Interview: J. Terrence Lanni

Q: What sort of gambling do you do when you do gamble? What do you like to gamble on?

Lanni: I don't do it that often. I breed and race thorough-breds, so I do spend some time at the race track and I've been known to wager a ticket or two there, also. If I'm playing in a casino game, if I'm traveling generally I'll play, maybe, Black Jack -- but not that often.

Q: What is it that's entertaining about gambling? What is the thing, the attraction?

Lanni: Well, I think that differs, obviously, among each individual. If you personalize it for me, I've always found gaming just to be an extension of entertainment. You might enjoy going to the movies. You might enjoy a good play.

Q: You were involved, there, at the end of the...Caesar's World and ITT's purchase. Why is ITT in the gambling business? Now, why is MGM in the gambling business now?

Interview with J. Terrence Lanni, Chairman of MGM Grand, Inc. and member of  the  Federal Gambling Commission.  The Commission was recently created by Congress to study for two years how legalized gambling impacts America.  He was interviewed in the early spring of 1997. Lanni: For me, I have said now for a number of years, that I really believe if you take a look into the 21st century -- which is ever so close to us -- that what will be the most important industry in the 21st century? Well, in my own mind, I've concluded that for the first half the 21st century that entertainment is going to be the most important industry.

And I think one of the reasons for that, is if you take a look at people who live in large cities, even outside the United States, but certainly here within the United States. I like to say there are three things that are affecting you when you live those cities. I call it the '3-Cs'. And it's crime, congestion and communication.

In the crime that is, unfortunately, ever present in our lives is something that is forcing more people to stay within their homes. They have less interest in leaving their homes. So you need to have something very special to get them to leave those homes.

When you take a look at congestion, that's another factor. And if you live in Los Angeles or New York or San Francisco, the amount of congestion going to work, if you -- going in what would be normal work hours -- is a very frustrating experience. And many people live far from where they particularly work.

The third aspect is the communication side of life. And what's happening in communications is the ever increasing of value of communications and then the growth and excitement of what's happening there, is allowing many people not to leave their homes.

And so when you look at it, what do these people want? Their lives are much more complicated then when I was growing up. Families are much more complicated. The percentage of two adults in a family working for salary, not that they didn't work for -- before, but they weren't, necessarily, instances of both husband and wife working on a salary basis. They are now.

And families are spending less time together. And I think there's a sociological change in the United States, where people are traveling more with their families....families have found the way they do get together is when they go on vacations together.

And that's a part of the entertainment. I think it's a part of why people want to be in this particular industry because we are nothing other than an addition to the motion picture industry; to legitimate theater; to sporting events -- we really encompass a lot of that within our own facilities.

So I think companies like ITT, Caesar's, MGM Grand have said, "What are we? We are the entertainment business, why not expand upon that. Why not be those destination resorts where more people are going to travel?"

Q: What happened to the stigma that used to be attached to it?

Lanni: I think, if you go back to the catalyst that probably did that when the people of the state of New Jersey voted 60% in favor and 40% against to bring about casino gaming in New Jersey.

So what that did, is it brought gaming outside of a single state, as we know gaming today. And that was, really, a major change because it had been some fifty or sixty years in which Nevada maintained, on a legal basis, a monopoly in the form of gaming.

And what had happened, also, was that we as an industry, when we were limited to one state, didn't spend a lot of time building cadres of people to move up into an organization because there wasn't that much growth. So you tended to have people staying in positions for long periods of time.

So, we've exposed the industry, not only to a second state, but to a lot of individuals who hadn't been involved in it before. I think, also, that by being in Atlantic City in the east coast we had much more attention from the commercial bankers, the investment bankers, who, really, on a limited basis had focused on gaming before hand.

So, there's more exposure, more understanding. They spent more time as analysts studying, understanding that it really is a business. That the odds are predictable, in favor of the house. We always say, as much as people should come and have a great time in a casino, the shareholders of the casino own the buildings, not the players. So the advantage, is still, definitively, in the favor of the house.

And that was the catalyst. And it grew as other states developed gaming and more investment banking firms looked at it, said, "This is a good, predictable, level of cash flow. We can get good investment returns here."

Q: What do you have to do, to justify your license here, in Nevada, and in these other places? And how often do you have to do it?

Lanni: It does differ, but we'll take -- basically, Nevada, New Jersey are very similar. The others are somewhat different, but not terribly. We have forms that are sometimes 40 to 75 pages that must be completed, with every aspect of our personal history -- including every aspect of who our relatives are; what businesses they were involved in; what are families are involved in -- every single asset that we have as individuals; any partnerships that we have; any bank accounts have to be fully disclosed. And that's in these documents, with a lot of addendum pages that are added to it.

They are then forwarded to the appropriate regulatory body -- the Gaming Control Board, here in the state of Nevada, for example -- and they assign a group of people to begin the investigative process. They'll go back and -- in my case and I'm sure others -- they'll go back and try to find grammar school teachers who might still be alive; people -- if you were married more than once (I haven't been); they want to know your friends; they'll try to find out more and more about you. They'll go and do every background check with various government agencies. They'll look at your Internal Revenue Service Returns to see -- they restate your returns.

Give you an example: They take a look at your tax returns. Forget that the IRS accepted it or if you're a California resident, the California Franchise Tax Board accepted it, they go back and restate them and see if they believe that everything was reported correctly. And they could come back and ask you questions about that.

They come in, these investigators, and they go through every single check you've written. They review them. They'll look at any accounts that you have; any partnerships that you have. In the case that I breed and race thorough breds -- that's always embarrassing because that's not been a very successful endeavor, financially, for me. So I'm somewhat in trepidations when they go through these files and wonder why I've invested these monies in the thoroughbred industry. But it's a very thorough investigation. And it's done in the state of New Jersey every two years. They run through it, entirely, over serval months. They'll make a recommendation to the appropriate authorities. When you are licensed -- because they've supported that licensing and the Casino Control Commission in New Jersey approves it -- two years later they come back and go through all of that again for everything that's happened in the last two years. So, it's a very thorough process.

