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Connecting Women in Gaming

A new effort will expand the influence of female executives and employees in the industry

During the 1930s and ’40s—when commercial gaming was legal only in Nevada—the slot machine was included in casinos as a diversion for the wives and girlfriends of men who played table games, which, at the time, were considered a far more serious form of gambling. Quite simply, women and the supposedly frivolous games they played were relegated to the sidelines.

Now, 80 years later, the times thankfully have changed quite a bit. Women now play a central—and essential—role in the modern gaming industry. In addition to constituting a large fraction of casino clientele nationwide, women outnumber men in gaming industry jobs. Indeed, women no longer simply play slot machines—they helm multibillion-dollar companies that manufacture and operate these popular games.

According to a 2008 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, 49.7 percent of gaming employees in 2007 were men, while 50.7 percent were women. Those statistics compare quite favorably to both national and statewide figures.

A second report that investigated spending within the gaming industry found that casinos purchased more than $631 million in products and services from diverse vendors in 2007, exceeding national averages. More than half of that total—$332 million in products and services—was spent with women-owned businesses.

Admittedly, these figures are a bit outdated (the American Gaming Association plans to collect new data this year). It is perhaps an understatement to say that the national economy, as well as the gaming industry, has changed considerably since 2007. But the recent recession has not changed one of our industry’s core values: Attracting, retaining, promoting and providing businesses opportunities to women is absolutely critical to the success of commercial gaming in the U.S.

A closer look at the data indicates that, while the gaming industry certainly has come a long way since its nascent days in Nevada, it must go further still. For while women are fairly well-represented in most job categories within the industry, the percentage of female gaming employees in 2007 who held management positions was only 3.1 percent. More than 12 percent of male gaming employees, on the other hand, occupied management-level jobs.

Though I find that disparity discouraging, unfortunately, I do not find it surprising. I have worked alongside or within the gaming industry for more than 40 years, and, during that time, the highest-ranking positions have primarily been held by men. But that reality is changing. Women now occupy C-suite positions in every field associated with our industry—from communications to human resources, and from technology to finance.

Our industry needs to bring these women together, and to connect them with other women in more junior posts who will be eyeing leadership positions in the coming years. Our industry must cultivate and retain a greater number of female executives. Their distinct perspectives and creative ideas will help ensure commercial gaming remains on the cutting edge.

To that end, the AGA plans to launch a new initiative in 2011 designed to nurture women working in the gaming industry. The program will establish a strong network of female gaming industry professionals, providing them with a forum to share their experiences, advice and insights. It also will include training opportunities designed to enhance leadership skills, as well as various chances to serve as a voice for the gaming industry among policymakers and opinion-leaders in Washington.

The AGA plans to work with several like-minded organizations affiliated with the gaming industry to ensure as broad a reach as possible. The AGA’s first female board members, Virginia McDowell, president and COO of Isle of Capri Casinos, Inc., and Patti Hart, president and CEO of International Game Technology, will help lead the initiative. They understand as well as anyone why this effort is both incredibly relevant and important.

When asked for her thoughts on the effort, McDowell said, “I’ll be honest. There was a time when I was skeptical about being involved in separate organizations for women, as I did not believe that women needed to be singled out from men in the business community. But as I have had the opportunity to speak at schools and conferences, or travel around the country to visit Isle’s 15 properties, many women have told me how important mentoring is to them, and how important it is to have female role models. It’s shown me there’s a real need in this industry for opportunities to learn from each other, share ideas and connect the female leaders of today with the female leaders of tomorrow.”

Hart echoed her thoughts, adding, “Women are integral to our business. They are key decision-makers at casino companies and gaming equipment manufacturers, and they contribute to the industry in other ways—as suppliers and vendors, consultants and analysts and more. Creating a group that will bring together established and emerging women leaders in gaming will help increase visibility and awareness of the significant roles women play in the success of the gaming industry. If we can provide growth and development opportunities for future women leaders, the entire gaming industry will benefit.”

I must add that, while the AGA’s initiative is the first of its kind, many gaming companies have long emphasized the need to identify and promote female leaders within their ranks. These companies have established invaluable mentoring programs and resource groups for women. But, while much good work has been completed to date, there is more to do. And our industry must do it together.

We consider ours to be a thoroughly modern industry—one that routinely breaks new ground and pushes boundaries. It’s time for our industry to more accurately reflect the modern workforce. I have little doubt there are countless women now working at gaming companies nationwide who are virtually bursting with bright ideas. In 2011, we’re looking forward to bringing these women together to share and expand on those ideas. Our industry will be far better for it.

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