As the gaming industry has become an increasingly prominent part of American culture and the U.S. economy, there have been skeptics who have contended that the presence of casinos simply results in a net loss to other local businesses.
Those involved in gaming argue otherwise, and they come armed with something that's often absent from debate these days: facts.
"The most rewarding thing for me working in this industry is that we have this crazy thing called 'the truth' on our side," said Geoff Freeman, executive director of the American Gaming Association, the major trade organization that represents the casino industry. "The data, the statistics, the real-life experience in every community in which we're doing business prove what this industry is -- it's a supporter of small businesses, particularly women- and minority-owned businesses. It's an entity that works with nonprofit organizations and it's proven to be an entity that contributes to the economy."
Freeman was at Live! Casino & Hotel June 22 as part of the AGA's national tour to get the word out about gaming's beneficial impact on small businesses and was joined by casino executives, small business owners, casino employees, non-profit representatives, tourism representatives and elected officials in a panel discussion. At the same time, Live! Casino & Hotel is celebrating its fifth anniversary and was holding its own "Minority Outreach Fair."
The national figures regarding the gaming industry tell an impressive story. Today, there are about 1,000 casinos in the country fueling a $240 billion industry that supports 1.7 million jobs. But industry leaders want to emphasize what gaming contributes outside the walls of its casinos.
A recent report prepared by Spectrum Gaming Group, which provides gaming-related research, reveals that, nationally, gaming supports 350,000 small business jobs and adds $51.7 billion in revenues to small businesses, often outside vendors.
Vouching for the difference Live! Casino & Hotel has made to his minority-owned business was Tony Hill, managing partner of Edwards and Hill Office Furniture in Annapolis Junction, Md. Hill said his business has grown from seven employees to 22 after forging a relationship with Live! Casino & Hotel, and that his company has used that association with Live! as a springboard to attracting other clients.
Hill said Live!'s commitment to women- and minority-owned businesses is solid.
"I've worked with clients where [the commitment] wasn't authentic," Hill said. "You get in there and you get a little bit of work and that's it. … We've had situations where we do all the work up front and then they bring in somebody else.”
However, Hill has gotten consistent business from Live! both at the casino and as part of the renovation of the nearby Live! Lofts hotel. He hopes the relationship continues with Live! building its latest project, the new 300-room hotel that's underway adjacent to the casino.
"I'll say this, we've earned their business," Hill said. "It wasn't easy. We jumped through every hope. We earned their trust. We've been able to work with them consistently up until this very day, and I'm sure it'll continue into the future. So that shows the commitment from them is authentic."
Creating bonds with the local community has extended to philanthropic efforts. Lyn Hopkins, incoming president of the Assistance League of the Chesapeake, a charitable nonprofit that assists children in need and seniors, said her group's efforts to provide school uniforms and books to the 2,000 children it serves wouldn't be nearly as successful without the casino company's financial support.
The recent Spectrum Gaming Group report that detailed gaming's impact on small business also highlighted a handful of case studies. Anne Arundel County, home to Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, Md., was one of those case studies.
In Maryland, 1.5 percent of all casino slot proceeds go the state's Casino Business Investment Fund, a program that provides capital to women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses.
An executive with the program estimated that in Anne Arundel County alone the program has led to $11 million in loans, 300 new jobs and $25 million in new investment helping a range of businesses from coffee and ice cream shops to small manufacturers.
From the days when Live! Casino & Hotel was being constructed through its five years of operations when it became one of the highest revenue-generating casinos in the Mid-Atlantic region, the numbers show the Cordish Companies' casino has been a leading contributor economically and as a taxpayer. The casino sends nearly $1 million a day in gambling taxes alone to the state with the lion's share going toward education.
"We're going to continue to reinvest in the community," Joe Weinberg, managing partner and CEO of Resort & Gaming Entertainment for The Cordish Companies, said.
As the panel presentation was being held in a casino restaurant, construction was continuing on the adjacent $200 million, 17-story hotel and conference center that is expected to open in the first part of next year.
"It's a project that's going to be a great enhancement to the casino, to the community," Weinberg said. "It will have 300 rooms and suites. It will have a large convention facility that can accommodate all our local schools' and colleges' graduations that now have to go outside the county. New restaurants, a new music venue. So we're very excited."
Through it all, Live! Casino & Hotel has maintained its goal of engaging minority businesses.
Rob Norton, president of Cordish Global Gaming, said that more than $100 million of the total costs of initially building the casino, which was approximately $500 million, went to minority businesses. Since then, the casino has been able to continue its outreach to minority-, women- and veterans-owned businesses with vendor fairs.
"One of the things that I'm proud of is that not only have we spent more than $100 million during the initial construction," Norton said, "we've also spent an additional $100 million since we've opened with local minority- and women-owned businesses in ongoing operations and capital projects. So we not only made that commitment at the start but we've continued it."