Big Shoes to Fill

Geoff Freeman steps in at AGA as Fahrenkopf’s 18-year tenure at the helm draws to a close

A former travel association leader and Washington D.C. insider took the helm of the American Gaming Association (AGA) this month, succeeding its first and only president Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr.
Geoff Freeman, 38, officially became president and chief executive officer of the AGA on July 1, taking over for Fahrenkopf, who spent 18 years in the position and is expected to stay on as a consultant through the year’s end. Freeman brings 16 years of association leadership and public affairs experience to the AGA, including success in guiding an array of complex industry issue campaigns, reshaping and repositioning industries, and helping pass key legislation. Freeman said he is honored by the opportunity to build upon the AGA’s many successes under Fahrenkopf. He praised Fahrenkopf’s skill in mentoring and preparing him for the new role and for his ability to work with the Obama administration and both sides of the aisle in Congress.

Fahrenkopf deserves much credit for getting the industry where it is today, Freeman said. “What the industry has done incredibly well is prevent ‘bad’ from happening. Right there you see the value of Frank Fahrenkopf. Nobody, no one person, is more responsible for that than Frank,” he said. “Frank did such a successful job getting us to this point. The question today is, what’s next?”

Freeman said the industry must continue to protect itself while working to educate and build new champions to tell the story of gaming as a solution.

“I hope that having the experience of seeing the industry from a close but different perspective is helpful,” he said. “There is no shortage of gaming industry experts. The strength I bring the industry is to balance that perspective with a viewpoint that simply comes to it from a different angle—an angle focused less on market protection and more on growing the pie to effectively build new champions.”

Another priority will be to try to build consensus among board members on Internet gaming.

“My focus is on learning as much as I can about the issue, about the next steps, about the opportunities, and then working with the board to gain alignment on where we want to go on that,” Freeman said. “There’s no getting away from the intersection of the Internet and gaming. We’ll work together to chart the best course forward.”

The gaming industry is much more diverse than gaming, with wider offerings than ever before. That requires a strong understanding of the travel and hospitality industries, and it also offers the industry more potential for growth and image reinvention, Freeman said. “I’ve always understood the vibrancy of the industry and its forward-looking nature. I’m very excited about the opportunities ahead. Markets change. Markets evolve. And they do so quickly. Las Vegas is an example of that.”

And while no one relished the difficulties the gaming industry faced when the recession hit hard, especially in Las Vegas, “there’s a bright side to 2008 and what the industry went through. That’s going to be informative as we consider how we want to evolve and grow in the years ahead. I think the industry is diversifying, and it’s not just in Las Vegas; it’s across the country,” he said.

The industry will build off gaming to diversify and see both growth, vis à vis projects, such as the Genting development planned for Echelon property, and evolution in terms of further diversifying amenities and remaking offerings, he said.

Freeman, like Fahrenkopf, has acknowledged the crucial role a Washington insider can play in leading an organization such as the AGA.

“What a Washington insider can bring to this is a real understanding of how things can get done in Washington today. We all know that Washington is seemingly producing less than what it produced in the past. It’s not easy. What it takes is an ability to convince people on both sides of the aisle that our perspective demands attention over the many other needs and organizations that are competing for their attention in an environment where very little moves,” he said.

“When you look at this industry and the environment we’re in, it’s critical that we tell this story about why our industry is a solution,” Freeman added, noting the travel association he helped lead painted a compelling picture very successfully during the recession.

Freeman, who will remain based in the Washington D.C., area, joined the AGA after seven years at the U.S. Travel Association, most recently in the capacity of executive vice president and chief operating officer. While there, Freeman helped reposition the industry into a leading political force in Washington.

AGA Chairman Richard Haddrill cited some of the strengths Freeman brings to the position. “He is both a thoughtful and energetic leader who already understands our industry, has a deep public policy background and extensive network of relationships in Washington, and has the skills to build coalitions and execute grass roots campaigns,” said Haddrill, who is also the chairman of Bally Technologies Inc., in a news release.

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