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The Game-Changers: 10 ELG Profiles

A look at 10 Emerging Leaders of Gaming

Finding Prosperity

Stephanie Quiles, Director of Game Development, IGT

In October, one of IGT’s newest casino games, Prosperity Link, was hailed as this year’s Best Slot Product in the GGB Gaming & Technology Awards.

For IGT Director of Game Development Stephanie Quiles, it was a special pleasure to share the news with her design team, a gifted group that includes producers, mathematicians, artists, engineers and technicians.

“They’re the heart of it all,” she says, “the amazing people who come up with the concept, then iterate on it to make it as fun as possible.”

Since its debut in May, Prosperity Link has consistently ranked among the top three titles in the Eilers-Fantini Game Performance Report. Quiles is gratified to see her team hit another one out of the park.

“The industry has gotten so competitive in the last 10 years, to have a success like that and see the numbers we’ve seen performance-wise is so great. Everybody’s really thrilled.”

She describes game design as uniquely collaborative, from “rough brainstorm” through prototypes and simulated test games to quality assurance. All the while, the designers are “bouncing ideas off each other, giving feedback on what we think could be better,” then heading back to the drawing board until the product is market-ready.

The process can be stressful, and the pressure ever-present to come up with a winner. When she and her team are facing down a deadline, solving a tricky problem or waiting for the verdict on a new title, Quiles says, “I remind myself of the fact that we’re lucky enough to make games, and what would be better?”

A native of San Jose, California, Quiles once planned to be a math teacher. But a semester of student teaching made her realize the classroom wasn’t the best fit. In 2006, just out of college, “I stumbled into this job looking for other ways to use my math degree.” She joined IGT in Reno as an associate math product developer, then “climbed the ranks of game design.”

“I did a stint in producing before switching to management. IGT has a great program that supports continuing education, so I got my master’s in business. I’m really passionate about the leadership side, empowering my amazing team to do their best.”

The work is both abstract and artistic, math-driven and creative, a balance of left-brain and right-brain aptitudes.

“This is not necessarily the job for everyone, but if you’re one of those people—both creative and super-technically skilled—this can be an amazing job,” she says. “These people are doing some complicated math. They can code. They’re practically software engineers themselves.”

Quiles credits the team for any success she’s enjoyed. “They’re so skilled and talented, I truly don’t hold myself senior or superior. I’m there to help make their lives easier and empower them to do their best work. Sometimes that’s getting problems out of their way. Sometimes it’s challenging them to push outside their comfort zones, so they can grow.”

The end game, as always, is entertainment, and it all starts with design.

“Every time I tell someone what I do for a living,” says Quiles, “they’re kind of mind-blown about how cool and fun it seems.

“And they’re right. It really, really is.” Marjorie Preston

Setting Standards

Mike Robbins, Technical Compliance Specialist, Digital, Gaming Laboratories International

Mike Robbins, technical compliance specialist at Gaming Laboratories International, has risen through the ranks and made a name for himself as an Emerging Leader of Gaming. On the floor of the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, Robbins discussed what’s made his career in the gaming industry a success.

Asked what skills and personality traits he relied on at the beginning of his career that got him on the road to a senior position, Robbins said, “I was able to develop an ability to recognize patterns in rules, regulations, and technical requirements across standards early on. I was able to put that talent to good use for the benefit and success of regulators around the globe.”

Robbins also cited the importance of mentorship and travel as contributing to his knowledge of the industry and positioning him to succeed:

“There were many times where late hours were spent with my mentors discussing concepts of gaming technology which ultimately led me to conduct further research in the field to broaden my knowledge base,” he said. “The ability to travel the world representing GLI’s compliance team has allowed me to gain a view of gaming on a global scale. Moreover, it’s enabled me to build an understanding of the various regulatory nuances between regulated regions, which I can share with regulators, suppliers and operators globally.”

He also noted the importance of his company culture in developing him as an emerging leader.

