We Need More FECs & Operators at the Table!
“If You’re Not at the Table, Then You Are Probably on the Menu.”
by Howard McAuliffe, Partner, Pinnacle Entertainment Group
The headline quote has been attributed to several different people, nearly all of them politicians. It means that if you’re not negotiating for your position in politics, you will probably be cut out completely.
The last year has shown us how important government is to our businesses. Government can be a tremendous help with programs like the PPP, EIDL, and others. Some industries even received billions of dollars in targeted aid such as The Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the Shuttered Venue Grant program, targeting restaurants and theaters specifically.
Government can also be a tremendous hindrance such as when many states shut down arcades while allowing casinos to remain open. It’s important to note that politicians don’t just decide arbitrarily who to help. They choose to help those they know, and of course, those who help them get elected. The best way to get to know them and explain how we can help them is through lobbying, and it’s relatively easy to get involved in that process.
Associations connected to our industry do this. For example, IAAPA has a strong lobbying presence and a government affairs committee, as does the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America (BPAA) and the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO). But, the organization I am most familiar with –– and involved in –– is the AAMA, which often advocates alongside AMOA. These organizations specifically advocate for coin-op amusements and attractions and our industry’s locations. We have our next lobbying day in Washington this month (this one will be virtual) and I want to invite you all to participate while also explaining why it’s important to become involved in the first place. (The AAMA virtual trip will be spread over two half-days, Monday, October 18, and Monday, October 25.)
The history of advocacy from the AAMA is interesting. In the last 20 years, there have been two major victories that directly impacted our industry. The first was in 2000 when Indianapolis banned violent video games. The industry was successful in having the law reversed by the courts. The lead counsel for the AAMA and AMOA for that case was Elliott Portnoy, who is now the Global CEO for Dentons, the largest law firm in the world. Dentons serves as legislative counsel for AAMA and AMOA, helping with lobbying efforts. I have to say it’s been a huge help that we have a relationship with the firm’s CEO.
In recent years, the “Don’t Change our Change” campaign successfully convinced the U.S. Mint and Congress not to change the metallic content of the quarter. A powerful congressman with a metal mine in his district wanted the content of the coin changed to increase demand for his mining constituent. Imagine if all the coin mechs on games needed to be changed overnight! A yearlong letter-writing and advocacy campaign convinced the Mint to recommend not making the change because of the immense hardship it would cause the amusement and vending industries.
Last year, the industry worked hard to eliminate tariffs in the EU that were hurting American manufacturers by mounting a letter-writing campaign, as well as by providing data to European counterparts that were fighting these tariffs. During Covid with various aid programs, we were unsuccessful in getting our industry, specifically our NAICS codes (North American Industry Classification System), added to the restaurant revitalization fund legislation. Simply put: We need more companies involved, specifically FECs, in order to get major bills passed with us in mind. We need politicians from both parties to understand who we are, how many people we employ and why we are important to the American people. The good news is this is relatively easy to do.
This month, as I mentioned before, AAMA will host a virtual visit to Washington, D.C. This is a perfect time to get involved, because you don’t even need to leave your desk, you just log in. Also, AAMA membership is free this year so this is a great time to become a member. To sign up for the virtual lobbying visit, contact Joe Camarota, AAMA President and Chairman of the Government Affairs committee, by emailing [email protected] or email me at [email protected] and we’ll get you signed up. (If you can’t join in person, there is another way to help: AAMA has a PAC fund, which is extremely valuable. Reach out to AAMA if you want to contribute.)
Prior to the advocacy day, AAMA will provide a list of everyone signed up along with their home and business address to Dentons. Their team will set up meetings with members of Congress that represent the attendees, as well as any important chairpersons of committees that impact us.
The morning of advocacy day, Dentons will go over our talking points and strategy and then we will start meeting with the congressional offices. We will typically meet with young staffers, but you never know. (My congressman actually joined us during an in-person meeting in D.C. in 2019 so I got to meet him face to face.) Plus, those young staffers will typically become senior staffers and/or important civil servants, if not politicians, one day.
When we meet with your representative’s office, we will ask you to introduce your business, invite the congressperson to visit your facility, and explain how he or she can help (these are those talking points I mentioned). Our lobbyist from Dentons, as well as a group of other owners, will be there if you get stuck, so there is no pressure. Our industry is fun, so there is no tension, the offices are universally happy to see us and want to help regardless of party. Most attendees find this time to be very rewarding and enjoyable, and I promise you it is important and effective.
This month, our talking points will include asking our representatives to eliminate tariffs, help with supply chain gridlock, and add our NAICS codes to any targeted venue relief bills that may come up.
As important as our talking points are, it is just as important that our representatives know us, so when we do have a pressing issue, they are ready to help. It is much better to ask for help when they know you, than to show up out of the blue when we have a serious issue. In the past, there have been state laws that have banned certain games or redemption and limited prize values. Often, these were unintended consequences and not the actual intent of the law. Imagine, if a national law like this ever came up. It could destroy our industry!
It is essential that we are all active in Washington. All you have to do is sign up and show up! I look forward to seeing you on our virtual visit to D.C.!
Howard McAuliffe loves to imagine and implement new products, business models, and ideas, and is a partner in Pinnacle Entertainment Group Inc. He’s an industry veteran who got his start in the business when he was just 16 and has 20 years of expertise in product development, as well as FEC and route operations. Howard’s wife Reem and young son Sami are the center of life outside of work. When he’s not working, Howard can be found enjoying the outdoors, hiking, fishing and mountaineering. Traveling anywhere new or to old favorites like the American West is a passion. Readers can visit www.grouppinnacle.com for more information or contact Howard at [email protected], he welcomes positive as well as constructive feedback and counterpoints.