Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, was a keynote speaker at the East Coast Gaming Congress this week at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. The two-day convention features some of the biggest decision makers in gaming discussing the industry’s most important issues and its future. Even a state of emergency declaration because of inclement weather did not prevent New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy from appearing, albeit virtually.
Following his keynote presentation Tuesday morning, Miller sat down for an exclusive one-on-one interview with PlayNJ to talk about legal sports betting, online gaming, Atlantic City, and casino smoking.
Here’s the full transcript of Bill Miller’s interview with minor edits to questions and answers for clarity.
Q: New Jersey sports betting just hit a major milestone with $1 billion in monthly handle, and a monthly record for revenue as well. What can other jurisdictions learn from New Jersey’s sports betting market?
Bill Miller: Well, I think number one, New Jersey was the most prepared state post-PASPA. So, when the (U.S.) Supreme Court ruled on PASPA, New Jersey was up and running. I think Delaware might have beat New Jersey by a week or so. But, at the end of the day, New Jersey was poised to succeed in a way that really no other state was, and I think you saw that, both early on as well as on a going-forward basis.
I think the fact that New York still is not set up, continues to help the state. But, most importantly, the state set the right legal, legislative, and regulatory framework with the right tax rates and recognized that, importantly, you needed to create an opportunity for people to migrate from the illegal market to the legal, safe, and taxed market. So, I think the reason New Jersey was successful was a combination of well thought out dynamics around tax, regulatory, mobile, and it has served the state government and consumers very well.
Q: You mentioned New York, which is still working on mobile sports betting. What impact do you think New York mobile sports betting will have on the New Jersey market?
Bill Miller: I wouldn’t want to speculate too much. I do think that every time you see gaming next door, it has some effect. You’ve seen it in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. As different states have gone online, whether it be with casino gaming or sports betting — Pennsylvania is a perfect example for New Jersey — that when these adjoining states come on, that there is some impact, and typically a negative impact.
Q: N.J. online gaming is closing in on $1 billion of annual revenue for 2021. What can other jurisdictions that are considering online gaming learn from New Jersey? What has New Jersey done well in this arena to really set itself apart from anyone else operating in this space?
Bill Miller: I think it’s important to remember that the industry is state-by-state, right? And that each state determines what level, what amount of gaming they want— iCasino, sports betting, mobility, not mobility — and that the individual stakeholders in those state capitals and regulatory structures, they make those determinations. What we can say is that online and mobile were absolute lifelines for the industry when the entire brick-and-mortar dynamic was shut down. And what we’ve seen coming out of COVID is that the old notions that brick-and-mortar and online were existential threats to one another is no longer the prevailing view.
Every single one of the brick-and mortar-operators has a digital presence now, and that wasn’t the case before. The digital presence has been additive. New Jersey recognized that in the very dynamic around ‘How do we introduce iGaming, how do we introduce sports betting, what does this look like?’ And when you bring mobile into it, you can’t do any of those things without having mobile platforms.
So it’s the platform that then creates the opportunity for a state, whether it’s New Jersey or some other state, to say, ‘Alright, where do we want to be on this?’ Is it limited to sports betting? Should we have iCasinos? What piece of this should we have? Certainly, there has been massive growth in the relatively small number of states that have iGaming. But we let the individual states make up their own minds as it relates to iGaming.
Q: Most of the larger operators are very prevalent in the online space. What are they telling you about making online gaming and land-based coexist, and how are they bringing that online casino customer to the land-based property?
Bill Miller: I was on a panel the other day with Bill Hornbuckle, CEO of MGM (Resorts International), and he really talked about it in a way that made a lot of sense and it jives with a lot of other operators that I talked to. And it was, look, in (Las) Vegas, we may only see somebody two times a year, but we can communicate with them 365 days a year. We have media interest, we have entertainment offerings, we have dining, we have properties all over the country.
So, building that omnichannel experience is key to our continued relationship with someone who may only physically visit our property a couple of times a year. Even for regional operators who would look at this and say, ‘You know what? I really want to do everything that I can to get someone to come and visit more often.
At my property we have great restaurants, we have spas, we have pools, and we have a great casino, and now sportsbook. But how do I communicate with that person on a regular basis?’ It’s all built around the same dynamic, which is we want people to come and visit but we want people to associate with the brand. We’ve really crossed the river from that old dynamic of if it’s online, it’s at our expense. Now online is seen as a way to keep the customer engaged with us. Because we know they will come on the property, but we also know that we want them to stay involved with the brand 365 days.
Q: Atlantic City recovered a little slower than other gaming jurisdictions. But the AC market bounced back this summer. What have you seen in the Atlantic City market over the past year that is encouraging? And is there anything that still concerns you?
Bill Miller: Look, we all had a very tough 2020. And 2021 has been certainly exciting from a national perspective, and from a regional perspective. Not every region has come back in the same manner. I think Atlantic City’s future continues to be bright. I think it’s an important destination on the East Coast.
My view is that the challenges here are some of the same challenges as in other places, and that is finding talent, supply chain challenges, and people’s ongoing reticence to travel. It’s still a real thing. But it’s opening up, it’s getting better, and my view is that Atlantic City will be in a good place.
Q: As we speak, there is a rally outside of casino workers who are protesting indoor smoking. Does the AGA have an official stance on smoking inside casinos?
Bill Miller: The AGA does not have an official position on smoking. I will say, I’ve certainly heard from different operators that during COVID and having smoking bans on properties hasn’t led to a decrease in business. And that has been one of the areas that people had been previously concerned about. So what’s the future of smoking in casinos?
You know, I think that’s up to the individual states and even the individual localities, and frankly, the individual properties. And so that is going to be an issue that continues to work itself out. But we’ve already seen some properties make decisions around smoking, post-COVID, that they were forced to make during COVID, and without detrimental effects.
Lead image credit: AP Photo/Wayne Parry