Mia Tahdooahnippah is the CEO of Comanche Nation Entertainment, representing seven casinos in Oklahoma. Her workforce is 52% female, and she has five kids of her own. Her husband, George, was raised in a home with 10 other families headed by his aunts and uncles.
His cousins grew up with him, and he refers to them as brothers and sisters, which is very common for the close-knit tribe of 17,000. Her children have over 300 brothers and sisters because her husband has 15 siblings with children of their own. The ages range from 15 to 63, giving her family plenty of babysitters to choose from.
The close-knit, large families may be one reason why there is a higher percentage of women leaders in tribal casinos.
“I couldn’t have worked 18 years in the casino industry without the help of my extended family,” says Tahdooahnippah.
Women lead in tribal gaming
Family was why Tahdooahnippah chose tribal gaming as a career path. Her mom was the one that encouraged her to work in the casino after she graduated college.
“My mom knows the best for me, more than I do,” she says. “I loved the energy of the gaming floor and getting close to people.”
Tahdooahnippah is one of the 23.5% of women across the country that are in top management positions at tribal casinos. Comparatively, that figure is only 17% of women in top management positions at commercial casinos. The data comes from a 2020 UNLV study based on statistics gathered from listings of who holds leadership positions at over 1,524 gaming properties.
In the same study, 48% of managers were women at tribal casinos compared to 46% at commercial casinos. Some casinos are making greater efforts to catch up in the non-tribal casino world. Caesars has made a target of 50/50 by 2025 for equal representation of women and people of color in leadership roles by 2025.
How tribal gaming gives back
At Comanche Nation casinos, they’re helping future leaders by offering discounted college tuition. Employees will be able to take up to eight college classes per year at The University of Phoenix at half price.
Paying for higher education is a common benefit among tribal casinos, whether for employees or tribal citizens. “Some of my kids’ education costs were paid for by money generated from Osage Nation’s tribal gaming,” says Margo Gray, Senior Vice President for Tribal Development for Magnum marketing and Osage tribe citizen.
“My son was a working father while attending college,” Gray said. “My nieces, nephews and siblings have master’s and undergraduate degrees that were paid for by proceeds the casino sends back to the tribe from gaming revenues.”
Gray remembers when twenty years ago there weren’t enough people in tribal communities with advanced degrees to completely run casinos, so tribes developed partnerships with traditional casinos. “Back then, the last place where you would see women sitting was in the big chairs,” Gray says. “It was slow going and was a big deal for one woman in tribal gaming to be a CEO. Now, we have the Mias, Pam Shaws (former CEO of Kaw Gaming and Osage Nation congresswoman), and Jamie Dillards (former CEO of Choctaw Nation casinos) running multiple casinos each.”
“We’re getting our own MBAs in the tribes and babysitting each other’s kids,” Gray said. “Women have the support and degrees to climb the ladders rung by rung.”
Tribal casinos embrace female CEOs
As tribal gaming expands across the country, Gray’s business expands and so does the number of women leaders. She represents tribal casinos in Oklahoma, California, Kansas, and Connecticut, and she can just easily rattle off name after name of female CEOs in tribal gaming.
Four years ago, Gray co-founded United Women of Tribal Gaming with Pam Shaw to collectively learn from each other and foster more female leadership. “We continue to level up, says Gray. “It’s taking time, but we’ll get there.”