And a lot of people, I would tell you, in the Fortune 500 companies, as CEOs -- even if they had nothing to fear or wanted to hide -- the issue of disclosing every aspect of your life to the various agencies around the world is something you think twice about. But that's very much required and we very much support it. It truly is what allows our industry to be accepted as an industry and to help eradicate that aspect of the stigma that you referred to.

Q: Explain that. Why is it that the gambling industry likes and wants regulation?

Lanni: Well, I think that if you take a look at it, is because of the fact that there is still that stereotypical view in some areas of the world. I'll give you a perfect example. Last night, we had dinner here, in Las Vegas, with the government representatives of the Gaming Control Commission in the Mapoomawonga Province of South Africa. And one of the questions asked by the Chairman, "When did the mobsters leave Las Vegas?" Each movie they mentioned and that's what their understanding of what this business is. So I think what we need, to be accepted by the investment community -- we're publicly traded, New York Stock Exchange Company. We have SCC requirements. We have the consideration of the various gaming regulatory bodies that I referred to around the world that we have to deal with. It's extremely important for us, to know that we have past those regulatory processes to continue to have the support of the investment community. Because if there's ever a time when the investment community -- the pension funds who invest heavily in our business -- I mean, the CALPERS, California Public Employer Retirement Fund, the Wisconsin State Teacher's Pension Fund, the New York State Teacher's Pension Fund are major investors in the publicly traded companies in this industry.

If there's ever a time when they think there's something questionable about the regulatory process or the backgrounds of the people in positions within these companies, it is going to have a major effect, negatively impacting the availability of funding, which is the important factor for growing.

So, I think it's the aspect of being sure that we maintain the integrity of the industry, the belief in various provinces, states, governments around the world that we are clean, decent and acceptable operators with good backgrounds.

Q: It's an insurance policy to some degree then?

Lanni: Yeah. It's an insurance policy, and it's responsibility to our shareholders.

Q: What do you think is the thing that's most misunderstood about your business?

Lanni: Well, probably overall, that it truly is a business. I think that people look at it as something that's fun -- which is important because we're in a service aspect where it should be fun. But I think people, generally, overlook that this is, truly, a business and needs to be run as a business.

And the second aspect of it is just the fact that I don't think people have any understanding of the regulatory process, how strict it is and how thorough it is.

Q: Why have Americans taken to gambling in the last five years? That's really, what started the story, is the phenomenal growth. In 1991, 17% of households went to casinos; '95 - 31% -- nearly double in just five years. And casinos have been around a lot longer than that.

Lanni: I think, partially, the availability. With that factor... Nevada being the only state having gaming until New Jersey in '76. And then the advent of all the river boat gaming that took place and has taken place along the Mississippi River...the involvement of the Indian Gaming Act of 1988 and some 130 reservations of Native Americans have gaming facilities in one form or another around the country.

So, I think, the exposure is much greater than it has been before. The availability has been much greater than before. And I think part of it, is you have -- come by, probably a wonderful couple of Southern Baptists who were in Mississippi and they go to Gulf Port. And they decide after they've been in operation there for three months, that maybe they won't talk to their pastor and they'll go to the casino. And they go to the casino and they spend a night, an evening at the casino the next day and they think they're still pretty religious people. They haven't been asked to leave their church. Their neighbors haven't frowned upon them for doing this, and they don't feel any differently and they had a good time.

So, I think, that most people truly look at it as entertainment. The availability of it is much broader now. And people are enjoying it and taking advantage of it in a very pleasant fashion.

Q: I saw your keynote address at the American Gaming Summit in December. And you spoke about how the industry must become 'pro-active.' What is 'pro-active?'

Lanni: Well, I think that as a result of the fact that I had been named to this Federal Gaming Commission -- which has yet to be fully comprised of the nine members. We are awaiting President Clinton's three appointments. -- it was a time that I thought that I had an opportunity to share with the industry that everything that we do is not perfect. And it's really time, on a pro-active basis, to understand that. And, many areas we've been very good.

I think when it comes, as an industry, generally, we've been very good about helping local, charitable causes in the areas in which we operate. We tend to be very, very generous; individuals within the industry; the industry itself. That part, I think we get very good grades on. I think from a regulatory standpoint, and the decency of the individuals involved in the industry, following those processes, we're very good at.

What we've been very weak is in one specific area, that I could name, is dealing with compulsive, behavioral problems relative to gaming. That has been a problem. And we haven't really handled it well. We've done a good job when it comes to teaching, in many instances, our employees to understand when people have problems with alcohol, of the standpoint of stopping them from gaming -- or not giving them their keys back at valet. Or a bartender who won't serve them anymore drinks at one of our restaurants or bars in our various facilities. That, I think, we've been very good, reasonable and conscious, good citizens in that regard.

But problem gaming is an area that I know that on this Federal Gambling Commission, which is going to be a two year commission to study social and economic impacts, that's going to be a major issue. And there's not enough knowledge on that subject. There's a center in Kansas City, Missouri -- the Center for Responsible Gaming -- for which a number of us are major contributors...which is a group of individuals who head that are very impartial. And they, actually take the monies that are afforded by the industry, to give to various medical schools, such as Harvard to do studies. To try to find out what is the actual percentage of the population of the United States that has problems with gaming?

I've seen studies that say 1%. I've seen studies at 5%. And many in between. The issues we need to get a better handle on how many people have problems with gaming and then come up with a solution -- and it's not going to be a solution that will ever guarantee that every single person will be cured of that particular problem. But we need to deal with it. We need to aggressively deal with it.

I mean, people have compulsive behavior in many areas. I mean, many people are using credit cards well beyond their means. People are using food well beyond what is good for their health. Many people use alcohol well beyond the social entertainment aspect of alcohol. And people gamble beyond the level they should gamble. And we need to understand, and to address that.

