Articles

NAGRA: One Size Fits All?

Article Author
Pat Leen and Tom Nelson
Publish Date
October 31, 2007
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Pat Leen and Tom Nelson

We cringe when we hear the term “one size fits all.” If you’ve met us in person, you know why. Pat could pass for an ex-NFL lineman and Tom frequently hears “How’s the weather up there?” One size also suggests clothes of dubious quality hawked by sprawling and impersonal one-stop-shopping mega stores.
Fortunately for us, and many others, the North American Gaming Regulators Association (NAGRA) is a one-stop, one-size-fits-all organization that is the exception to these stereotypes, meeting the needs of its unique membership through a variety of creative approaches.

NAGRA is the only gaming organization to which we belong. As a general matter, we are not “joiners.” It’s not that we’re anti-social, but belonging to organizations requires time and involves expense. As a busy two-person consulting firm, there are limits on the time available for extracurricular activities. Quite simply, we’ve found that NAGRA provides us the best “bang for the buck.”

Humble Beginnings
Like most worthwhile endeavors, NAGRA did not leap into existence overnight as a fully functioning regulatory organization. It started small, with a limited focus and, over the years, has evolved and grown as the gaming industry has become more diverse and specialized.

NAGRA was founded in 1984. As its name suggests, it covers both the United States and Canada, with member representation from both tribal and non-tribal gaming jurisdictions. Membership was initially limited to government entities and regulators. The original focus was on games such as Bingo, pull-tabs, lotteries, raffles, and “Las Vegas” or “casino” nights used by nonprofit organizations for fund-raising purposes.

As the nature, scope and extent of gaming changed over the years, NAGRA responded by expanding to include Class III Tribal Gaming, riverboat gaming, casino and video gaming, pari-mutuel wagering, and other activities that are of interest to its member agencies.

Our first contact with NAGRA occurred at its 1993 conference in Sioux Falls, S.D. Michigan had just negotiated its first Tribal Gaming Compacts, and Pat was selected to implement state oversight. Pat was familiar with NAGRA from his days in the Charitable Gaming Division of the Michigan State Lottery, so it was a logical step for him to attend the meeting to see if NAGRA could be of assistance in formulating the Michigan compact oversight program.

At this time, NAGRA had gained a considerable reputation in the area of charitable gaming and Bingo regulation. However, what impressed Pat most about that first conference was the level of foresight and imagination that the organization projected from both its leadership and its membership. The conference also provided excellent networking opportunities, and Pat formed important and lasting relationships with many of its early members. The advice, direction and encouragement received from NAGRA members such as Doris Popler, Norm DesRosiers and Dale Fuga helped form the nucleus of the very successful state tribal oversight program in Michigan and helped us formulate many of the core regulatory principals that we embrace even today.

Our association with NAGRA continued during our tenure with the Michigan Gaming Control Board and thereafter in our current consulting business. Over the years, this connection and NAGRA conferences have convinced us that many of the regulatory issues we encountered had already been recognized, debated and resolved in other jurisdictions. In this regard, the forum for the exchange of ideas and information provided by NAGRA offers invaluable instant experience and insight from other regulators.  

Current Activities
Membership in NAGRA is open to any government entity that is lawfully charged with the regulation and enforcement of any aspect of any type of gaming. NAGRA thus includes federal, state, local and provincial agencies, as well as Tribal and First Nation regulators from both the United States and Canada. The current membership roster includes virtually all non-tribal gaming boards and commissions, and a significant number of major tribal and First Nation regulatory agencies. Law enforcement organizations are also well represented.

The attractive feature of NAGRA membership from an entity perspective is that, once your agency is a member, every employee can participate. Not only is this cost-effective, but it also vastly expands the universe of potential contacts.

NAGRA also offers “trade affiliate” membership to “other interested parties.” Typical trade affiliates include a solid cross section of industry manufacturers, testing laboratories and consultants. The inclusion of trade affiliates brings considerable gaming expertise and diverse points of view to the organization. Trade affiliates participate fully in NAGRA activities, with the exceptions of voting and attendance at closed meetings.