“GLI is always looking to stay ahead of cutting-edge advancements in gaming,” he said. “Every week, the compliance team and I come across something new and are asked to provide research and insight on ideas, or to respond to questions from the industry. Budding young professionals right up to our top brass are relentless in efforts to build unsurpassed global insights. The ability to thrive and advance is the bonus that comes with hard work and passion.”

Regarding passion, when asked what advice he’d give to emerging leaders, Robbins said, “Follow your interests.”

Elaborating, he said that when iGaming first came online, he spent hours researching what he assumed would be a trend that would sweep the nation. While iGaming has yet to reach ubiquity in the United States, the knowledge he gained by pursuing his initial curiosity positioned him to understand another market that has rapidly expanded, sports wagering.

This knowledge led to GLI’s development of the GLI-33 Standards for Event Wagering Systems and the GLI-19 Standards for Interactive Gaming Systems, which Robbins cites as his proudest career accomplishments to date:

“Thanks to a lot of blood, sweat, and yes, the odd tear, and of course, the hard work of my team, I am proud to say we created and updated two groundbreaking technical standards which have been critical tools utilized by regulators around the world. In particular, most iGaming and sports wagering markets in North America have adopted GLI-19 and GLI-33, respectively.”

It’s this trend that he believes is opening doors for young professionals looking to establish themselves.

“The expansion of iGaming and sports wagering has provided more opportunities for growth within the industry. No longer limited by finite space on a gaming floor and differing demographics, operators are more willing to explore launching new and unique gaming content across multiple platforms.” Jack Goodin is an analyst with The Innovation Group

The Mayor of Philadelphia

Nick Ryan, Vice President, Casino Marketing, Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia

Staying close to home isn’t always an option for casino executives, especially those on the rise like Nick Ryan. But a series of events gave him the opportunity to go to work for one of his hometown casinos, Live! Casino & Hotel in Philadelphia, after breaking in at another casino just outside his hometown.

When he was 21 he was working in the family construction business, and wasn’t happy about it. “I wasn’t really an outdoor guy,” he says.

In a way, his first job in the casino business came to him in his dreams.

“I had set my alarm one morning to get out on a job hunt, and when the alarm went off, there was a commercial playing for a new Harrah’s casino in Chester,” he explains. “So I went on the website, scrolled down and saw my dream job, VIP services coordinator. It felt like they wrote the job description specifically for me.”

So he applied, and after hearing nothing, he called the executive in charge of hiring, and made him an offer. “Give me an interview and if you don’t hire me, I’ll buy you a $200 gift certificate to your favorite restaurant,” he said, even though he didn’t have $200.

It worked, and led to a series of promotions in the player development realm within the Harrah’s/Caesars organization—with the assistance, he says, of the casino’s VP of marketing, Shonette Carew, who took him under her wing.

He was then promoted to casino host—the youngest casino host in Harrah’s history, he was told—but he wasn’t prepared. He had no players, so he traveled to Atlantic City on his days off, got to meet and hang out with players and invited them up to Harrah’s Chester for dinner. Before too long, he was the casino’s most successful host, all the while being based at the Harrah’s Chester casino. While he did work at other Caesars properties in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Lake Tahoe and elsewhere, he turned down lucrative jobs that would have required him to leave the Philadelphia area.

Then Live! came calling, and it was tempting.

“I have three kids, and one of them has a heart condition and autism,” he explains. “If, God forbid, something should happen, I only want to be minutes away.”

The Live! casino, in Philadelphia’s Stadium District, also played into another love of Ryan’s—sports.

“I’ve always been a sports nut,” he says. “I follow all the Philadelphia teams, and to be within walking distance of all the venues was a dream come true.”

Like most Philadelphians, he has a special love for the Eagles.

“When I was young,” he says, “I bought a handicap shuttle bus for $2,000. We painted it in Eagles logos and colors and on the back we have a big mural of (former Eagle) Brian Dawkins.”