Do I have all the answers for it, no. But I think the first step is to get an understanding of what percentage of the population is compulsive an addicting gambling. And how do we deal with that on a rational and reasonable basis?

But let's just say that it comes out at 3% -- and maybe alcohol is 3%, alcohol abuse. This country tried with [unintelligible-vollstead act] to block everyone from enjoying alcohol as a social aspect of life rather than an abusive aspect of life. Now, probably 3%, 4%, 5% of the people were abusive of it. What did they do? They drove it underground. They made it an organized crime income stream beyond belief. It allowed Canadians to make a great deal of money, of running fast speed boats across the Detroit River, brining liquor into the United States.

And, it took it off the taxation roles and drove it underground. And I don't think that's the proper answer for people who have addictions with anything. And I don't think it's right to deny the 97% of the people, who can properly handle each of these aspects of life, the right to participate in them. But it doesn't mean that we don't have a responsibility of dealing with them on a forthright basis.

I'd much rather see this industry -- and that's what I was trying to say at that particular keynote address -- I'd like to see this industry position itself as the beer industry has. Reasonable. Friends don't like friends drive drunk. Know when to say no. Rather than position ourselves, frankly, the way the tobacco industry has, that says there's no such thing as health problems with smoking.

We have in our code of conduct, within the MGM Grand, a requirement that people sign this every single year and that they understand that we do -- we want people to be aware of potential problems when it comes to alcohol, or gaming. And they are trained, through various programs here at our company and other companies, to understand and to observe and see when people have this particular problem, indications of it. And they are required to deal with it accordingly.

Q: Critics of your industry say just the opposite. They say, "Oh, no, they actually exploit those people. A substantial part of their profits come from the people who gamble too much and gamble beyond their means and have this obsessive problem. And they actually target them and seek them out."

Lanni: Well, I think you know, critics, you know, I think it's good to have criticism. It keep everyone honest and prepared and much more intense about doing what is right. So I certainly have no problem with critics. I do have problems when critics don't investigate and understand the situation.

Yeah, it's difficult for me when people reach a certain conclusion. And once they've reached the conclusion, they'll reach out for whatever statistics support their conclusion.

Frankly, people in the industry do that also, we're no different. What we really need to do -- and maybe it's part of this National Gambling Commission -- that we get some independent, understanding of what percentage of people have problems? What is the identity of a person who has a problem? .

And I can find a study that will support anything that one wants to support. I'd love to see us get to a point where we could get some objective information and objectively analyze it. And when I say I would want to do and what I plan to do, is to try to bring a reasonable approach to this Gambling Commission at the federal level.

But if we can be reasonable and if we can approach it saying, "There are some things that are good and there are some things that are bad. How can we deal with the things that are bad?" It's going to be a much more reasonable, prudent and, I think, much more successful commission in that regard.

And I would only hope, that those people who have reached a conclusion won't support it with every single aspect -- correct, in correct, true or false.

Q: One of the most astonishing statistics I've seen about the growth of equity in this industry...[In] 1991, there were 14 companies with a combined $8.4 billion in equity. 1996 -- five years later -- 45 companies with $30 billion equity. Now, I cannot, from my mind, come up with any analogy in the business world for that kind of growth. Explain to me, how does an industry triple its equity in five years?

Lanni:Well, two factors. One is the addition of many states that now allow gaming. There's states up and down the Mississippi River, Colorado, South Dakota. The additional growth here in Las Vegas.

I mean, when you think about here in Las Vegas, we -- with the opening of New York, New York, our new property which is just directly behind me that your viewers can see -- we've got over 100,000 rooms in this city. And that's pretty staggering, in itself.

So the growth within the existing markets has been one, as well as the new markets that have come into place. I think they've had a tremendous effect on the growth.

The other aspect is, this is a very capitally intensive business. I mean, when Caesar's Palace was first built, in 1966, it was built at the cost of 15 million dollars. When MGM Grand was built in was built at a cost of 1 billion dollars.

So, when you 113 acres and 5,005 rooms, you have a capitally intensive situation. We're in the middle of a master plan renovation of this three year old property, spending in excess of 250 million dollars.

So, it's a very capital intensive business. On a competitive aspect, like we're competing against every other resort in the world -- be it Hawaii, be it the south of France. And when people visit, as often as they do -- we had 30 million visitors here in Las Vegas last year. With 30 million visits, a number of those people are repeat visitors. What is very important in our industry is to continue to be a 'must see' attraction.

Generally, when a person comes to a city like Las Vegas, it's understood by the statistics -- if one can believe those statistics -- that an individual stays at one hotel. And during that stay, they stay for about 3.5 nights...4.3 days on the average. And they visit two other properties, on average.

Now, to have those people -- not necessarily stay at your property -- and even with 5000 rooms, we'll have 50, 70, 80,000 people in this facility on a given day. Not everyone is staying in our rooms. You have to assume that the preponderant number of those people are visiting. You have to have a 'must see' attraction. That requires additional attraction. And people who have been successful in this industry, are ones that have plowed capital back in.

If you look at the ones who haven't and they've lived merely on what they had, they've been torn down -- the Dunes, the Landmark, the Hacienda, you see the Sands. These are properties that just didn't continue to invest. So it's a capitally intensive business with a major requirement to put a lot of money in. And the advent of gaming in so many states. That really forced that increase in dollars.

Q: So, if you don't keep upping the ante, you can not play in this game.

Lanni: I really believe that. You build or perish.

Q: I hear that revenues are predicted to increase at least 50% in the next five years. Is that a number you buy into? And can the market place sustain that kind of growth?

Lanni: Well, I think the market place can sustain that level of growth. As long as this is an industry that people perceive as an extension of entertainment, it's something that they want to do with their leisure time. It affords an acceptable -- and affordable -- level of entertainment, I think it can grow, dramatically.

