Women Making Inroads In Gaming And Sports Betting Industries

An exploration of how women are carving out roles since PASPA was overturned in 2018
Women Gaming Industry
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As the gaming and sports betting industries have grown in the two-plus years since PASPA was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, there has been an influx of women into a professional field and social arena in which it has been challenging to establish a foothold.

Consider: Marketing of sports betting, regardless of the form of advertising, is geared more toward men. This makes sense given they are more likely to follow sports, and therefore, more likely to place wagers on events. That said, there are women in executive positions when it comes to state regulatory bodies, casinos, and other areas of gaming.

As sports betting continues to expand its reach in the United States — gaming measures attained a six-for-six sweep in approvals on Election Day last week — there should be more opportunities available for more women to provide influence and authority in a still growing industry.

Deborah Nutton, Becky Harris, and Sandra Douglass Morgan all participated in Global Gaming Expo’s “Game Changers: Women in Gaming Paving the Way” last month, offering details about their respective career paths, observations on the industry, and their hopes for the future, while Chelsa Messinger and Jo Madden participated in email exchanges with US Bets to offer their takes as handicappers who have public-facing roles in sports betting.

Observations on industry responses to COVID-19

To say Nutton is “old school” Las Vegas does not do her justice. Currently an executive gaming coach and consultant for Resorts World, Nutton rose through the ranks in the trenches on the casino floor. She started as a craps dealer at the Sands while attaining a nursing degree.

Nutton did both jobs for six months, gaining enough confidence on the floor to “give nursing a little break,” something she joked became a “30-year break.” She was the subject of forum moderator Jenny Gaynor’s book That (Expletive) Broad, which chronicled her rise from dealer to pit boss to executive, including stints as executive vice president of casino operations for Wynn Las Vegas and senior vice president of casino operations at the Bellagio.

“I would work at the hospital during the day and the Sands at night,” she recounted. “You had three hours of sleep and then two hours of sleep. I was always tired, and the Sands was super challenging, but I knew I could crack it … it all worked out because it was exactly where I was supposed to be.

“What’s nice is if you just stay the course and don’t let them get to you, and you’re honest and you’re on time and you don’t complain … eventually I went on at the Sands to be the pit manager at a time when no females ran dice pits.”

Coming from the business side, Nutton noted casinos are making strides to make the work environment from top to bottom more female friendly, which is a challenging prospect given the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When this pandemic first started and everyone was furloughed and laid off, you watched Wynn Resorts step up quickly and pay our people,” she said, adding that Wynn also paid employees in hospitality — a key component of the workforce in Las Vegas — based on the tips and wages they actually declared.

Morgan, who resigned as Nevada Gaming Control Board chair on Oct. 30 to pursue another professional opportunity, was the first African-American to hold the position. Also the child of a casino employee, she also gave plaudits to Wynn’s adaptations that included on-site virtual learning.

Morgan felt other workplace changes representing what could eventually be the new normal in the industry, most notably telecommuting, should offer women “the courage and the fortitude to say, ‘I can do this job and I should be able to do it remotely because I have a family to take care of.'”

Harris, named the first female chair of the Nevada GCB in 2018 and currently a distinguished fellow of gaming leadership at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, has been following national trends to help women maintain the progress they have made while also using those gains as building blocks going forward.

She noted New York’s new sick-leave law that requires private employers to provide 40 to 56 hours of sick leave annually, or subsidized child care. Harris added she was “really pleased to see that mental health has become a major focus for employers. That is moving all industries in the right direction, they’re checking in with their employees that they’re helping them practice self-care and connecting them with the appropriate professionals during this challenging time.”

Morgan, Harris shine in legal field

Morgan is no stranger to trailblazing and Las Vegas — she was the first African-American attorney named City Attorney in the state of Nevada and served as a litigation attorney for MGM Resorts International. Seeing both sides of the legal coin for nearly two decades sparked her intellectual curiosity and coming out of the economic downturn last decade provided her drive for constant improvement in the industry.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is something bigger than myself,'” she said about that time. “This is about providing services for people like me, who needed to be safe, needed to be secure, to have better quality-of-life options. It was also a defining moment for me: When you’re selfless and you take yourself out of it, and you focus on the right thing to do and you know you’re doing the right thing, you don’t get tired.

“Coming out of that, I had a resilience and a kind of grit that I realized that if you go through that, you’re ready to tackle anything else. I didn’t expect to go through it again, but COVID is probably a second one now as we’re going through it.”