The management of NAGRA is the responsibility of a board of directors consisting of the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, immediate past president and four regional directors. The current president is Dominic E. “Don” Dutton, the attorney member of the New Mexico Gaming Control Board. Like Dutton, the other board members have years of experience in gaming and reflect the diversity of the general membership.

The board, pursuant to NAGRA bylaws, has established various committees that focus member efforts on emerging issues in a variety of gaming areas. The committees develop training topics for the annual conference and also communicate experiences and problems in their respective jurisdictions with an eye for finding creative solutions.

Current NAGRA committees include:
    • Charitable Gaming
    • Casino/Electronic Gaming
    • Internet Gaming
    • Indian Gaming
    • Investigators

Once again, the diversity, experience and expertise of NAGRA membership is reflected in its committees, which in turn contribute to active participation and overall success. NAGRA keeps in touch with its members between annual conferences through a quarterly newsletter. All members and trade affiliates are invited and encouraged to submit contributions. Finally, NAGRA maintains a website at www.nagra.org with general information about the organization and a “members only” portal to a searchable database of members and a user forum.

Annual Conference
The centerpiece of NAGRA’s year is its annual conference. This year the gathering took place in Kansas City, Mo. The next conference is scheduled for New Orleans on June 10–13, 2008.

This year’s conference included sessions on such varied topics as server-based downloadable games, tribal economic development opportunities, riverboat gambling investigations and electronic Bingo “card-minding” devices. Conferences also include the annual business meeting, committee meetings and numerous networking opportunities.

The theme of next year’s conference will be “Gaming Regulation in Advancing Technology, a Look to the Future.” Topics will include: audit issues brought about as a result of technological advances; Internet gaming effects on youth; legal Internet games of skill verses illegal Internet gambling; the latest advances in gaming technology; economic development opportunities for tribes from gaming funds; and a host of other informal discussions. Among the speakers and presenters will be members of the prestigious International Masters of Gaming Law, who have volunteered their services. The conference will also highlight the dramatic comeback and giant strides made by Louisiana and Mississippi gaming since Hurricane Katrina. 

Vision for the Future
NAGRA has achieved its primary goal of bringing together agencies that regulate gaming activities and providing a forum for the mutual exchange of regulatory information and techniques. It has also been highly successful in collecting and disseminating regulatory and enforcement information, procedures and experiences from all jurisdictions. It continuously offers high-quality and relevant gaming education and training for all members. Finally, NAGRA provides regulators with a unified voice to speak on legislative matters while striving to develop a standard for legislation and rules concerning gaming activities.

Where does NAGRA go from here? Dutton describes his immediate objectives as follows: “My goals are to maintain the high quality and integrity of NAGRA; to increase membership by extending reciprocal membership to like organizations, both tribal and non-tribal; and to provide members the opportunity to discuss the latest gaming regulatory issues in a friendly, safe and impartial setting.”

The idea of reciprocal membership is typical of the creative thinking that characterizes the leadership of NAGRA. We strongly support the concept and wish Dutton every success in its implementation. The more interested organizations connect and interact to exchange information, experience and ideas, the stronger the industry will become.

We have no doubt that NAGRA will continue its evolution as gaming moves forward in the 21st century. We urge all North American regulators who are not already part of this fine organization to join and take advantage of the experience and expertise of their fellow regulators.

Pat Leen, co-owner of Gaming Regulatory Consultants, was a founding member of the Michigan Gaming Control Board. He can be reached at (517) 256-8619 or pleen@grcgaming.com.

Tom Nelson, co-owner of Gaming Regulatory Consultants, was the first Director of Licensing and Enforcement for the MGCB and served for 22 years as Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General. He can be reached at (719) 440-6611 or tnelson@grcgaming.com.

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