You could say Cait DeBaun was thrown in the deep end. Though only three years into her career in gaming, she already has earned a lifetime of experience. Nine months after joining the American Gaming Association (AGA)—on the heels of a record-breaking year for the industry and in the midst of preparing a campaign for the AGA’s 25th anniversary—casinos across the country were forced to close their doors indefinitely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“We had to switch gears overnight to ensure our industry was included in any federal relief like the CARES Act,” says DeBaun. “To rally a coalition of support in Congress, we needed to tell our story and what we mean for communities and the economy.”
She remembers learning of how AGA members were turning their kitchen supplies over to food banks, procuring needed personal protective equipment, or even the little details, like properties that had to go in search of padlocks because they had never physically locked their doors. And telling stories like that is part of what has drawn her to the industry.
“As a communications practitioner, I’ve never been more challenged,” says DeBaun, who began her professional life in agency public relations, where she supported a number of federal public health campaigns like childhood obesity and women’s heart health. Later, she led the U.S. Travel Association’s “Project: Time Off,” which famously advocated for the necessity of vacation time in an effort to grow domestic leisure travel.
“These were rewarding to be a part of,” she says, “but not exactly tough sells.” With gaming, she really has had to navigate headlines and work to sell the inherent benefits of the industry.
At one of her first AGA events, part of its “Get to Know Gaming” effort, DeBaun met a woman who had worked for MGM National Harbor cleaning jobsite trailers during its construction. When the time came to open, they asked if she could do the property cleanup. She’d never done such a thing, but she said yes, succeeded, and now has a company of her own with 30-plus employees. “These are the stories it’s exciting to find and tell because we build careers, businesses and economies,” she says.
Like the woman in her story, DeBaun credits much of her success to simply raising her hand and saying yes, “no matter how big or small the task.” As she explains, offering to make copies might get her into the meeting; taking good notes in the meeting might get her the writing assignment, and so on. “Early in my career, it helped to build rapport with colleagues and demonstrate to leaders I was a team player, curious, and could get things done.”
At the time DeBaun joined AGA, Senior Vice President Casey Clark was working to reframe how the industry thought and communicated about responsibility, and she was enthusiastic about the work. Simultaneously, gaming began to expand rapidly via state-by-state legalization of sports betting, giving the AGA the opportunity to define what responsibility looked like for this segment from the ground up.
“What an opportunity for my interests and background,” she says, which Clark recognized. He has continued to give her the space to grow and lead in this area. “I’ve been fortunate to have managers throughout my career that also became mentors. From my first job at a PR agency to my role today at the AGA, my bosses have invested in me not only for the benefit of the organization but as an individual and professional.”
Looking ahead, DeBaun is enthusiastic about the work AGA is doing on illegal markets. Much like her trial-by-fire work during the pandemic, their reinvigorated efforts in this area require strategic communications and coalition-building, public education and creativity, and will truly reflect what the AGA—and DeBaun—can do for the industry.