In 2010, I started an event as a fundraiser and a networking opportunity for women in the gaming industry called Kick Up Your Heels. Admittance to the cocktail reception was the price of your last pair of shoes; this was meant to show warmth and be inclusive.
I reached out to friends for assistance, recruiting a former neighbor, Valerie Glenn, CEO of the Glenn Group advertising agency, to create the invitation pro bono, and Jan Jones Blackhurst of Caesars Entertainment to host the event. The next task was the most daunting: sending out personal requests to raise financial support.
Women could attend with a nominal donation, or a company could sponsor the women in their organization. No one likes to ask for money, but since most gaming companies sponsor numerous golf functions throughout the year, it seemed a small request. In addition to providing the networking opportunity, the ultimate goal was to raise funds for educational scholarships for women in the gaming industry.
The event was successful in unanticipated ways. It raised awareness that the women in the gaming industry needed support, a networking system, a place to be heard. Leadership in the gaming industry has always been male-dominated, often leaving female executives a lonely minority in management meetings and at trade shows.
The following year, the American Gaming Association established Global Gaming Women to address the need for peer interaction. Shortly thereafter, the Kick Up Your Heels event became part of GGW.
This brief history of how we started is not as important as where we are headed. Each year, the number of women attending the fundraising event has increased, the amount of funds raised has increased, the number of scholarships has increased, and the number of scholarship programs has increased. Scholarship recipients include women from manufacturing companies, hotel casino operators, tribal gaming and regulators. The sheer diversity of women seeking education testifies to the need for this program.
In the past two years, GGW offered scholarships for through the International Gaming Institute (IGI) classes at UNLV, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. IGI offers online classes, providing opportunities for women employed outside of Las Vegas. This year, the program expanded to include the MGM Women’s Leadership Conference and a day-long women’s program at G2E organized by GGW. IGI offers online classes, which provide opportunities for women employed outside of Las Vegas.
Now we are hearing from the women who have received these scholarships. Stephanie R. Young, a convention services manager at New York-New York Hotel & Casino, successfully completed IGI’s “Introduction to Casino Management.” Her initiative shows commitment to learn skills beyond her current job, use personal time to gather knowledge, and stay current with the classes being offered.
Her goal on the application form says it all—“to look into senior management-level opportunities.” She advises fellow scholarship recipients to stay focused and seek out help from past recipients and others working in the gaming industry.
I am the co-chair, with Caesars Entertainment’s Eileen Moore, of the very active Education Committee of GGW. The increasing demand for scholarships has been heartwarming and professionally important. It allows women an educational opportunity, an entry to inform their employer that they are interested in improving skills and learning new things. It’s an implicit statement—I enjoy a challenge.
Earning a scholarship and attending a class is a way to get visibility. Often, it only takes an advocate’s mentioning your name to get your foot in the door. So, consider applying for a scholarship and please attend the Kick Up Your Heels event on Wednesday evening, October 1, at Caesars Palace. Your participation will allow others scholarship opportunities. In addition, you will meet new friends. Registration for the GGW women’s program, breakfast and cocktail party is available on the G2E website. Visit globalgamingwomen.org for details about the full slate of GGW events at G2E 2014, including registration information.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the women and companies who have hosted these events: Jan Jones Blackhurst at Caesars Entertainment, Phyllis Gilland at American Casino & Entertainment Properties and Kim Sinatra at Wynn Resorts. In addition, I want to acknowledge the diligent work of the scholarship committee, which reviews all applications: Anne Thornley, Nakia Jackson-Hale, Wendy Nutt, Phyllis Gilland and Whitney Their. Finally, my appreciation also goes out to the AGA women, especially Anne Lynch and Keli Elkins, who provide GGW with structure and support.
Education changed my life. My parents operated a small family business, selling children’s shoes. I went to undergraduate and law school on work-study, scholarship and student loans (which were maxed out after law school). The passion for this program comes from the generosity of others, just as the goodwill that got me through law school came from the good souls with the wherewithal to support me when I needed it.
Having a law degree in 1976 gave me credibility and visibility. I hope the scholarship program will provide the same for many other women in the gaming industry.