November 21, 2010 - 12:00 am
For about an hour last week, Harrah’s Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman turned a Las Vegas Convention Center conference room into a Harvard University lecture hall.
Loveman’s keynote address at the Global Gaming Expo implored the industry to fight misinformation and misconceptions about legalized gaming in America.
A former associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business Administration, Loveman adopted some of his classroom techniques in a PowerPoint presentation. He dubbed the talk “The Stockholm Syndrome,” after a psychological condition in which captives in a hostage situation bond emotionally with their captors.
Loveman believes the gaming industry has submitted all too willingly to stringent regulation and hindrances to expansion and customer access. Commercial gaming, not counting American Indian casinos, is available in just 13 states.
“The vast majority of people cannot conveniently access our services,” he said. “It should offend us every day that adults can’t entertain themselves in the way that they want to when they have access to so many other things.”
Fast food is unhealthy. Alcohol is unhealthy. Yet, those businesses don’t need government approval to expand.
Politicians, he said, have set up too many obstacles.
Harrah’s, however, has success stories. In Tunica, Miss., there was an 800 percent increase in employment after Harrah’s Tunica opened in 1996. Harrah’s Chester in Pennsylvania has contributed a portion of the $500 million the state has seen in tax dollars. Harrah’s New Orleans helped the city’s restaurant industry flourish.
Loveman said there are prevalent misconceptions about gaming, but statistics point to less crime in casinos and organized corruption is in the past. Studies by the American Gaming Association show growing acceptance of casinos by communities.
But, thanks to Hollywood, the general public thinks casino gaming is still controlled by gangsters.
“I’ve never lived a day like (the movie) ‘Casino,’ ” Loveman said, although he doesn’t mind if the boys who date his teenage daughters have that perception.
So why is expansion stilted?
Loveman said gaming operators have self-inflicted the damage.
Last month, casino companies financed a campaign that failed to stop developer David Cordish from gaining voter approval to build the state’s largest slot machine parlor near a suburban Maryland shopping mall. The ads used the same negative issues the industry has faced.
“Respect our overriding common interest and don’t pursue destructive private agendas,” Loveman said.
Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3871. He blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/stutz.