Now in his role with Live!, his casino players get to tag along and get the gourmet tailgating experience. Ryan says he has connections with many former Philadelphia players, mostly the Hall of Famers, and brings them to events whenever possible.

Going from the super corporate environment of Caesars to the family-run Cordish Group has been a transition.

“When we were first opening Live! during the pandemic, which was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” he says, “there was a moment where I was sitting at a table with the company president, Rob Norton, both of us handing out players club cards. We talked about each of our lives and experiences, and it was great. I can’t imagine ever doing that with any Caesars CEO.”

But Ryan said his success is something he tries to share with the new hires to the Cordish Gaming Group.

“I like to think they’ll be inspired by my story,” he says. “I tell them that no matter what they’re doing now, they can reach higher and do whatever they want.

“Same thing when it comes to players. Your biggest player won’t always be your biggest player and your smaller player, who you really can’t do anything for today, will someday be a big one. I try to treat everyone like a million bucks and hope they treat me the same way.” Roger Gros

Farm to Tech

Bradley Pieper, Director of Sales (West), AGS

The Pieper family owns a 1,000-acre cattle farm in Copalis Crossing, Washington not far from the Pacific Ocean. But working on the family farm was not in the cards for Bradley Pieper. 

He grew up watching his family pump profits back into keeping the farm operating. Saving for retirement was out of the question.

“When I realized this, I knew I didn’t want to be a rancher like my father,” Pieper says. 

What he did was tap into his mother’s passion for technology and his father’s work ethic to create opportunities within the gambling industry. “Like most people in this industry, I wasn’t seeking it, but it found me, and I don’t see myself leaving it.”

What sealed the deal were modern slot machines he saw while working on his associate’s degree in Arizona.

“I was intrigued that casino slot machines were all computer-based. I hadn’t really ever thought about it, as I was always thinking coin-operated devices,” Pieper says. 

After he obtained his degree from High-Tech Institute in Phoenix, Pieper landed a job at Lucky Eagle Casino & Hotel in Rochester, Washington as an IT technician in 2004. 

In 2006, he moved on to Cadillac Jack’s resort in Deadwood, first as a service technician then as a service manager. After four years, he found a home at AGS as an account executive.

“I love traveling and seeing new scenery from all over, so I loved the fact of changing careers,” Pieper says. “I was a little scared of having soft hands and working sales, but it opened my eyes and was the best career choice I have ever made.” 

A year ago, he advanced to a director of sales. 

As director of sales (West), Pieper oversees the western United States and Western Canada, a rather large territory. “I manage and oversee cabinet sales and gaming operation revenues while collaborating with customers and my team to deliver a great experience,” he says. 

Like any successful executive, Pieper owes much to mentors like Robert Perry, vice president of sales (South) at AGS. “He was one of my first mentors in the industry. We called him Perry Grit. I don’t think you need to say anymore (with that nickname).”

As for advice to those considering a similar career choice, Pieper says to remember that gambling is among the largest small industries. “But to do it right, play the long game and it will always pay off.”

It did for Pieper. Bill Sokolic 

Creativity through Collaboration

Alexandra Milkovich, Senior Interior Designer, HBG Design

With a master’s in interior architecture and product design, 13 years of diverse interior design experience, and an impressive portfolio of high-profile projects, Alexandra Milkovich has achieved incredible success in her tenure as the senior interior designer at the San Diego office of HBG Design. Her natural leadership abilities, creativity and inquisitiveness have put her on a straight trajectory towards excellence.

Throughout her career, Milkovich has led designs of casino, hotel, and food & beverage venue experiences for gaming and entertainment clientele on the West Coast and nationwide. She was instrumental in creating the initial design concepts for the first-ever Rock and Brews Casino in Oklahoma and led the design of Sycuan’s vintage-industrial inspired Rank + File restaurant and bar during the $220 million expansion and renovation of Sycuan Casino Resort outside San Diego.

