revised regulations that are expected to come in 2022. In Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri and New York there is a very real chance that iGaming will become legal. The legalisation of online sports betting is currently under discussion in seven states. Other states, too, are considering loosening regulations: both Arkansas and Mississippi are considering extending their allowances of retail sports betting to include mobile.
As far as lobbying priorities – the AGA is, after all, a lobbying group – there were a number of areas that Miller put forth as top priorities.
Effective law enforcement will continue to be an important focus for the AGA. Unlawful operators are a threat to the industry at large, whether they be illegal sportsbooks or unregulated gambling machines. But what is the answer to these predatory operators? More regulations, more enforcement and a bigger market for legal sports betting. Advertising, Miller notes, is key to ensuring that people are drawn to legal sportsbooks rather than illegal ones. The industry should continue to take action to promote people who are betting through regulated companies.
Miller went on: gaming or not, there are also different standards to which companies are held today. Groups working in the industry will be doing themselves a favor if they abide by the ethical standards embodied in the abbreviation, ESG: environmental, social and governance. Social justice is important among consumers in a way it has never been before. Gaming can and should be a leader here, says the AGA’s CEO. Toward this end, the group held an audit of industry players last year, the findings of which it intends to act on in 2022.
Finally, ridding the industry of out-of-date tax regimes and regulations are a priority. The Sports Betting Excise Tax is burdensome on this growing industry and will continue to leave legal operators at a disadvantage unless removed. Similarly, the AGA is working on the Hill to increase the Slot Tax Reporting Threshold, a tax dating back to the 1970s and one that has lost its use. Strengthening anti-money laundering measures will also be helpful to the industry.
Miller concluded his remarks with an optimistic tone for the year ahead: "2022 will be another great year for gaming. Topping 2021’s historic growth won't be easy but, as a united industry, we can build on our momentum, seize the opportunities in front of us, and take on any new challenges that may emerge.”