I think a lot of that comes from the fact that these riverboats in Illinois and Mississippi and Indiana, people go into these facilities -- which are predominantly gaming facilities without much, although some of them are, but not too many that have major showrooms or, for instance, our 16,500 seat sports arena. They don't have two or three theaters. They don't have the four and half million square feet that we have and many of the other establishments... have here in Las Vegas and others, on a similar basis but not quite as large or grand, we would say, in Atlantic City.

So, what they'll do, is they'll go there and they'll enjoy that experience. And I think many of them will say, "You know, we had a great time here in Indiana, but you know, I want to go out to the Mecca. I want to go to Las Vegas and really spend three or four days and see what it's really like." So, I think what we're doing, very frankly, in these facilities that are riverboats and what have you, is creating new interest of people that have not visited Las Vegas or Atlantic City prior to that.

Q: We were here at the opening of "New York, New York." And we were going to come down earlier in the morning to get the door opening at 5:00 a.m., only to discover that the door ended up opening at midnight because there are lots of people who were going to wait five or six hours to come in the door of "New York, New York" -- even though they could play the exact same machines and table games at every corner of that intersection. Why would they do that? What was going on there?

Lanni: Well, I don't want to seem prejudiced because we own half of "New York, New York," but during the construction process, it truly became the talking point of the industry. Because people saw this skyline of Manhattan with an Empire Statement, with a Chrysler Building, with a Statue of Liberty and a Brooklyn Bridge coming into being right before their eyes. And I've always said -- and I really believe it -- that that corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard, with the "New York, New York" skyline is a billboard unto itself. You don't need a billboard. That is the billboard.

And I think it had so much anticipation, people were saying, "This is exciting to see the exterior. I've got to see the interior of this place." We like to say, that these facilities, to compete properly and be one of those three facilities that a person's going to visit have to be emotionally engaging.

I don't think there's an entity in this industry that's created anything that comes close -- at least to this date -- of "New York, New York." And I think it's really raised the bar, a level for competitors. And that's very good, because it's going to make other people create facilities that are equally as emotionally engaging as "New York, New York" -- and that's the future of this industry.

Q: Tell me, ten years from now, how many casino companies do you expect there will be?

Lanni: A lot less than there are now.

Q: Why?

Lanni: Well, for one thing, I've said, probably in a gaming conference in about the year 2001, the way the investment banking industry is going with mergers and consolidations, and the way that the entertainment gaming industry is going with consolidations and mergers, that there will be one presenter and one entity listening.

And I think what's really happening, is it's happening at every single industry in the world. I like to say the world may be 26,000 miles around, but it's only one foot wide and it's not getting any smaller, but it's getting a lot closer. And, on a global basis -- I don't care what industry you're in -- if you're in the manufacturing industry or service industry, to be competitive you have to be bigger. In every aspect you have to be bigger to compete. And you have to be international.

Q: Ten years from now, how many companies do you think there'll actually be in this business?

Lanni: Well, I don't want to give you my own guess, I'm going to say what a lot of the analysts, who follow this industry for investment banking firms have said, that by the year 2000/2001, they suspect there'll be six -- five or six major companies. And then maybe a second tier of ten or so combinations of other smaller companies.

Q: Do you have a guess as to what the typical revenue of that mega-gaming company would be like?

Lanni: I think the ten billion dollar range, is rather logical.

Q: The synergy in your mind with the movie about that for a second.

Lanni: Anything with entertainment. I really believe, as I said, that people want to be entertained. It's the industry for the first half of the 21st century for all the reasons I mentioned and others. And I think that that can be a natural part of it.

I mean, people love -- I'm from Los Angeles -- people love Hollywood. I mean, you know, people come to Los Angeles and they'll buy those stars maps and it doesn't even matter if the stars actually live there or ever lived there, it's exciting. They're living their dreams. And that's, really, what entertainment is about.

And, it's no different here. Why wouldn't it be just as exciting for a pure entertainment company to have a movie studio in the middle of an entertainment/retail hotel/casino project?

You know, I could envision a situation like a Charlie De Gaulle Airport with the tubes, with the people movers...transcending this entire area, overlooking television production, movie production. The ability to go into your favorite show that's actually being taped right in the middle of this facility. And bring all forms of entertainment together with the themed attraction rides; with the sporting events; with the television; with movies. One stop shopping. I think that's very possible.

Q: And with casinos at the heart of it?

Lanni: Why not? If casinos are an integral part of what people want to do, as a form of entertainment, why couldn't it be one-stop shopping? It's almost really like your mall. It's like -- it's the old shopping mall, if you will. A little bit of everything for everyone -- and a form of entertainment that will reach out to various people of all ages.

Some which people -- only adults -- can do and others, that children can do. I think that's important. And it ties in with the sociological changes in our society of people traveling more together. Frequent trips for shorter periods of time and wanting to have something for all members of the family.

For years, people said Nevada was marketing itself towards families. I have never believed that. I think what's really happened is that people are traveling more with their families and a successful operator of a resort better well have something for all members of the family to enjoy. And if they don't, they're not going to be number one, two or three on the list of where families are going to go on their vacations.

Q: There's some six billion dollars in new properties coming on-line here in the next couple years, at least by plan. Can the business absorb that kind of investment growth in this town? Can it absorb that six billion dollars worth of properties? That's a lot of casino.

Lanni: Well, the best way to judge the future is -- many people have said -- is to take a look at the past. And, historically, here, as new emotionally engaging, world-destination resorts have been opened, it's actually increased the level of visitor base to Las Vegas.

And, again, I think it ties to that fact that people want to see something new. It's not only that they want to see an existing property refurbished and changed with new bells and whistle, but it wants to see an entirely new facility. "New York, New York" is a perfect example of that. That's increased the visitor base dramatically.

If you annualize the number of visitors to "New York, New York" from the two months of it's existence, it would equal the visitor base to Las Vegas. Which says, that if it continues at this pace, by the end of the year, 30 million visitors to Las Vegas and 30 million visitations to "New York, New York."