Now the lead designer of several casinos, hotel, and food and beverage experiences for HBG Design clients across the country, Milkovich is thankful for the wealth of experience her work has provided her.

“Every project has its own challenges and opportunities,” she says, “and being in the middle of those experiences has directly contributed to my knowledge and growth in the industry.”

With her passion for “creating successful pathways to final interior design solutions,” Milkovich believes that truly thoughtful and impactful interior design is founded on comprehensive research and a strong understanding of the client’s brand, market, and project goals. Having extensively studied restaurant operations and designs, Milkovich describes her approach as promoting “bold design balanced with thoughtful moments where the eye can rest.” She has also pursued her passion for the culinary arts through food blogging that highlights unique dining venue designs and beautiful plating designs.

“Entertainment and hospitality design is an ever-evolving industry,” Milkovich explains. “We are always learning new things no matter how much experience we have under our belts.”

Collaboration and mentorship are also crucial to success in Milkovich’s view, and both have been a large part of her career in the past and moving forward. She lauds her own mentor, previous ELG 40 Under 40 honoree Emily Marshall, as “a hospitality and entertainment design guru who tends to have the answer for everything.” She credits Marshall as a tremendous advocate for her career aspirations with a talent for creative problem-solving and a wealth of design experience.

Now Milkovich herself has become sponsor to her entire interior design team at HBG’s San Diego office, meeting with each team member one-on-one quarterly to help discuss ways to creatively achieve their career goals. She believes these individual meetings are essential to building strong relationships and achieving both individual and company goals.

“I truly love to see people succeed, and I try my best to help them meet their goals in whatever way I can,” she says. “Everyone has good ideas, no matter their level or years with the firm, and we want to give each team member a voice. When people truly feel good about a design or career direction, they make a greater effort to succeed.”

To the up-and-comers in her industry, Milkovich offers this advice: be patient, and really take the time to listen to your colleagues and take advantage of their expertise. “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she advises. “You will never move up in a career without pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.” Rae Berkley is an analyst with The Innovation Group

All in the Family

Anamarie Ellis, Vice President of Casino Operations, Ellis Island Casino & Brewery; Marketing Executive, Marker Trax

When you grow up in a family business, it can be difficult to make a name for yourself and find your own passion within the industry it serves.

Two family businesses makes it even harder, but that’s exactly what Anamarie Ellis has done in an impressively short span of time—as the newly promoted vice president of casino marketing and operations for Ellis Island Casino & Brewery as well as a marketing executive for Marker Trax, a digital casino marker provider, Ellis has done a great job thus far of balancing tradition with innovation, while also paving her own path in an ultra-competitive market.

It all started, however, at the family dinner table, where she learned what it meant to understand the expectations of players and guests and provide top-notch experiences within the gaming and hospitality industry, which is where she always knew she would be.

“I did always know that I wanted to work for my family in the business, so that was an easy decision to make,” says Ellis. “But from an early age, I was really empowered to just share my opinions to learn as much as I can from the people around me, and ultimately to take ownership in what I was doing. And that’s something that I try to instill in our team and all of our team members—to really just take ownership of the property like it is your own.”

Ellis began her career in human resources, before quickly moving through the ranks on the operations side, ultimately serving as director of player development for the last four years up until her recent promotion. Now, she’s excited to take on a larger role at the family casino, and to get “even more exposure to the operations side as well as further developing marketing.”

Not only that, but when her father, Gary Ellis, launched an innovative new digital casino marker program called Marker Trax in 2020, she jumped right in to help with development, testing, marketing and anything else that was needed. It might be a lot of work, but its growth thus far has been “very important and exciting,” something that she is “extremely proud to be part of.” Marker Trax was recently awarded the prize for Best Consumer-Service Technology in Global Gaming Business magazine’s annual Gaming & Technology Awards.

For those who may just be getting started in gaming, Ellis has one piece of advice above all: be observant and share what you see with those around you. “Try to observe as much as you can and not only be observant, but to share those observations with your team and leadership,” says Ellis, “and don’t be afraid to get answers.”

