NIGA, commercial casinos agree on legalized sports betting

April 19, 2018 9:59 PM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports
April 19, 2018 9:59 PM
  • Mark Gruetze, CDC Gaming Reports

Tribal and commercial casinos are united on the need for legalized sports betting, the leaders of the country’s two largest gaming associations said today.

“We want to be part of it” when the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the next month or so on New Jersey’s challenge to a law forbidding sports betting outside Nevada, said Ernie Stevens Jr., chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association. “We anticipate it will come in accordance with the law recognizing us as sovereign governments.”

Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, which represents commercial casinos, said NIGA and AGA members agree on one thing: “Get the federal government out of the way.”

Despite the federal ban on sports betting, Freeman said, people across the country bet billions of dollars a year illegally.

Both leaders said regulated sports betting would not cure all of the gambling industry’s problems, but it would be an additional amenity to attract customers.

Stevens and Freeman answered questions from Chris Stearns, a member of the Washington State Gambling Commission, before the opening of NIGA’s 2018 trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Stevens acknowledged that the two organizations have not always been on the same page but said NIGA has recently been working with AGA on issues such as sports betting and iGaming.

Freeman, who took over the AGA leadership role in 2013, said policymakers see little difference between tribal and commercial operations. “It’s all casinos to them,” he said.

Freeman went on to say that tribal and commercial casinos combined generate about $240 billion a year in economic activity. He wants to increase that to $300 billion.

“It’s all about growth, it’s all about building a stronger industry.”

He pledged that sports betting will be part of that, although tribes and states will be able to decide for themselves whether or not to allow it.

Stevens said the biggest challenges for tribes are communication and regulation. NIGA recently completed a study on sports betting, and, according to Stevens, “we are ready to mobilize.”

Freeman said that tribes which are considering offering sports betting, if it’s ultimately legalized, should take steps to understand how the business works and build relationships with existing providers.

Stearns also asked both leaders to comment on the advancement of women in the industry.

“In Indian Country, women are equal, if not on a higher level,” Stevens said. “That’s not just in the political arena, not just in the administrative arena. It’s at home. Women are in charge in Indian gaming.”

Stevens went on to note that when he served on a tribal council years ago, women outnumbered men 6-3.

The issue is one of particular import and sensitivity in the wake of several notable American companies and personalities, including casino giant Steve Wynn and his namesake Wynn Resorts dynasty, which have recently been rocked by allegations of sexual assault and discrimination.

Freeman acknowledged that commercial casinos have “a lot of work to do” to ensure gender equity on their boards and in senior management. He said a sea change is underway in many companies.

“This is not a one-time situation. This is a permanent change, not just for gaming.” He said AGA takes the complaints “extraordinarily seriously,” and is working behind the scenes to encourage change.

Stevens added his view that “the #MeToo movement has been (around) since time immemorial in Indian Country.” He said that, while some Indian men may disrespect women, “those few that work in (gaming) better watch out, because this is a woman’s world.”

Mark Gruetze is a veteran journalist from suburban Pittsburgh who covers casino gaming issues and personalities.