The September G2E was my 22nd year of attending a gaming convention since 1992. During those early years, a few thousand people would attend. The exhibitors displayed their products and services to a growing group of land-based operators and other executives from riverboat casinos in six states. While some international companies did participate, global representation was quite limited.
To say that gaming’s growth has exploded in 22 years is the understatement. And while I see the public has dramatically changed its attitude towards the expansion of gaming nationwide, we must still often explain our operations and intentions.
Early on Day One of the Expo, the American Gaming Association (AGA) held its annual media press conference. Nothing new there since I always participate. What was unusual was that after 17 years of hearing Frank Fahrenkopf, I was now meeting and listening to Geoff Freeman, the new CEO of the AGA.
Freeman brings youth and energy to the next generation at AGA. He also comes from a different career perspective. Freeman boasts an extensive travel and hospitality background, which matches the gaming industry‘s evolvement in many ways.
As an experienced attorney, Fahrenkopf was also very politically connected in Washington. That was vital during AGA’s early days in 1994 when he was hired to fight the Clinton Administration’s potential federal gaming taxes.
Over 17 years, the association has morphed into a trade organization, growing the industry while putting out the proverbial “fires” within new and existing jurisdictions.
The AGA has done such a great job that we are now actually viewed by most as “respectable” contributors to the community. Isn’t it amazing that despite billions in salaries, taxes and investments, gaming frequently must still prove itself?
While answering questions, Freeman repeatedly emphasized that casinos must maintain their corporate involvement within their communities. I believe that gaming has exceeded anyone’s expectations, be it community assistance, responsible gaming programs or charitable causes.
Years ago, I reported how MGM and other casino corporations along the Mississippi Gulf Coast spent millions to support their devastated towns and employees. They helped rebuild after Hurricane Katrina ripped through hundreds of miles across Mississippi and Louisiana. Two years ago, I traveled there to witness the amazing rebuilding firsthand, which was featured in Casino International.
Taking community involvement further, Caesars Entertainment Corp. has found a fabulous way to repay those who have served. Last February, Caesars initiated Enlisting Heroes, an employment program for veterans that I can’t praise enough. The campaign launched in nine Las Vegas casino properties and will expand across their nationwide portfolio of 50-plus casinos.
Outside of Las Vegas, the next rollouts will be in newer, smaller jurisdictions like Baltimore, Maryland and Cincinnati and Cleveland, both in Ohio. The four Atlantic City locations near my house-Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s Resort and Showboat-are scheduled for next year.
Eloise Scavella, vice president of employment and training for Caesars Entertainment, claims that almost 200 veterans have been hired so far in front-line and management positions in Las Vegas. She says that Caesars wants to capitalize on the invaluable skills this talented potential employee pool has learned through military service.  
What a wonderful idea. I realize not every returning veteran will be a successful employee, but they at least start with some basics that are missing in action – not to make a pun – among many in today’s workforce.
At least these men and woman have all committed to serving a cause beyond themselves. Military veterans have also completed rigorous training that involved accountability, discipline, the ability to accept authority and personal courage, just to name a few traits.
The first hire, an eight-year veteran Marine, 26, with two tours of duty in Iraq, joined the Flamingo Las Vegas in April as a valet attendant. By July, he was promoted to valet shift supervisor. He is also attending night school, aiming for further advancement within the Caesars organization.
This is exactly why Freeman called on the gaming industry to zealously promote our good stories as members of the community.
I hope casino executives like Mohegan Sun CEO Mitchell Etess know of this development. As I have reported for two years, Etess has lamented the sometimes inadequate work ethic and dedication among many younger employees.
I’m sure that Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Atlantic City, where Mohegan Sun operates, have their share of returning service men and women who would jump at the chance to join such a prominent organization.