Outside of work, Ellis is a part of multiple women-led organizations, including Global Gaming Women and Nevada Women’s Philanthropy. She also is a passionate wine enthusiast, and recently earned her Level 2 Certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust—pinot noir is among her favorites, but, as she says, “you can’t go wrong with a glass of champagne.” Jess Marquez

Legal Eagle

Tommaso Di Chio, Senior Vice President, Regulatory Affairs and Compliance and Deputy General Counsel, Kambi

Tommaso Di Chio is as cosmopolitan as it gets. He grew up in Apulia, in Southern Italy, studied law in Rome and later in Brussels. He returned to Rome to practice law for four years. Then it was off to London to earn an LLM in commercial and IT law, qualifying as a technology lawyer.

He joined Kambi in 2014 as a regulatory wave swept across Europe, where jurisdictions re-evaluated old regulations and approved new ones, not too different than what is happening in the U.S. and Canada, Di Chio says.

“The strategic and cultural journey the business was embarking on at that time resonated with me,” he says. “There was a wide variety of unique and interesting challenges for the legal team to address.”

While Italy was one of the most advanced countries in the gambling industry, the U.K. was one of the most forward-thinking, especially with online gambling.

“Kambi represented an opportunity to be part of a fresh and exciting industry,” Di Chio says.

Ending the sports betting ban in the U.S. boosted the already-established Kambi, which had the experience to manage regulations and re-regulations, providing the company with the “ability to interpret, react and adapt our technology quickly to meet the legislative approaches of individual states,” Di Chio says. ​

As senior vice president of regulatory affairs and compliance, and deputy general counsel, Di Chio oversees Kambi’s regulatory affairs and regulatory compliance teams, working with lawmakers and gaming industry stakeholders from all over the world.

This includes M & A.

“In my time with the business, we have acquired more than 40 sports wagering licenses, in 19 U.S. states and 13 American Native reservations, creating an environment in which the regulatory function could become a commercial advantage for the business,” he says. “Some of my pivotal successes at Kambi include the processing of the first legal online wager in the United States post-PASPA in August 2018, and the award of one of the two online platform provider licenses available in New York.”

Covid-19 smacked down most industries worldwide, but perhaps none more so than the sports betting industry as the majority of major competitions went down. The result left Kambi with a more limited schedule. Di Chio also led efforts to collaborate with state gaming agencies to expand what sports event could be wagered on.

“The regulatory team at Kambi worked remotely and in close collaboration with regulators to ensure that the integrity of the offering was upheld, and new processes were put in place to ensure these protections were stronger than ever,” he says. “In addition, the pandemic brought about new ways of working and even more active dialogue between sports betting industry stakeholders. It is very encouraging that these processes have been maintained and built on in the following months.”

It’s a fantastic industry to work in, Di Chio says. “But those looking to forge a career in this sector must come with a recognition of how gaming impacts both sports and society. It is a very heavily regulated industry, and lawyers should focus on understanding where they can have the greatest impact and effect positive change—gaming is driven by those interested in delivering best-in-class entertainment through the development of new technology and offering experiences that are both engaging and safe.”

Asked what the future holds, Di Chio says it’s worth remembering that the sports betting industry in the Americas is just getting started. Many states in the U.S. have yet to enact regulation, while Ontario became the first Canadian province to legislate for single-event sports wagering earlier this year. Latin America, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil provide fertile ground. Bill Sokolic

Lifelong Learner

Ashley Polo, Executive Director of Brand & Database Marketing, Encore Boston Harbor

Never one to back away from a challenge, Ashley Polo has taken on two of the most high-profile casino resort launches in recent years. With the reopening of Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort, Polo led the re-branding efforts that coincided with the first EBITDA-positive months in the property’s history, followed by joining the opening team at Encore Boston Harbor, where she has continued to add responsibilities as opportunities were presented.