Q: That's phenomenal.

Lanni: It is, absolutely phenomenal. And, I think, many more people as new features are built and new properties -- be it the Sands, that Chilton Addison has talked about building with 4000 rooms. The Aladdin project. The new Bulagio project. With the advertising, the amount of information that is spread around the world about these, will reawaken people's interest in coming to Las Vegas.

Something new gets someone to say, "Hey, you know? I haven't been to Las Vegas now for a couple months. We have to go see it." So, I really believe that there's a lot of flexibility in the addition of the critical mass, the development of new visitors to Las Vegas. And I don't see in -- at least, my vision for the future and into the foreseeable future -- that there'll be any reduction of that.

They built a critical mass here that's absolutely amazing. And it's a great value. A lot of people forget that. It's a great value to come here. You can get rooms, a very nice room, clean room with a clean bathroom for $19.00 a night or you can spend thousands of dollars a night in the major suites of some of these hotels. It offers food levels -- McDonald's level up to an Emeral Lagasse's or Wolfgang Puck's Spago. It offers every aspect of entertainment from Seigried and Roy in our David Cassidy's EFX show to levels -- we have lounge shows for free.

So I see great things for Las Vegas as it moves forward. Does it have problems? Sure. I think that transportation is an issue that has to be dealt with. Certainly, water is an issue that has to be dealt with -- because of that growth. This is the fastest growing city in the United States -- 5,000 people a month moving here. It has 65% of population of the entire state here. It's now larger than the city of Detroit in population.

So there's a lot of growth. There's some challenges with it. But, as long as those challenges are met -- and I think we have a very cohesive government at the city, county and state level that is addressing those problems. Yet -- very much by the airport, Mr. Broadbent, who just retired from that position, had a real forward thinking about what needed to be done.

Q: Let's shift subjects for just a second. State lotteries. What role have they played in increasing the public's interest in gambling?

Lanni: That's difficult for me to say. You know? I think they came into being about what -- 1974? In New Hampshire is the first state?

Q: '63, I think.

Lanni: '63 ....We have an interesting aspect of lotteries in the United States. We're the only country in the world that the government has the exclusive right, in this instance state governments, to operate and control the lotteries. In many foreign jurisdictions, their privately owned and operated. We're the only country in the world that clearly mandates it for individual states.

I don't think there's, necessarily, that much transference, if you will, of any value to the hotel destination resorts with a lottery. Because a lottery is really a gamble -- which is fine. But there's no entertainment associated with it, unless one wants to turn on the television and see which three numbers come up or, if they have the bouncing ball going through there. It may be entertaining to certain people. It is, certainly, to the winners. But it probably isn't to the losers and I think, generally, it's not an entertainment experience. So...I suspect that there's not much correlation, but I have not evidence to support that. It's just my feeling.

And I think, generally, the people who buy lottery tickets are not trying to get the $35.00 prize. They're looking for the multi-million dollar prize. I don't think most people coming to Las Vegas who sit at a Black Jack table or a Craps table -- or literally play a slot machine -- are expecting to win the multi-million dollar prize.

I think they're expecting, one, to be entertained. Two, they want to win. But generally, I know people who bet $200 or $500 or $1000 to gamble...some say, I want to double my money. I want to make 50% more than I start with. They have goals. But I think, generally, a goal -- when you come to a casino -- is to be entertained; to have a good time; enjoy all the ancillary aspects of the facility; And, to have some fun gambling.

But I don't think most people who come and play the slot machine are expecting to win the megabucks, multi-million dollars. But I think the people who buy lottery tickets, that's their hope. Not their expectation, necessarily, but I think that's their hope. But, again, that's just my belief. I don't have any evidence to support it.

Q: Rate the odds there. How does the lottery stack up to your games?

Lanni: Well, the lottery, clearly, in I think most, if not all states, takes 50 cents out of every dollar away from the pool. So every dollar that's wagered, 50 cents go to the administrative costs -- in many instances to support the schools and very worthwhile causes and to advertising and marketing -- so that you have a chance to win 50 cents out of every dollar that's put out.

And then the ultimate, that very high prize, most of the money goes for the very, very high prize. So, the odds there are very difficult. I mean, the chances of winning that are infinitesimal, for an individual to win. And a lot of us -- I don't buy the lottery tickets -- but a lot of people who buy lottery tickets are obviously funding that one person who wins to a greater degree than the smaller prizes.

At a race track, for example, about 20 cents out of every dollar -- about 27 cents out of every dollar is taken out before it's refunded. So your odds are a little bit better at a horse race track or a dog track in winning.

At a casino, the average in the state of Nevada is about 17% in table games. If you take a look at slots, the whole percentage in slots is about six to seven percent in Nevada. So, 93, 94% of the money is available. So it doesn't take a mathematical wizard to say that the opportunity is greater to have a chance to retain your money or to win some money at a slot machine, first. Next would be a table game, generally -- assuming you play by the normal rules of the game and don't do the more exotic wagering, for example at dice. And then, probably, a para-mutual association and then the least, would be a lottery. That's the riskiest.

Q: Do you think most people know how bad a bet the lottery is?

Lanni: I don't know. I think again, I think there's a wish for individuals. You know? You see some of the advertising -- I personally don't care for it when they say, "This is your ticket out." "This is your way out of a miserable lifestyle to a style of ease and luxury." I, personally, wouldn't want to see us advertise that way.

Q: It's simply not true, as you look at the percentages.

Lanni: Well, it is a way out for one person. And hundreds of thousands and millions of others will pay for that one person to get out.

Q: Should the government be in the business of gambling, at all, do you think?

Lanni: My view about that is if the state, and the voters of a state -- and in each of these instances, I think, if most, if not all, it's taken a state-wide referendum -- it was proposed that the government own and operate it. I think that's appropriate. It has become a revenue source for governments.

