Frank Fahrenkopf, the nation's top gaming lobbyist, is calling it quits as head of the American Gaming Association.
Fahrenkopf,73, a native of Reno, Nev., said Monday he plans to step down in Juneas the first and only president/CEO of the association created in 1994to squelch a proposed 4 percent gross receipts tax on casinos that wouldhave funded the Clinton administration's welfare reform legislation.
"Theydropped it quickly," Fahrenkopf said of the impact of opposition fromthe gaming industry as well as state governors, including then-Gov. BobMiller of Nevada.
But what was supposed to be a one-year stint atthe AGA helm turned long-term as the industry grew from 12 states andrevenues of $16 billion in 1995 to 23 states with $35.6 billion inrevenues last year, according to the association.
Indeed, gamingin the mid-'90s was far different than today. Tribal casinos had yet toopen. And few imagined, Fahrenkopf said, what the emerging Internetwould eventually mean to the industry.
And then there was gambling's image.
"Within one month of our opening, the movie Casinocame out and that didn't help get rid of old stereotypes," he said ofthe movie's depiction of organized crime in the Las Vegas casinobusiness.
"We're a mainstream part of the economy now, withhundreds of thousands of people employed in casinos nationwide," hesaid. "We do polls every year and it's pretty consistent: 15 percent ofpeople oppose all forms of gambling. You'll never change them and all wecan do is respect their views. But 80 percent believe gaming is allright, and that's a very positive thing for our industry."
Word of Fahrenkopf's departure brought praise from industry leaders.
"Theimpact of his leadership stretches well beyond Washington," Jim Murren,chairman/CEO of MGM Resorts International, said in a statement. "Ithasn't always been easy to bring our disparate group together, but hedid it. Frank's legacy at the AGA is testament to what we can accomplishtogether."
Fahrenkopf said the American Gaming Association hasgrown from four employees to a staff of 12, and its role has expandedfrom lobbying Congress and the federal government to operating theNational Center for Responsible Gaming and putting on the Global GamingExpo in Las Vegas, which attracts more than 30,000 people, and G2E Asia.
Fahrenkopfsaid he will remain with the AGA in a consulting role through 2013 tohelp efforts to get federal legislation approved governing Internetgambling between states.
Congress has failed in recent years toaddress sanctions, notably on online poker - which is legal overseas andgenerates as much as $6 billion annually, according to industry andnational media reports.
"We'll have to wait and see," Fahrenkopfsaid of the new Congress that convenes this month. "Absent a federallaw, you'll see state-by-state intrastate Internet gaming."
Fahrenkopfwas a Reno lawyer before working in Republican politics at the statelevel and becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee, atitle he held for six of President Ronald Reagan's eight years in theWhite House. He also helped lead the party through the 1984 and 1988presidential elections.
He continues to serve as co-chairman ofthe Commission on Presidential Debates, which conducts the generalelection presidential and vice presidential debates.