During two separate education sessions sponsored by Global Gaming Women at this week’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, one statistic was mentioned at least three times: While men will apply for a job for which they meet 60% of the qualifications, women are only liable to pursue an employment opportunity if they meet 100% of the qualifications.
Siska Concannon, the co-founder and chief marketing officer at Affiliated Sports Fans and a former executive with PENN Entertainment, used a cliff-diving anecdote to bring this metric to life. In Concannon’s telling, boys will walk up to the edge of a rock and jump right off, whereas women, some filled with anxiety, will figure out how to avoid any rocks below and make sure they’re diving into a body of water of sufficient depth.
Hence, when it comes to getting more women to bet on sports, Concannon said the key is “about reducing friction to get them to bet, which is about education. You move from high-risk to a calculated risk.”
Of course, plenty of women already bet on sports. A recent survey by Global Wireless Solutions suggested that 4.6 million women signed up for sportsbook apps in 2021, with female user rates growing 115% year over year — far outstripping the annual rate (63%) at which the pool of male sports bettors expanded.
Dark sportsbooks filled with ‘angry men’
Unlike most American girls, Concannon, who hails from Australia, grew up with gambling.
“In school, we learned probability from how to place a horse racing bet,” she said. “That’s how we learned math was betting. It was a really gambling-centric culture. What’s really interesting to me in the U.S. is, yes, it’s a very new industry, but there’s a huge disparity in the acceptance of gambling and who that represents.”
That’s not to say Australian sports betting culture was particularly welcoming to women. Concannon recalled the country’s brick-and-mortar sportsbooks as “dark and filled with all these angry men. It certainly wasn’t a space for someone who wants to understand and learn.”
She added that she hopes for a “cultural change” among retail books, adding, “Unless you have that level of customer service and develop a great word-of-mouth reputation, online will win. Education has to be No. 1, particularly in newly legalized markets.”
Concannon was joined onstage at her Tuesday session by three relatively young, extremely accomplished female executives in the sports betting space: Marissa Coleman, a former WNBA player who’s now vice president of business development for Gaming Society; Meghan Chayka, a top-flight data analyst who’s the co-founder and CEO of Stathletes; and Lauren Westerfield, vice president of interactive gaming for Queen Casino & Entertainment.
“Casual fandom is where a majority of these women sports bettors are,” said Chayka, a hockey superfan whose brother was an NHL exec.
Westerfield, who served as moderator, at one point asked Coleman, “We all hear that content is king. How do we make it queen?”
“It’s about telling stories so you have connection and relatability, feeling more included in this space,” Coleman replied. “I played with some of the greatest athletes in the world, and a lot of people hadn’t heard of 90 percent of them.”
“Having more data in women’s sports is extremely important as well,” added Chayka, whose company provides exactly that type of information. “It not only allows sportsbook operators to have better content, but I also think it could grow women’s sports as well.”
Harking back to how sportsbooks can better appeal to women, Coleman touted Gaming Society’s Betting Academy, which teaches women how to bet, and said “creating a safe space for female bettors” is crucial.
Lamenting “the culture we establish when we hire that one token woman instead of looking at a more balanced approach,” Chayka continued, “it’s definitely a hard space to be in because there aren’t many women executives. I think we’ll have a very different sports media landscape if we have women driving at least half of the bus. We deserve a seat at any table, and we can make our own table if we need to.”
Building confidence and kicking desks
Several of these sentiments were echoed at Wednesday’s female-focused session, which covered the broad gaming spectrum and featured five slightly older executives from various corners of the industry.
“You need to have a mentor, you need to have a sponsor, to lift yourself up, to build confidence up,” said Meeta Shah, an executive at an architecture firm, Bergman Walls & Associates, that designs casinos. “It’s very hard to say, ‘I don’t know. Teach me. Coach me.’ But once you get over that hump, there are people to help you.”
“I always thought it was a weakness to ask for help. It is not,” said Kelley Tucky, a veteran gaming executive who currently serves as the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians’ vice president of strategic communications. “Sometimes naïveté can be your friend. All that you know is you’re there to do what’s best for the team. I came into the industry without any understanding about gaming. I was going to go into academia and become a journalism professor when I just happened to get hired at the Mirage.”
That was 1990. Later that decade, she recalled how she had a standing 9 a.m. Monday meeting with her male boss, and that she “was the target of his anger one morning.”
“Finally, we had one of those Monday morning meetings and he said something and finally I cracked. I kicked his desk,” she said. “I don’t condone violence in any form, but that was the moment the tide turned. He calmed down and our relationship from that point forward was different. That worked for me. This was in like 1993 or 1995. I’m not saying that’s the way to do it, but sometimes you have to stand up for yourself.”