I think one of the areas in which they characterized it in seeking approval is not necessarily the way I would have characterized it -- as a means of improving the educational base. Because they're not written, usually, as referendums in such a fashion that doesn't allow a state legislature to just stop funding or reduce the amount of funding to education.

I mean, if it's truly set up to help education, I'm a great believer in education. I think that is the true way out for people, is education. And if they set it up in such a fashion, when they have that referendum that says, "Alright. The State is not going to have anything other than what they've been doing in the past for education with an average CPI (a cost of living index) increase each year. And, on top of that, the money from the lottery will go for special programs or reducing class size or something else. And have it so they don't stop funding it, from the normal channels, then I think it's a lot more productive and a lot more meaningful. That's just a personal believe, though.

Q: But in most places, I think, it's probably been the other way.

Lanni: It has. And that's unfortunate. And I don't think that was the intent of the states, but it wasn't artfully drafted when they came up with the referendum.

Q: Let's go to the Commission now, what do you expect the Federal Commission to accomplish two years from now? What would you feel good about having accomplished with them?

Lanni: Well, at the rate we're going right now, having the last three appointments may be all that I suspect [LAUGH] but, it was originally signed into law on August 3rd. And there was a requirement that within 90 days, basically, that there would be a commission in place and meetings. That date has come and gone, so...

Q: There's some expectation that the President will come out of hiding soon, so...

Lanni: Hopefully, there will be someone named. I believe that there is a value to this Commission. It has nine members -- when the last three are named by President Clinton. It is empowered with responsibility for two years, from the date of it's first meeting, to study every aspect of the social and economic impacts of gaming in the United States.

And that covers, by the way, charitable gaming; religious bingo from synagogues and from churches; it covers para-mutual racing; it covers aspects of the lottery; Native American gaming; casino gaming -- as I happen to know it, in my particular involvement. So it's the entire, panoply, if you will, of gaming that's going to be considered.

Now what, what will it accomplish? Again, I hope that reason will be the order of the day here. And that people will not position themselves, have reached a conclusion and find every piece of evidence to support that particular conclusion. I am committed -- as an individual -- not to do that. I have always considered myself a reasonable person and a fair person. And I pledged to my fellow Commissioners, I pledge to anyone that wants to hear the pledge that I'm going to be reasonable and fair about it. It doesn't mean that I don't favor gaming, I do. But I'm going to be reasonable and fair. When we're right, we're right. When we're wrong, we're wrong.

I think that number one, that we would like to achieve from this, is to get some very good statistical understanding. Let's do away with all the various hyperboles that have been presented in this industry. Let's -- what are the statistics? What are the people who have problems with gaming? What are the people who have been harmed by it? Let's get all the negatives out. Then, also, let's get over on the good side of the ledger...what are the good things that it's done? What has it done to reduce unemployment? How many people have been taken off welfare? Let's line them up, fairly. Get independent agencies of the government -- which are associated with this Commission -- to do those studies.

So, from that as a base, I think that we can then evaluate it, and determine, as a Commission, is it properly regulated? Or is it not properly regulated? Is it properly operating? Or not properly operating? Is it socially acceptable? Is it helping more than it is hurting? Take a look at all of those factors and then write a report that will be submitted at the end of two years to a combination of the President of United States, to the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader of the Senate with our recommendations -- if any recommendations.

The last time they had a National Gaming Commission, it was concluded in 1973 and it reported that the regulatory systems were more than adequate. The taxation was more than adequate. And it should be left in the hands of the state, not the federal government.

I thought it interesting, the number of the opponents, who happened to be members of the religious right who, you know, argue consistently, for less federal government control are supporting federal government control over this industry -- which I think is interesting. Or federal government taxing this industry.

What other industry pays a gaming tax before it even pays corporate income tax? I mean, we aren't a privileged industry. We pay gaming taxes of various levels on our gross casino revenues. So I think - I mean, I think that the world will understand that there is a lot of taxation that takes place. [unintelligible] a fair evaluation of that and whatever recommendations that might come from that understanding.

Q: The critics charge -- you heard this -- it's the best commission money can buy. What's the answer to that?

Lanni: Well, first of all, the Commission hasn't entirely been named yet. If you look take a look at the six members of the Commission, even the harshest critics have said, there are two people on the Commission who are considered to be very programming. There are two people that are considered to be very anti-gaming and two individuals who seem to be very impartial.

So, if it's two in favor, two against and two impartial...I don't see how any one side has reached any level where it has significant influence in that particular regard.

When they wrote the legislation, a lot of the critics of this have overlooked one thing when they condemned my being named to the Commission -- which, by the way, I did not seek -- but I was contacted and asked if I would serve. I was flabbergasted, is probably the best term, that I was asked. But I said, "If nominated, I would be honored to serve."

Having said that, when you take a look at it, the critics have opposed it, but they don't look at the language of it. The language says that the Commission must be made up of people who have knowledge and experience -- including having been part of the industry to form this Commission.

As I've said before, I really believe this, if you go back to the health care view that the Executive Branch of the federal government was attempting to overhaul, arguably, 40% of the economy, if you will, of the government...they refused to include -- in that study -- hospital administrators and doctors. Trying to overhaul a medical system.

I think, if they had a chance to go back and redo that, I think they'd be much more interested in bringing people into the tent, if you will, to talk about it, to understand it. And I think that I can bring, personally, some experience.

I don't expect everyone to agree with everything I say. Nor do I expect that I would agree with anything and everything that someone else would say. But I think it's important -- not only because the letter of the law that was signed into law by the President -- says that there should be people of this background, but I think it's important to have a true understanding of an industry.

Why would you want nine non-economists looking at some economic issue? Or why would you want to have nine people, not associated with medicine, looking at a medical overhaul? It just doesn't make any sense. And I think anyone who says that, it's a pejorative comment -- that's the best commission money can buy. I don't know anyone who has not been put on the Commission because people who had the ability to put them on the Commission, thought that those individuals would properly represent a point of view.

