How One Leader Helped Build an Association From Nothing

Through the work of Frank Fahrenkopf, the head of the American Gaming Association who's stepping down later this year, the organization became a force in Washington, DC, and internationally. Here's how.

When Frank Fahrenkopf started at the just-launched American Gaming Association (AGA) in 1994, it was supposed to be a single-year stint.

But one thing led to another, and the casino industry has grown significantly—with Fahrenkopf, who once served as chairman of the Republican National Committee, at the helm of the industry’s major trade group for nearly two decades. He announced earlier this week that he will step down in June.

We’re a mainstream part of the economy now, with hundreds of thousands of people employed in casinos nationwide.

Before he transitions out, here’s more on how Fahrenkopf helped the gaming industry through a challenging period:

Getting started: While the group was founded to fight a proposed 4 percent gross-receipts tax on casinos during the Clinton administration (“They dropped it quickly,” he notes), Fahrenkopf realized there was much more to do than simply fend off a tax. For example: “Within one month of our opening, the movie Casino came out, and that didn’t help get rid of old stereotypes,” he told USA Today.

The group’s successes: Beyond burnishing gaming’s image—”We’re a mainstream part of the economy now, with hundreds of thousands of people employed in casinos nationwide,” he said—Fahrenkopf oversaw an industry that went through a number of changes during his 19-year tenure, including the growth of tribal casinos and the rise of the internet. He also led industrywide initiatives to encourage diversity and a code of conduct for responsible gaming.

The group’s growth: The AGA does much more than lobbying these days. The association’s staff has expanded from four to 12, and its endeavors have expanded into industry initiatives to fight gambling addiction and wide-scale events in both the United States and Asia.

The respect earned: The AGA’s chairman, Richard Haddrill, was quick to praise Fahrenkopf’s work. “I cannot begin to express the tremendous gratitude and respect our entire board holds for Frank,” Haddrill said in a statement. “He has been a steady, thoughtful leader through a period of great change for our industry and has steered us through some of its most difficult challenges. The fact that today our industry is recognized as a vital part of the global economy is in no small part due to his tireless efforts and leadership.”

Next on the agenda: While Fahrenkopf will transition out of the leadership role in June, he will remain a consultant through the rest of the year to assist in the group’s efforts to get federal legislation passed that would govern internet gambling between states. Whether a federal law will eventually happen, “we’ll have to wait and see,” Fahrenkopf noted to USA Today. “Absent a federal law, you’ll see state-by-state intrastate internet gaming.”

What kind of impact have your association leaders made in your industry? Let us know about a game-changing leader of your own in the comments.

(American Gaming Association)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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