Talk about good timing. In 2004, Susan Hensel was a young attorney for the Pennsylvania governor’s office when the state launched its all-new gaming industry.
Though she knew little about casinos, Hensel became the first full-time employee of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). There, brick by brick, she helped lay the foundation for a whole new industry.
“I was at the right place at the right time,” says Hensel, who later became the PGCB’s director of licensing. “I was very lucky to have been at the table, crafting policy and regulations as we went from a slots-only jurisdiction to adding table games to offering the full range of gambling products, including online gaming and sports wagering.
“I didn’t know enough to be intimidated, and thankfully, regulators in other states were very generous with their time and words of wisdom.”
Since then, Pennsylvania has grown to be one of the richest gaming jurisdictions in the United States, with more than a dozen full-scale casinos and mini-casinos, with more to come. This year, the Keystone State is poised to generate $5 billion in revenues, second only to Nevada.
In another stroke of good timing, last March Hensel stepped down from the PGCB to launch Hensel Grad Gaming Counsel. The boutique advisory practice is focused on the industry’s biggest growth segments: iGaming, sports wagering and emerging technologies. She and partner Joe Grad, also a gaming attorney, serve foreign and domestic companies aspiring to join the burgeoning U.S. market, and help them navigate very complex regulatory waters.
Together, says Hensel, they have the knowledge and experience to help clients reach their goals. They also have the access. “I’ve worked throughout my career to build a global presence and to form professional relationships and friendships with stakeholders around the world,” says Hensel, a two-term former president of the International Association of Gaming Regulators.
Hensel expects an eventful 2022, both for the industry and for Hensel Grad. “We’re certainly going to see more jurisdictions authorizing and implementing sports wagering—all eyes are on some of the bigger states, Florida and California—and I’m working with some startup companies that are working to bring new technologies to the gambling space.
“There are some other exciting things happening in the industry. What role will crypto play? What role will artificial intelligence play as we go forward? In the United States, we’re also going to see what approach regulators take to advertising. People are asking if the U.S. will learn from the experience of the U.K., where we’ve seen a lot of backlash as a result of advertising, or if it will repeat that history.”
For those who would follow in her path, she has her own words of wisdom. “There are several skills a person, and women in particular, need to achieve success. These include trusting yourself, being willing to take a chance on yourself, and being assertive. I don’t think these skills always come easy, but they are in my opinion critical to furthering one’s career.
“No one else is going to do a better job of advocating for you than you’re able to do for yourself. Take steps to create your own opportunities. And when they arise, be willing to jump.”