Q: I guess the reason that perception happens, is that you are, in fact, an industry with a lot of money. And a lot of political clout. And those two tend to go together. And the perception is, "Here is a very sensitive commission for your industry and that, in fact, that's what's really going on." I mean, you can accept that from the perception of the outside...

Lanni: Well, see, political clout -- I don't know how much this industry has in political clout. We have actively been involved in Washington representation through Frank Fahrenkopf and the American Gaming Association for a couple of years. We are not -- when you line up this industry with other industries of equal size, smaller size, or even larger size, come close to the level of contributions that are made.

But there's many industries that have motion picture industry of America is actively, and very successfully, involved in lobbying efforts on a long term basis in Washington. We're neophytes, in that regard.

So, I don't think there's a lot of political clout there, per se. We have two very active Senators here in the state of Nevada, Sen. Brian and Reed, who have been very supportive of our industry. Two members of the House of Representatives, John Ensign has been, aggressively, a supporter of this particular industry because he represents the state and it's an important factor for him.

But other than that, there's not massive levels of political clout, because many states don't have forms of gaming that have the interest of the Senators or the members of the House of Representatives.

Q: And that is true, as it addresses Washington....But if you look at the state level, it's considerably larger. Over that five year period, at the state levels, you add up all the numbers of political contribution and lobbying, it's probably closer to 75 to 100 million dollars. It's a significant number.

Lanni: Well, the state of Nevada has determined, on it's own, that gaming companies are not excluded from making political contributions. However, in the state of New Jersey, there is a restriction. Gaming companies and individuals in gaming companies cannot seek political office. Nor can they contribute to city, county or state government office races. They are not prohibited from making federal contributions or having federal pacts.

In each instance, we are living within the levels of requirements and the expectations of the individual states in which we operate. I'm not here to say that the state of Nevada should or should not accept contributions from gaming companies, but I can tell you, when we go before the state legislature, it's not a -- an over the park home run, each time. There's a number of people who look at this industry, which is a major component of the funding of this state. Arguably, over 50% of the funding of the state comes from this particular industry. But there are a lot of people who question a lot of aspects of the industry and would like to see higher taxation.

Q: A lot of that money--that 75 to 100 million -- comes in very contentious states like Illinois, Florida where there are big fights. I mean, there has been a concerted effort to get involved in the political process at least at the state level.

Lanni: I can tell you this--we do not contribute in a state that is considering, either through the legislative process or through a referendum, a gaming aspect. A number of companies in our industry have chosen to take a different point of view on that subject. We did not chose to participate in the Florida votes.

Our view is very simple. If it comes to considerate gaming, it should be left to the determination of the citizens and the elected officials of a state to determine if they want it.

Michigan's a perfect example. There was a referendum. We did nothing to support it or oppose it. When it passed, which was somewhat amazing to many of us, I think, because the polls didn't indicate it until very late in the game that it was even going to be close. When it passed, we took a very effective and aggressive posture in seeking a licence -- one of three licences in Michigan.

Once we -- if we're successful in Michigan -- and once we're in operation there, we will abide, as any other company in the industry would abide by whatever the rules and regulations are...

Q: You said, yourself, and it's true, that you didn't really ask for this and you were, really, a very private person until recently. Now, you're a very public person. Does all this public criticism bother you? Because you have been the butt of a lot of it?

Lanni: Well, you know, if it has I don't feel that it has, you know? I guess the old thing, is to say what you want to say, but spell the name. I do tend to be a private person. I have a great deal of belief in my own integrity. I always say in life, if you're luck enough to be wealthy and you lose it, with some good luck and God's help you can get it back. And the same thing with your health.

But the one thing you can't lose in your life, and ever get back, is your integrity. And I would do nothing, personally, for my company or for this industry to do anything that would ever have anyone question my integrity.

They may question my belief. And I respect people's differing opinions. But, as long as one's honest and candid in that criticism, I have no problem with it. If they're something beyond that -- and I haven't heard anything beyond that. I think I've read a couple places I was a gaming kingpin.

In fact, I was on "Face the Nation" with Governor Voinevitch and I said, he was a bigger kingpin than I was because he oversaw a much larger gaming involvement than I did because he was responsible for the lottery in the state of Ohio.

There's a lot of good comments going back and forth. I have a great deal of comfort in the fact that my integrity will not be impugned by serving on this commission or whatever rancorous comments might be made by any individual.

Q: I'll give you a rancorous comment. Tom Grey: "Terry Lani. I know Terry Lanni. You know, he broke the lobbying laws in Chicago when they were pushing for casinos there. He should be indicted, not put on a federal commission."

Lanni: Well, that's a very strong comment. There was a group -- when I was a part of Caesar's World -- we were involved, at the request of the Mayor of Chicago and the Mayor's Gaming Commission, we were asked to come before them and speak about the proposal of a two billion dollar, urban entertainment gaming complex in downtown Chicago.

And, in turn, we were asked by that Commission to go to the state capital and Springfield and have an open house to discuss that with whomever would want to come to it -- at the state legislature.

Common cause, suggested that, as a result of that, we should have registered as lobbyists. They suggested to the Attorney General, then sitting Attorney General of the state of Illinois that indictments be issued for us as being non-conformist lobbyists.

The Attorney General of the state reviewed it and said, "In no way did we violate any law, whatsoever -- and that there was no lobbying activity that took place." So, again, Tom Grey has a belief. And, unfortunately, I have respect for Tom's position. I think he has the right to believe as he does. What I don't think he has a right to do, is to mis-state the facts; mis-state history. And I-- I always find it difficult for people who have a belief that the end is important and they'll utilize whatever means to reach that end. I find that to be a very immoral thing from a person I consider to be a moral person.

