When you talk about the women leading the American Gaming Association (AGA) right now, it is difficult to talk about one without addressing the other.
No, it is not that Vice President of Public Affairs Sara Slane and acting CEO Stacy Papadopoulos are interchangeable or forgettable. Rather, it is that both women so readily credit each other and their partnership when it comes to AGA’s success this year.
Flying in the face of the notion that women are too competitive with each other, these two bring each other up. Unlike some of their male counterparts who seek to take the credit alone, these women both insist the other share in the success.
AGA staffed with numerous female leaders
Papadopoulos is the acting CEO, but she admits leading the charge is something she does along with Slane.
“I’d say I really kind of co-lead the organization with Sara,” Papadopoulos says. She began her tenure with the AGA as general counsel. However, when CEO Geoff Freeman left his post in June, she agreed to take on the interim CEO role.
The full-time CEO position is not something Papadopoulos has any interest in. For her, this is only temporary.
“I was very happy and content kind of with the role that I had,” she explains. Her current plan is to return to her previous role once the group finds a permanent CEO. In the meantime, her work relationship with Slane continues to be very productive.
“We have a very strong, positive relationship. I think we’re in some ways very similar and in other ways very complementary. We have kind of different skill sets that we both bring to an issue to the organization.”
Like Papadopoulos, Slane credits her partner as much as she credits herself.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have an amazing partnership with Stacy. We work incredibly well together.”
Slane responsible for sports betting strategy
Since Freeman resigned his post as AGA CEO, Slan has handled the public-facing duties for the organization.
Long before she started stumping for wagering, she was heavily involved in sports betting though:
“I’ve always been the point person for sports betting. Obviously, when Geoff was here, he was the face person. But I led the process throughout 2015 to where we are today.
I really spearheaded the strategy and helped work in leading the industry to a consensus position and fleshing out a bunch of issues as it relates to the sports betting.”
While it may seem like the industry’s stance on sports betting is fairly straightforward, don’t think that reaching that consensus was easy.
In fact, Slane admits that it took some honest assessment of where the AGA failed in the past to get to this point in the present. Namely, Slane and others had to examine their internet gaming platform and its insularity to learn from their mistakes.
“We had to make a big mistake, which was how we had gone about internet gaming, to really learn what we needed to do to drive consensus to a position. A lot of that was being inclusive, being transparent, running a process, answering people’s questions, having people at the table so everyone felt like they were being heard. Everyone may not all agree, but we are all being heard. We’re being smart. And we’re not getting out in front of anyone.
The key to success is more voices at the table
With internet gaming, the AGA tended to focus on its land-based partners in the states and their thoughts on the subject.
Since then, the organization made a concerted effort to expand membership and bring new voices to the table.
In other words, around the same time the AGA saw a surge in female leadership, the organization realized how important diversity in partners was too. While neither Slane nor Papadopolous would say one directly impacted the other, both agree the AGA’s inclusive stance is something that pays dividends both with partners and with employees.
As Papadopoulos points out, sports betting is succeeding because the AGA is a place where everyone has a say:
“I think as a result of those changes, really became a place where the industry gathers and talks about issues that they’re facing and ones they’ll face in the future. I think that’s one of the principal drivers behind success in sports betting.”
The multitude of voices is a fantastic change. The end goal is nonetheless a united position. Slane understands the need to talk through things. Still, the end result is this united front everyone can stand behind.
“I think we took a step back on sports to say, ‘where do we have a line on this as an industry?”‘ First and foremost, where can we all align that this makes sense? We do have alignment on mobile, intrastate sports betting. The industry is behind that position.”
She’s right. Unlike, say, sports leagues who cannot seem to make up their mind about what it is they want from sports betting, the casino industry is abundantly clear and concise. They don’t need federal regulation. Nor are they fearful of mobile betting. State by state, the AGA and others are presenting their case and generating results.
The future of women in gaming?
While sports betting grows at such a rapid rate, women in gaming are picking up their own steam.
At the AGA, seeing how many women have leadership roles is a beacon drawing even more bright young women to the organization.
“I’d say we weren’t intentional about it,” Papadopolous says. “I think once you have a couple of strong women in an organization it attracts other women.” She elaborates:
“I think overall we have a very kind of flat and collaborative atmosphere and environment here, which I think is great for anybody. Male or female. But, certainly, it’s a place where I think we appreciate everybody’s strengths and given our small size, about 25 people there’s always tremendous opportunity to grow.”
Slane agrees that seeing women stepping up in gaming is great. Still, even in this era of growth and awareness about women in the workplace, she wants this growth to be substantive instead of superficial:
“It’s such a tricky issue in the sense that you never want it to be the tip of your spear. You know, ‘I am a woman, so I should be included.’ You want to be included because you’re substantive and smart. But you certainly don’t want that to be used against you.”
Slane echoes what many women worry about when it comes to inclusion. In the instances of the women of the AGA or Chairwoman Becky Harris of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, their actions speak volumes more than their gender.
Growth for women is growth for gaming
Gaming is growing. It is women pushing this growth. Where their gender does help is in dispelling some of the longstanding stereotypes about the casino industry. Slane sums it up in describing what her job entails. As someone who worked in gaming prior to taking on her AGA post, she has been on both sides.
“I very much view my role as doing what I can to help the industry and also pushback on what’s out there like erroneous stereotypes. I know the benefits, I’ve gone through community host agreements. I know how much casinos go above and beyond to be a good community partner.”
Harris too sees her position as one that pushes back and asks questions, except as a regulator.
As much as being a woman in a largely male world raises questions about that industry, that is not enough. Harris, Papadopoulos, and Slane want to push further and ask more.
By doing so, they aren’t just growing the space for women in gaming. They are doing the entire industry a service.