Harris has a similar streak of intellectual curiosity with more of an educational bent — she has a J.D. from Brigham Young and an LLM in Gaming Law from UNLV’s law school — and has one of the deepest wells of experience in the industry. She was also a state senator in Nevada for two legislative sessions and two special sessions and is an active member of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.

Her impetus to return to school and further her gaming education came during her time in the state senate while she was the vice chair of the Judiciary Committee — which heard all the gaming bills — and the only female on that committee in 2015.

“During one of the gaming hearings it became very clear that I had a different perspective about how the bill would be implemented than anyone else in the room,” Harris recounted. “That hearing room was absolutely packed, was standing room only, and I recall being the only woman present. So I asked my questions, asked what I thought was a straightforward series of questions to which I expected the answers to generally just be, ‘Yes.’

“Imagine my surprise when it seemed what was the entire room in one collective voice answered ‘No.’ So about that same time I received an email from UNLV’s Boyd School of Law just announcing the inaugural class of the Gaming LLM … It’s the first of its kind in the world and I just knew I had to be a part of it. So I applied because I knew there was a depth of understanding I did not have with regard to gaming and decided to go back to school in my late 40s.”

Harris said her decision was validated based on the fact that, unknowingly, “I was learning about my future job” and added that “any time you have an opportunity to broaden your expectation and expand your social network, you absolutely should because you never know when or from where your next opportunity will come.”

Social media a potential avenue for handicappers

The rapid acceptance of legalized sports betting in the United States has led to more bettors seeking out handicapping advice. Thanks to social media, there are more options than ever available, but being a successful handicapper — regardless of gender — is challenging just in terms of a win-loss record.

Both Chelsa Messinger and Jo Madden are treading different paths in that area. Messinger, the host of Picks & Parlays, describes herself more as a “sports betting personality and host than just a straight-up handicapper.” Madden can be seen on three shows, most notably Odds Against Us, which can be viewed on YouTube and Instagram, and she makes more use of the latter. Both have also taken indirect paths to their respective spots in the industry.

“My husband and I spent quite a bit of time at casinos over the past few years. He was playing minor league baseball in Nevada, and we actually lived at casinos in Reno and Las Vegas,” Messinger told US Bets. “Before that, I was a TV sportscaster for seven years, so now that I’m hosting a handicapping show, it seems like a good fit.”

Messinger is based in Nashville, while Madden hails from Okotoks, which is just outside Calgary in the Canadian province of Alberta. Madden’s interest in sports wagering started as something casual with her friends, and after a Facebook rant about “how some guys want to bet sexual favors” went viral, a Calgary-based betting show made her a co-host, which led to her being an affiliate agent of vipbets.com.

The two contrast in the sense that Messinger sees things from a more sporting perspective — in addition to her marriage, she was a swimmer at North Carolina State. Madden left behind a career in accounting during the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue a career in sports betting and uses her abilities to crunch numbers to find advantages while handicapping.

Another area of some divergence is finding female role models in the sports betting industry. Messenger noted she hasn’t “had much in-person interaction from any female handicappers so I just haven’t had the opportunity to connect with many,” while Madden struck a skeptical tone before finding “an incredible connection” in landing with The Cappers.

“Honestly, I struggle with female role models in this industry,” she said. “I find there are a lot of fake female handicappers that are faces for men and actually don’t know the sports or how to even talk about them. The industry is very interesting, it’s like Ricki Lake on steroids is how I describe it to people. You never know who has your back and who’s just nice to you today to see what they can get from you.”

Self-confidence, support are keys in making mark

Despite coming from different areas in the sports betting industry, the common threads of optimism, resiliency, and self-confidence were expressed by all involved as keys for more women both entering the field and leaving their mark.

“Women have to support each other,” Nutter said when asked about getting established in the industry. “We have to be the advocate for everyone else and push them to the top. We’re fortunate that women are on boards today, but look at the time it took, and look at how it’s celebrated because they have one or they have two.”

“I’m very empowered by this younger generation,” Morgan added. “Because these may be the rules and we’re trying to follow the rules, and they’re like, ‘No the rules need to be completely rewritten. They need to be redone because these rules don’t help women or they don’t help minorities.'”

Madden and Messinger were unsure if they can be considered role models in their public-facing profession, but each offered sage pieces of advice for those looking to join them.

“[I would] definitely mentor anyone wanting into this industry,” Madden said. “My best advice: Your haters are also your biggest fans, so let them talk. But also you have to know what you are talking about inside and out.”

“For women entering the field: People will probably be a little harder on you, and they may not take you as seriously,” Messinger said in a similar vein. “That means you need to be twice as knowledgeable and twice as prepared.”

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