“I left Ocean in February 2019 after being hired by Encore Boston Harbor, a Wynn Resort, to oversee their brand marketing efforts,” she says. “As leaders moved on, I was asked to lead the social media and digital marketing teams. In 2021, I started focusing on the database marketing efforts as well, and continue doing so today.” 

After graduating from James Madison University, Polo began her career in marketing in the real estate sector. She transitioned to gaming as the director of brand marketing communications at Foxwoods Resort Casino, which started as a desire to be closer to family but became a passion as she learned the industry.

“I believe that learning is a lifelong process,” she says. “This industry, and particularly in marketing, things are constantly evolving and changing. To remain knowledgeable and cutting-edge, I read white papers, connect with industry colleagues, take classes online, etc. You cannot be complacent in this industry, which is something I love.”

Learning from others and building new skills are consistent themes in Polo’s rise in the gaming industry, and while she says she has gained valuable lessons from colleagues at all levels and departments, she makes special mention of some of her mentors.

“I’ve been lucky to have many mentors that have helped me along my path, including many smart, strong female leaders in this historically male-dominated industry,” states Polo. “Jenny Holaday, Suzanne Trout, Annie Allman and Annette DeBois have all mentored me in various and unique ways. One trait consistent throughout all of these mentors was they were all incredibly present for whatever guidance or mentorship I needed at the time. Looking back, they likely did not have the time or bandwidth given their roles, but everyone was extremely giving of their time and expertise, and it is important to me to pay that forward.”

Although paying it forward leads to extra hours on property, it is something Polo believes is critical to building cross-departmental company culture. 

“I often help individuals in different departments get exposure to what my team does,” she says. “We have people in our area shadowing our team—whether to learn new design skills, how we think about segmentation and reinvestment, training on our project management software or more. Despite being a significant amount of work in terms of preparation, our door is always open for someone who wants to learn.” Brian Wyman is senior vice president, operations and data analytics for The Innovation Group

Old Kentucky Home

Chris Calitri, Account Executive, Ainsworth Game Technology

If you’re a Kentucky native, one of the assumptions is that choosing some aspect of the horse industry as an occupation is not going to draw odd stares from family or friends. Chris Calitri, of Lexington, can vouch for that. 

“The only gaming option in Kentucky growing up was (and still is) parimutuel horse racing,” he says. Don’t take that as a negative. Keeneland, located on the outskirts of Lexington, houses one of the oldest tracks in the U.S. 

“Growing up, going to the racetrack was always a special event in the spring and fall every year,” Calitri says. 

But it was at the Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots in New Orleans that Calitri’s career took root. “It’s where I learned the gaming industry.” 

It’s where he discovered an industry so fast-paced and ever-changing at all levels, no two days are ever the same. “It makes it easy to get up and go to work, knowing that you will have something new to deal with each day,” he says. 

Calitri received a B.A. in computer science in 2009 before he became part of the inaugural class of Churchill Downs’ Management Rotation Program. “I gained exposure to all aspects of management at the Fair Grounds,” he says. At the conclusion of the program, Calitri became a slot shift supervisor, and rose to slot shift manager. In October 2016 he joined Ainsworth Game Technology as an account executive. 

His role with Ainsworth included selling the concept of historical horse racing, or HHR. With HHR, bettors wager on past races. “The whole HHR project was born out of Ainsworth partnering with Churchill Downs, listening to what product they wanted, and developing the HHR product,” he says. 

As account executive with Ainsworth, Calitri’s job is to sell the products.

“I get to meet with customers face to face, find their biggest needs, and work to provide solutions to their problems,” he says. “I really enjoy growing relationships with my customers and showing them the suite of products Ainsworth has to offer.” 

Two colleagues helped pave the way for Calitri. 

“Duncan McConnell was my first boss and mentor in the gaming industry,” he says. “At the time, he was the senior director of slots at the Fair Grounds, and now he is the senior director of gaming strategy at Churchill Downs Inc. Duncan allowed me to learn the operations and technical side of the gaming industry right from the start. He took me under his wing and gave me responsibilities always just ahead of my skill set. He was always willing to share his knowledge with me, as I matured in slot operations.” 

