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Smashing the Glass Ceiling

AGA develops program for women in gaming

Smashing the Glass Ceiling

Regardless of industry, it’s challenging these days to rally one’s leadership team around an initiative that doesn’t demonstrate clear return on investment; the gaming industry with its focus on analytics is certainly as wary as any other. Human resource concepts such as “employee engagement” or “leadership development” are bandied about, but as noted in the September 2007 Harvard Management Update, it’s difficult to attach ROI to talent management programs, and career coaching or mentoring initiatives are no exception. Harvard posits that this is because coaching and mentoring are private in nature, are tailored to an individual’s needs, and there are no specified, uniform learning outcomes in a mentor/mentee relationship.

It’s precisely this customized, informal relationship—unencumbered by corporate hierarchy or traditional reporting relationships—that the American Gaming Association has in mind with its Global Gaming Women program.

“GGW is a wonderful opportunity for women to come together and share their experiences in the gaming industry,” said Virginia McDowell, president and CEO of Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. and co-chair of Global Gaming Women. “Through my own personal experience and in speaking with many women at various levels within our industry, I believe it is vital for the future of the gaming business that we cultivate the next generation of female leaders. I am excited to lead a forum for women in gaming to share their experiences and enhance their leadership skills.”

What It’s All About

Judy Patterson, executive director and senior vice president of the American

Gaming Association, explains that GGW is as much of a grass-roots effort as it is an AGA program. She says, “It’s a natural fit with a lot of other things that we’re doing, including diversity initiatives,” but women in the field are driving GGW.

GGW began with some conversations among Patterson, IGT CEO Patti Hart and McDowell. A steering committee was formed (the complete list of members is at  As Patterson explains, the group has assembled sub-committees to target:

• Mentoring
• News
• Marketing & Events
• Education

The AGA has leveraged its own and other large industry conferences as venues at which to convene women over GGW networking breakfasts. At G2E 2011, the GGW held its inaugural event, a speed mentoring session in which each participant was given the floor for a few minutes. G2E 2011 embraced women more broadly with the first State of the Industry panel featuring all women. GGW continued its networking events in 2012 at ICE and G2E Asia. GGW plans to offer a certificate program for women who attend designated sessions at G2E 2012 in Las Vegas in October.

To ensure that educational events remain a focus of GGW, the organization is developing a playbook for women interested in organizing events and hopes that interested parties will contact the AGA for more information. For those who are unable to travel and for the thousands of women who are unable to leave their customer-facing posts in Las Vegas and Macau casinos to cross town and attend a gaming conference, GGW is creating webinars and additional online educational opportunities that can be accessed 24/7 worldwide. In the interim, over 1,000 women have subscribed to the GGW distribution list, which is open to all women in gaming, or joined the Global Gaming Women group on LinkedIn.

Based at Horseshoe Southern Indiana, GGW Steering Committee member Eileen Moore, regional president and general manager at Caesars Entertainment, hopes to expand the GGW’s education initiative beyond its current focus on young women already in gaming by reaching out to university campuses where GGW can evangelize gaming as a career choice for women. She says, “The AGA is a go-to source for people who want to know about gaming. Partnering with universities who have hospitality programs, such as Cornell, UNLV and Houston, is a good way to court top talent.”

Moore says some women avoid gaming, imagining an eternity of night, weekend and holiday work. Having worked in gaming since 1999, Moore, now mother to a 6-year-old son, has found the industry to be incredibly flexible, saying that her night and evening schedule on property has afforded the opportunity to read to kids in her son’s classroom, an activity parents in traditional 9-to-5 jobs miss. She also says that with its myriad functional areas, a hotel-casino offers budding executives an opportunity to master an incomparable range of skills from front desk to entertainment to F&B to gaming operations.

Technology Provides Mentoring Matches

Today, one of GGW’s core programs is mentoring by women for women, matching seasoned veterans as mentors to industry newcomers who are already identifying themselves as eager mentees. Shuffle Master is leveraging its technology talent to create an online matching tool that is slated to launch at G2E in October—think searching for a mentor in a manner similar to searching for a mate on the legions of online dating sites.

“To be a great mentor, you didn’t need to be in the same function, company or city,” says Katie Lever, general counsel and executive vice president of Shuffle Master, Inc. “GGW needed to find a way to bring everyone together in an organic yet systematic way, to get mentors and mentees connected.”

Lever explains that in the database, which is currently under development, participants will be asked to provide certain information:  functional area of expertise, geography, how many years in gaming, and preferred type of meeting—face-to-face or by telephone. 

“One of the Shuffle Master guys working on this project for GGW used to work at,” Lever explains. “He warned us that we shouldn’t have too many selection criteria when we first launch because until there is a critical mass of users, you’d select out too many women. As we expand, we’ll add more options.”

Women Only?

The women of the GGW steering committee have observed that many female leaders are conflicted about programs exclusively for women, recognizing that women and men alike need opportunity for advancement. However, the AGA’s Patterson cites a study that her organization commissioned in 2007. Women outnumber men in gaming industry jobs, yet the number of women in management (3.1 percent) and the related compensation under-indexes compared to that of their male counterparts (12 percent of whom are in management-level roles), suggesting a need to nurture female leaders. Patterson also advocates women move into gaming operations and challenge themselves beyond the more traditional communications and HR roles.

