- Approximately 40 people from 20 state operator associations participated in the annual Council of Affiliated States meeting hosted here by the Amusement and Music Operators Association from Feb. 17 through 19. On the table were hot-button issues including smoking bans, competition with legalized gambling, taxes, music copyright and jukebox licensing, among others. AMOA vice-president Phil McBride, T&G Music (Titusville, FL), who serves as chairman of the AMOA State Association Committee, directed the discussion during the meeting at the Rosen Centre Hotel. Participants included AMOA president Marion Paul, Fannie Farkle's (Gatlinburg, TN), and AMOA executive vice-president Jack Kelleher.
A three-person panel addressed ways to deal with smoking ban legislation. The session was moderated by Gary Brewer, Brewer Amusement (McMinnville, TN), who is chairman of AMOA's Government Relations Committee and also of its Smoking Ban Sub-Committee. Panel members shared their experiences on the front lines battling smoking bans in their operating areas. In his overview, Brewer noted the industry is a "major underdog," and said that the goal of those firms and organizations whose members are adversely affected by smoking ban ordinances should be to continue seeking sensible compromises.
Frank Calland of E&S Music Corp. (Holbrook, NY), spoke on the panel in his capacity as president of New York's Amusement and Music Owners Association. The organization has been strongly lobbying to obtain financial support from AMOA to fight the Empire State's statewide smoking ban. "I went to the States' Council meeting hoping that I would get some commitment from AMOA that the national organization would assist us in our battle, especially since New York is such a bellwether state," he said. "AMOA is still studying the issue so we still don't know exactly what to expect. At the meeting in Orlando, I advised the state associations what to expect from smoking bans and how to organize to fight them."
Calland said it was difficult to counter claims by anti-smoking groups that all efforts by smoking rights advocates were funded by "big tobacco." In New York, a public relations firm was retained to address such propaganda.
Also on the smoking ban panel was David Corey, executive vice-president of the Ohio Coin Machine Association. "We cannot win the medical argument," he said, noting that Toledo's 2004 smoking ban was repealed for taverns after 14 bars went out of business after the ordinance was enacted. Rather than having to fight an endless series of local laws, OCMA and its allies in the state are seeking to have a bill introduced that will create a statewide smoking policy as a compromise alternative to the total (local) smoking bans.
Indiana AMOA president Bill Smythe of Indy Amusements (Indianapolis, IN), said his association made alliances to lobby state officials about smoking bans before they were imposed. AMOA of Indiana enlisted landlords, bar and liquor distributors (and their sales staffs), and even bar patrons to the cause. All of these allies received contact information and "bullet points" to communicate to local elected officials. "Form coalitions before it becomes an issue, because it will become an issue," Smythe said. He noted a new, tougher smoking ban measure has recently been introduced, but he predicted a compromise would eventually be reached.
The threat of possible tax hikes aimed at the amusements industry was very much on the minds of participants. Almost every single state executive reported actual or expected budget deficits in their states, making it "open season" on any and all sources of revenue, including taxes of various kinds and licensing fees for the coin-op trade.
Casinos on Indian reservations have become the fastest-growing form of legalized gambling in the U.S., a point that a growing number of amusement operators feel keenly in their pocketbooks. The States Council received a briefing on Native American gaming from Charles Foti, Jr., attorney general of Louisiana. Foti said there are some 450 Indian casinos operating in the U.S. currently, and that number is expected to double in the next 10 years. "It's big business," he said, noting commercial casino gaming in the U.S. totaled nearly $29 billion, of which almost $17 billion is derived from Indian gaming.
Foti predicted more non-tribal corporations will collaborate with Indian tribes on gaming endeavors, as Harrah's , to cite one example , does already. Historically, coin machine operators have not been an integral part of these partnership deals; in fact, the industry often views Indian gaming as major competition. Yet, Foti said the pendulum could swing and operators may see future opportunities working with Native American gaming entities.
Other issues were addressed by Mike Vaughan, director of the Jukebox License Office, and Elliott Portnoy, legislative counsel for AMOA, who provided briefings on music copyright and video game bans, respectively. Operators from Kentucky and Iowa discussed their efforts to legitimize gray-area equipment.
"It's always interesting to see how things in my state 'measure up' against what's happening around the country," said AMOA president Marion Paul. "This meeting provides a unique opportunity to compare notes on studies, definitions, fees, legislation, member services and the like in an open exchange. But, perhaps the biggest 'bang for the buck' when it comes to the Council of Affiliated States meeting is that I can pick up the phone and talk with any one of the attendees about key issues affecting our business interests."
Participants agreed that future States Council meetings should take place in mid-February (around the Presidents Day holiday). The favored site for 2006 is the Phoenix/Scottsdale area; AMOA will explore possible venues and finalize dates and location in the near future.AMOA acknowledged sponsors and supporters of this year's meeting including Brady Distributing, Charlotte, NC; Florida Amusement Machine Association; Green Coin Machine Dist. Co., Myrtle Beach, SC; Birmingham Vending, Birmingham, AL; Louisiana Amusement & Music Operators; T&G Music, Titusville, FL; Tennessee Coin Machine Association; Play Time Toys, Orlando, FL; TouchTunes Music Corp., Buffalo Grove, IL; and Valley-Dynamo, Richmond Hills, TX.