Deron Hunsberger, chief commercial officer at Ainsworth, has been a mentor on the sales side of the gaming industry, integral in Calitri’s development as an account executive. 

“He is always available for a quick chat, and he sees the big picture in sales: we have to provide solutions and value for our customers. He has taught me that all parties in a negotiation come out winners,” says Calitri, who plays disc golf and volleyball to relax. 

Calitri sees Ainsworth providing support for the Class III side of gaming as well as the historical horse racing side, but says other states should take note of HHR success in Kentucky, Virginia, Wyoming, and other states. “As more racetracks see the success that HHR can bring to their business, I hope that more states embrace the idea of HHR as a supplement to their live horse racing.”  

The phrase Calitri would use to describe the gaming industry is diverse. There are so many career paths—work directly with customers at the operations level of a casino; work for a company in the office on the back end.

“You can even work for your state as a gaming regulator. There truly is something for everyone.” Bill Sokolic

Follow Your Ikigai

Lloyd Danzig, Managing Partner, Sharp Alpha Advisors

As managing partner of Sharp Alpha Advisors, a venture capital firm in the sports betting and online gaming space, Lloyd Danzig plays a key role in more than 20 emerging companies’ growth trajectories. In his role, he provides startups much-needed capital investment as well as strategic guidance and industry access that few nascent companies achieve alone.

Danzig’s pedigree—an economics degree from the Wharton School and a post-graduate computer science degree from Columbia—landed him on Wall Street for the first part of his career. It took a court decision to get him into gaming.

“When PASPA was repealed in 2018, it was immediately clear to me how significant the opportunity was,” he says. “It felt like a story I read many times before was playing out right in front of my eyes. I got involved with a few startups, did a bit of angel investing, built a sweat equity portfolio through advisory roles, and positioned myself to raise a venture capital fund.”

Sharp Alpha Advisors announced that it closed a $10 million raise in October. But Danzig also makes clear that this was more than just opportunism:

“I’ve always been enamored by the math that underlies real-money gaming business models,” he explains. “A roulette wheel has 38 numbers on it, but it pays out 35-to-1. The casino cannot reliably predict how they will fare financially on any one spin, but they are so confident in the Law of Large Numbers that they will accept an almost-limitless level of wagering liability with confidence in long-term profitability. How cool is that?”

Danzig also notes that he’s been playing fantasy sports and betting on sports with his friends since they were 12 years old, and that this forms the basis of some of his life’s most fulfilling relationships.

“My favorite thing about gaming is the way in which it serves as a vehicle for social connection,” he says.

Danzig points to his mentors as a source of advice and inspiration. He calls his group of mentors “incredible.”

“They deserve a ton of credit for putting me in the position I am in today,” he says. “Of course, you can’t use someone else’s map of reality to navigate your own, but I lean heavily on my mentors and advisers whenever I do something new, important, or exceptionally complicated.”

Likewise, he talks about paying it forward through training and mentorship opportunities that he can provide for others. Danzig is in awe at what he describes as “such a large and impressive population of future founders and top-decile investors” and shares that he is “especially focused on volunteering as a mentor to aspiring venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.” He identifies the trends in gaming he sees the brightest young professionals focused on today, specifically calling out automation, personalization, real-time interactivity, immersion, and augmented reality as examples.

When asked what types of advice and guidance he would share with younger folks eager to achieve this type of success, he dismisses “follow your passion” as a nice idea but “generally unhelpful advice,” quipping that “I don’t think I could have made a career out of Seinfeld trivia.”

“Mark Cuban’s advice to ‘follow your effort’ is much more practical,” he says. But “perhaps ‘follow your ikigai’ would be an even better piece of advice.” Brian Wyman is senior vice president, operations and data analytics for The Innovation Group

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