But I think he is so vitriolic and so negative to gaming that I think he -- this is my belief, I don't have any proof for it -- but I think he will say anything, find any statistic to support his particular end. And I think that he believes that the means -- whatever they are -- as long as the end is what he thinks is appropriate, the means, of any type, can be used. And for that, I feel sorry for Tom Grey. Because I think he's a decent person whose misguided in that regard. And I think he's a decent person, as I say, a person with integrity. But I think he is jeopardizing that with some of the allegations that he makes.

Q: Answer those critics who say, well, these are predators, these guys. I mean, you're a nice looking fellow and you wear nice suits and you're very neat. However, you're a predator. You're in a predatory business. What's the answer to that?

Lanni: Well, I think the answer to that is one, I don't think of myself as a predator. As I've said, I don't know what the percentage is, but I know -- and I think even our opponents would say, that the vast majority of people, who participate in the gambling, gaming, entertainment, resort experience are doing it in controlled states, well within their means to enjoy themselves. And it's legal. And, in my opinion, it's moral.

Now, for the people who abuse it, it's no different than if I had a credit card company. There are people who are going to abuse that. It's no different than if I owned one of the food companies. People are going to abuse food. It's no different than if I were working in -- a Chief Executive officer of a major alcoholic beverage company. People are going to abuse it.

But do you deny the vast majority of the people, the enjoyment of an endeavor? Because some people abuse it? I don't think you do. I think what you do, is you forthrightly deal with the people who have problems and you do your best to help them.

Q: I'll give you a quote and see if you can guess who said this, "Your chances of winning in a casino -- you have two chances of wining in a casino: slim and none. And Slim's out of town." [LAUGH] And also, it goes on to say, that, "These casino companies, they make so much money -- but they're not putting enough back. And if they don't start doing that then, you know, the -- it's going to break -- the industry's going to break the country." Who do you imagine said that?

Lanni: I really don't even want to hazard a guess. Maybe Tom Grey, I don't know.

Q: Lefty Rosenthal.

Lanni: Oh. There's an individual I've never met in my life.

Q: Actually, he's a very charming guy.

Lanni: Never met him -- and I think it's probably appropriate that I haven't met him.

Q: I think it would show up on that 80 page thing you fill out.

Lanni: Well, you know, I do have to tell my priest in, in confession -- or, as we say, reconciliation now, in my church. Or I'd have to think about it, at some point.

I think, again, when it comes to the situation, is that, what do we do to reinvest? I don't think, as an industry, there are too many entities or individuals who are as aggressively involved in community activities and supporting various programs. I'm not so sure there are too many industries that have the record that this industry has in taking people off of welfare.

One of the great things about this industry, is it does not take a great deal of time to understand the basics of some of the job responsibilities, here. And these are good paying jobs. They are jobs that have good benefits associated with them.

We have a program here - I'll just give you one example, and I think it's just an example of many -- when MGM Grand was beginning it's development and construction phase, the determination was that we would need approximately 7,000 people to be hired.

In some states, there are requirements to reach out to the community -- disadvantaged people. New Jersey has this requirement. I suspect that Michigan will. Nevada does not have this requirement. But on a voluntary basis, this company went to sixty different agencies, in the city, county and state of Nevada and made a commitment to those agencies to hire 1200 of the 7000 people -- people who are disadvantaged. No requirement. It didn't get a lot of publicity, but it was a commitment to the community. By the time this place was finished -- and opened -- the end of 1993, this company, with those 60 agencies, placed 1583 people in this organization. 58% of those people, after three and a half years, are still working at this company.

Now, the other 42% just didn't fall off the wagon. This is a growing industry in a growing town. And many of them had opportunities elsewhere where they went elsewhere for more senior positions. And 58% retention rate is equal to the general retention rate of this industry, because of the growth, they're moving on to other places.

We're very proud of that. Do we talk about it a lot? No. But that's one example of what this industry does on a very voluntary basis.

Q: Is that what you would call pro-active?

Lanni: I think it's very pro-active. And I think it's responsible. I mean, the -- one thing is the Tom Greys of the world and the representative of [unintelligible] of the world -- and I can certainly agree on -- is the worst thing in the world is a person not to have a job. As much as he doesn't like gaming, I think a person on welfare without a job and without a future is more of a problem for him -- I know it's more of a problem for me. And, we have to address that issue. It's happened in so many instances.

In that group of people that we hired, we took some 583 people off the welfare roles in the state of Nevada. Saved the state of Nevada 3.5 million dollars in their general fund -- this one little company in this industry. Others do it. Not mandated, not required. Is it pro-active? It's responsible...yeah, it's all those things.

Q: Last question...look ahead -- five years, ten years -- what's this industry going to look like?

Lanni: Well, I think it's going to be much more, on an on-going basis, perceived to be another form of pure entertainment business. I think there'll be little difference between a major motion picture studio, a hotel/casino, entertainment casino, a non-gaming entertainment resort -- I think they're going to be very, very similar.

I think it's going to be a much more acceptable on that basis. Ten years from now, the issue of gaming won't be an issue. I mean, gaming is one of the oldest professions in the world. Go back to the cave man days, they find it on the drawings and etchings on the walls of the caves. Gaming has been here for a long period of time.

Q: And you expect it to become mainstream ten years from now?

Lanni: I think it's mainstream now. But I think, even the issues and the things that we've talked about today, won't be talked about in the future. I think that will go away. People won't think about it, because there is going to be that pro-active approach. We're going to know, just like alcohol, that people abuse it. And we're going to deal with it.

We'll know that people abuse credit cards and people abuse food and they abuse gaming. And the industry's going to have a good track record -- which it doesn't have to this point. As I said earlier, we have really been remiss in that area. And we -- pro-active approach -- and maybe a Tom Grey can sit back in his retirement and say, "You know, I got those people to be much more focused in that regard." And if he's the catalyst, great. More power to him.

join the discussion / what are the odds? / gambling: pro and con / interviews / timeline / facts & stats / tapes & transcripts / press

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation