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A lifetime achiever: Rebuck sets standard for gaming regulation

| By Michael Pollock | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Former NJ gaming director David Rebuck might have walked into a difficult situation 13 years ago, but he went on to create a true legacy to follow.

You think it’s easy being a gaming regulator in the 21st century? Try this one on for size.

Your governor has just shaken up your state’s entire regulatory structure. Consolidating authority has been spread over two agencies and jettisoning entire functions (such as having inspectors on the gaming floor), while at the same time authorising new forms of digital gaming.

That is the scenario that David Rebuck, a senior advisor to Governor Chris Christie at the time, found himself in when he was appointed director of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement 13 years ago. His mandate was to be effective (including being cost-effective), while also being innovative. And, while you’re at it, be fast.

Rebuck retired on 29 Feburary. He will be honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the East Coast Gaming Congress conference. This takes place on 17-18 April at Hard Rock Atlantic City.

Rebuck fostered relationship between state, operators

The Casino Control Commission, which had been the state’s primary licensing and regulatory agency since 1977, had already lost more than 30 per cent of its staff by the time Rebuck walked in. He would then face far more cuts under the new regulatory regime. Carrying out such a mandate for reform was not exactly a prescription for popularity. Nor was it guaranteed to succeed.

But Rebuck found a way.

“We set up 10 separate committees within the division to look at the regulations. This included financial reporting, licensing, oversight of the floor and the revenue certification process,” Rebuck said. Most notably, the regulated entities had seats at the table. “We said to every property: You designate who you want on those committees.”

That core decision fostered a dialogue between the state and the casino industry. It also made clear that gaming operators had a responsibility to make a case as to what they needed. This also meant stating what they could do to meet goals that were jointly established and shared.

“They knew they needed regulation,” Rebuck said. He also noted that all parties recognised the review process would not be static, but needed to be monitored. As a series of revised rules unfolded, “I told them: ‘OK, we will see how they shake out, but next year, we will do it again.’”

NJ still has its own gaming test lab

One change that was not made was the elimination of the state’s gaming lab. This was set up at the outset of gaming to test slot machines. It is also responsible for the review and testing of all gaming-related technologies.

Unlike most gaming jurisdictions, New Jersey has never outsourced this function to private labs and its lab is widely considered to be among the industry’s best. Rebuck and his staff asked gaming operators and suppliers for their views and the response was that the New Jersey lab had proven to be very responsive. “The industry said: We don’t have a problem.” Hence, the state continues to operate its own testing lab and has no plans to change this model.

Rebuck’s greatest challenge came with the implementation of igaming, which has now been in place in New Jersey for more than a decade. “We did not dictate how you (casino operators) did your business plan. Do it any way you want, as long as it meets our regulations.”

Rebuck and his team looked at igaming in Europe, which had been in place for decades, and quickly learned that such a process would not work in New Jersey, in part because it simply opened igaming up to entities far outside of the licensed casino operators, offering something similar to the Amazon model for retail selling.

According to Rebuck, European operators said: “We can flip the switch and we can be live tomorrow. We are not a flip-the-switch state.”

The New Jersey model rather gave authority to offer igaming to the licensed casino operators, a move that also allowed casino operators to reach a new demographic and convert those digital customers into real-world, brick-and-mortar visitors who would spend money in multiple cash registers. Most notably, the implementation of igaming in New Jersey was accomplished within nine months.

Mentorship a key part of Rebuck’s legacy

That is a critical element of Rebuck’s legacy, but is hardly the only one. He has also served as a mentor to regulators in numerous other states who seek his counsel. “You think Nevada is the gold standard? I don’t,” Rebuck said. “We think New Jersey should be the platinum standard.”

The messages he has sent to fellow regulators includes one that is worth repeating and cannot be overstated: Effective regulation is the foundation of public confidence in gaming and has allowed gaming operators to secure financing from banks and from Wall Street. That confidence has fuelled the expansion of gaming throughout the United States.

Rebuck has maintained a tradition of effective leadership at the Division of Gaming Enforcement, following such highly regarded predecessors such as G Michael Brown, Anthony Parrillo and Tom Auriemma.

David Rebuck’s legacy is a demonstration that the regulation of gaming – an industry that is more intensively regulated than any other – can be accomplished through a combination of a constant dialogue and a never-ending reminder that effective regulation is neither a luxury, nor is it a burden. It is simply a requirement for success.

Michael Pollock recently retired as a managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group and now holds the emeritus title of senior policy advisor. He is a former New Jersey regulator and is a co-founder of the East Coast Gaming Congress, the longest-running gaming conference in the United States.

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