GGW, a development program of the AGA, has garnered broad support and funding. In addition to mentoring and certification at site-based conferences and online for those who can’t attend, GGW is launching a “straight talk” section of its website where leading women in gaming are filmed answering commonly asked questions in under a minute.

“Gaming is a relationship-based industry, but unlike men, women don’t network on the golf course,” explains Lever. “Creating venues where we can develop women is a fantastic, even if it’s just an opportunity for women to get together and realize they aren’t the only one in the board room, the finance room, the operations room. It can be lonely as a woman because you may feel like the only one, but you’re not.”

We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

Talk to some of today’s top women in gaming and you realize how far our traditionally male-dominated industry has come in the last 30 years. Debra Nutton, SVP of casino operations and marketing for MGM Grand in Las Vegas, remembers her first dealing job in craps at the Sands in 1979, just three years after women were allowed to deal on the Strip. Epithets from male colleagues ranged from advice that she not bend over the craps table for fear of damaging her ovaries, to being listed on the shift board as “The F**king Broad” rather than by her name.

Gillian Murphy, senior vice president for non-gaming operations at Galaxy Macau, notes that opportunities for women in gaming in Macau continue to grow. An American expatriate, Murphy finds Southeast Asian women to be smart, well-educated and possessing a strong work ethic. The challenge, she says, is that the entry-level jobs for women have been largely secretarial and administrative in nature.

“The training programs sponsored by individual companies and formal learning institutions such as the University of Macau and Institute for Tourism Studies in Macau are providing strong educational experiences,” observes Murphy. “The development of a mentoring program could certainly assist career goal-setting. At Galaxy we are blessed with leadership that places great emphasis on learning. There is a Chinese saying: ‘provide guidance in a positive manner and with patience.’ It is inherent in the Chinese culture to be harmonious and cooperative, putting others first, which is the foundation for success.”

A Little Mentoring Goes A Long Way

Nutton remembers an informal mentor, Marybel Batjer, now a top executive at Caesars Entertainment, supporting her during some tough times at the MIrage.

Now serving as a GGW Steering Committee member and mentor, Nutton is paying it forward to the next generation of women in gaming. A woman with two children explained that her son was graduating from third grade at the same time she had a presentation to give at work, and so she was loathe to ask her boss for time off. Nutton took a page from Batjer’s playbook, advising that all good bosses would understand, and don’t give up before you ask.

Nutton reflects back on her career and some of the early challenges presented by male colleagues. “I didn’t try to fit in, I didn’t let what they said about me define me. Go your own path, have integrity, be smart. Pretty soon, they can’t deny those qualities because they’re real.”

She says those men who called her “the f**king broad” are now in their 80s and retired, but they still monitor her career and stay in touch, congratulating her as she achieves her latest milestone.

Murphy talks about the challenges of arriving in Macau in a leadership role and not understanding Cantonese or the diverse Asian cultures.

“My assistant, Andrea, has been my mentor,” says Murphy. “She has patiently explained what would otherwise have been lost in translation, advised in both social and culture matters that may have otherwise eluded me, and been the bridge between me and the staff. In return, I believe I have offered some level of understanding of business practices and the Western approach to management. Mentoring happens in both directions with the mentor and mentee. This experience has encouraged me to take an active role with AGA. Meanwhile, Andrea has completed a hospitality diploma and will move into an operations position.”

Caesars Entertainment’s Moore remembers a mentor she had in the mid ’90s telling her that she would know which positions to go for if thinking about them made her uncomfortable. Moore says, “If you stretch yourself, you’ll work hard to make sure that you attack your role with vigor. I’ve gone into roles with a lot to prove. When I’ve produced results, it’s been exciting and transformational.”

Beyond Checking The Box

It is incumbent upon today’s gaming giants in the Fortune 500 ranks to develop, execute and tout their politically correct diversity initiatives. But it’s not just about checking the diversity box, companies argue; it’s also about driving customer satisfaction. Facebook recently named COO Sheryl Sandberg as its first woman board member. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was quoted saying that it only made sense, given that the Facebook has more women than men in its user base and that its board needs to better understand its users. 

Patterson agrees, saying, “Women should be key decision-makers at every company because women are customers, and customers like to know that management and staff of places where they do businesses look like them and know what they’re thinking. Our industry has long recognized the importance of knowing your customer.” 

Nutton sums it up:  Better understanding and rapport between employees and customers translates to better service, a better customer experience and ultimately, better profit. 

Join GGW

While it may be difficult to prove ROI on mentoring or coaching programs, the International Coach Federation based in Lexington, Kentucky, estimated that worldwide, organizations and individuals would spend about $1.5 billion on coaching in 2007. Even if you can’t measure the return on investment, you can measure expense control. 

Let the AGA shoulder the administrative burden of a mentoring program. Contact Keli Elkins at or 202-552-2685 with any questions or to be added to the GGW distribution list for information on future networking and education events. Join the Global Gaming Women Group on LinkedIn.

Suggest that your direct reports sign up to be mentees. Sign up to be a mentor yourself. Many current mentors say they wish they themselves had mentors. Maybe you want a mentor, too.



GGW0812.doc GGW at G2E

Watch for an article on Global Gaming Women in each issue of Global Gaming Business. If you are interested in attending the Wednesday, October 3 GGW breakfast at G2E 2012 in Las Vegas, please visit the Global Gaming Women section of for more information.