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During This Period Of US Gaming Growth, Women Are Leading The Charge

Written By Jessica Welman | Updated:
Sara Slane Becky Harris gaming

(This is the first of a three-part installment looking at the women leading the gambling industry)

Back in September, the House Judiciary Committee heard from a five-person panel about the sports betting industry. Three of the speakers were there to argue for federal oversight or an outright ban on wagering. Two represented the regulated gambling industry.

Both of those representatives were women. And the congressional panel interrupted them a combined 10 times.

To be fair, there were a number of interruptions over the course of a half-hour Q&A. Sixteen total, to be exact.

Becky Harris, chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, bore the brunt of it. Someone cut her off six different times, more than anyone else. Two of those times came when Rep. Bob Goodlatte asked Harris for her opinion on something, then immediately cut her off and called on a man he knew shared his opinion instead:

Harris: “What we’re hoping for is a partnership with law…”

Goodlatte: “You don’t think it would be a good idea to modernize the Wire Act and go after online gambling by doing that and enforcing UIGEA?”

Harris: “I think there are some jurisdictional concerns that need to be looked at in order to determi…”

Goodlatte: “Let me turn to Mr. Bruning…”

The other witness for the industry was Sara Slane. She is the VP of public affairs for gaming’s primary lobbying group, the American Gaming Association. She was interrupted four times herself.

Women leading gaming through post-PASPA exemption

Congressional members may have tried to dismiss them, but these ladies are two of the most important and influential voices in gaming.

They are driving the progress of sports betting. These are not women who are succeeding in spite of being a woman either. Sure, they handle their fair share of interruptions, but that is small potatoes compared to what they are accomplishing. These women are bringing new ideas and new approaches to the table that are helping gambling expand to an unprecedented level in the United States.

Just look at the results. They speak for themselves. Since the Supreme Court decision, six states joined Nevada and began offering sports betting. Thanks to a barrage of press releases, testimony at the state level, and consultations with existing gaming states, like Nevada, that number should be in the double digits by next year.

New Jersey, which only launched in August, already surpassed $500 million in wagers by the end of October. In a 2017 report, gambling research firm Eilers and Krejcik estimated a mature, 50-state market could be worth anywhere from $7.1 billion to $15.8 billion in revenue with 44 million customers.

This expansion is serious money and serious business. With opponents and others fighting for the piece of the pie though, it is not a given gaming expands at the level it could. These next couple of years require a thoughtful strategic approach.

Slane spearheaded AGA sports betting strategy

One of the architects behind the AGA’s sports betting strategy? That would be Slane, who also took center stage at Global Gaming Expo (G2E) alongside Scott Van Pelt from ESPN.

Perhaps what was more telling than her poise in the one-on-one with Van Pelt was how she handled debating Major League Baseball’s Kenny Gersh in a later panel. It is a debate we’ve covered extensively, and one with no love lost between gaming and the leagues. The AGA reports that leagues stand to benefit $4.2 billion annually with private deals directly with the casino. Leagues still want a cut of the handle.

This left Slane in a tricky spot at G2E last month. It is a spot many women in the business world can understand, too. She needed to be gracious, but not a pushover. She needed to make her points assertively, but not be too aggressive. She needed to win without looking too competitive.

Thankfully, Slane is the type of woman who doesn’t mind saying what is on her mind. In fact, she thinks it is one of her strong suits:

“There are certain characteristics and personality traits that lend themselves to success. I think one of them is having a strong presence, knowing your material and feeling confident to do that. It’s funny because I do find myself having to talk louder and interrupt a little bit because it happens, quite frankly, more to women, so there has to be a little bit more aggressiveness. I’ve been fortunate that is just my DNA.”

Gaming getting a healthy dose of girl power

Getting interrupted is not the only thing these women have to deal with regularly. Both are leaders in a largely male space. They are not just women in power either. They are two of the most powerful people in gaming.

As mentioned, Chairwoman Harris oversees Nevada gaming. In other words, she helps run the industry that has been the gold standard for gambling policy for decades. She is the first woman to hold the position and was only the second woman even to be part of the Gaming Control Board.

Currently, though, women have a substantial voice in how the Silver State runs the gambling industry.

Of the eight people that make up the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission, three are women. Elsewhere around the state, women are also gaining ground. In April of 2018, the much-maligned Wynn Resorts appointed three women to its board of directors. Caesars followed suit in October, appointing Denise Clark as its first woman on the board of directors.

Harris thinks about more than gaming expansion

Of course, all this happened the same time Steve Wynn’s sexual harassment scandal dominated the headlines. Harris reported for her first day of work the same week the Wynn news broke. Harris admits, that first week on the job was a little overwhelming:

“The first Friday that I started this job, the Wall Street Journal news article with regard to the allegations regarding the alleged sexual misconduct that Steve Wynn happened. So sports betting was significant, but just figuring out how to run an agency that has 400 employees, going to my first commission hearing, dealing with allegations against one of Nevada’s licensees, and looking at getting prepared for my very first board meeting was staggering.”

Wynn is just one in a long list of similar high-profile cases. With so much discussion around the ideas of #MeToo, it is not surprising that one of Harris’s passion projects as chairwoman has been a detailed, 16-point plan to improve how NV gaming licensees deal with sexual harassment.

Harris cannot comment on the pending Wynn investigation. Nonetheless, she does think the project is not reactionary, but rather a necessary step in a time of major social change.

“There are those who draw conclusions that somehow the sexual harassment prevention regulations are somehow an outgrowth of what has been alleged about Mr. Wynn in the press and that’s not correct,” Harris says. “As a state senator, I routinely advocated for women’s issues and I just think that finding ways to make sure that our women are protected in the workplace is important and wanted to engage in what I think is a very complicated conversation in a very serious way.”

Interruptions persist but expect more forward progress

Last week, Harris and the board submitted that plan to the Nevada Gaming Commission. Unfortunately, it may be a while before they get codified into the regulations.

The Commission received the plans, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports the plans are going to have to wait until Wynn’s pending investigations are all settled.

Once again, the progress these female leaders are making is interrupted by a man.

This latest interruption is just another small hiccup. Women will continue to take on new roles within the industry. They will push this industry’s own growth as well.

Jessica Welman Avatar
Written by
Jessica Welman

Jessica Welman has worked as a tournament reporter for the World Poker Tour, co-hosted a podcast for Poker Road, and served as the managing editor for A graduate of Indiana University and USC, Welman is not only a writer but also a producer. She can be found on Twitter @jesswelman.

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