By Matthew Enderby
A panel of industry experts specific to the US sports betting market gathered to discuss issues around recruitment. Currently, operators, suppliers, affiliates and regulators are looking to Europe and Australia for employees. The panel answers how long this trend will continue for and looks towards the next steps.
Invited to speak were Benjie Cherniak, Managing Director, Don Best Sports, SG Digital; Jonathan Michaels, Senior Director, AGA; Brianne Doura, Legislative Director, National Council on Problem Gambling and George Rover, CEO of the Sports Wagering Integrity Monitoring Association. Moderating the panel was Bill Pascrell from the Princeton Public Affairs Group.
BP: The US market has been challenged in a whole host of ways, but we’re going to talk about jobs and drafting in talent. So the sudden explosion and acceleration of sports betting has left operators, suppliers, affiliates and regulators in the challenging position of trying to recruit stellar talent, which doesn’t really exist in the US for the most part. What skill sets are needed to flourish in the US, in the short term and long term?
BC: The way we have stemmed the divide a little bit is that the majority of the initial operators that broke in New Jersey and Mississippi came in with European partners that brought a lot of the expertise that was required. By coming in with many of these turnkey solutions and starting with an out-of-the-box solution to get up and running was kind of how many operators stemmed the tide.
BD: From our perspective, we think it’s best to aim for certain skill sets. The first being someone who understands senior leadership positions, the intricacies and uniqueness of gambling statutes and regulations. Each state is unique about its responsible gambling parameters, so having someone who understands the value of responsible gambling being a part of the business operations is important. We also think it’s beneficial to look for someone who understands where the federal and state governments fall short. Gambling addiction is the only addiction without any federal safety net. 10 states have no safeguard; five only have $1 per capita and the average being 37 cents. Having someone who understands your customers, the constituents of the state and how to fully utilise NGOs in partnerships will bring the most success.
GR: The number one job I get calls and questions about is compliance. When you’re dealing with gaming regulators you need someone who understands regulation and who can interact with regulators, particularly when it comes to technology. There really is a shortage of technical compliance people and I think what’s going to happen next is companies are going to have to recruit people with IT experience but people who are not in the gaming space. Those companies will have to spend time and train them in the particularities of gaming because there really is a shortage of people in technical compliance.
BP: If I was from Australia or parts of Eastern Europe, I would be packing my bags if I was looking for employment. My skill set is probably more aligned with what the US market needs. There are companies in the gaming space that just do head hunting. They are having a very challenging time filling positions relating to compliance, regulatory issues and technical aspects of what’s going on. So what has been your experience in terms of where your talent pool is drawn from? How do you draw in the talent for your business?
BC: Before we even get to that, the reality is, you’re only going to be bringing someone in from across the pond if they are coming in at a very experienced level and filling a position that cannot be filled locally. You’ll have to hire an immigration attorney that will get you the staff you need from across the pond to get the operation up and running.
As we aren’t a start-up in the US, we’re one of the few companies that has been around for 15 to 20 years with an established operation. Our biggest challenge has not just been finding and recruiting staff to keep up with the workload in the US, but retaining the staff that we have. We’ve been under attack, in terms of all the other start-ups that have been poaching our staff.
I think one of the big things we need to bear in mind is, when you talk about 90,000 jobs, the challenges we are having today with recruitment won’t be challenges we’ll have in 10 to 15 years. We’re kind of at the precipice, almost like a cultural revolution in how sports betting and online gaming we’ll be received in the US. Today we are creating a new industry; there will soon be new courses at universities on sports management that will include sports betting. There will be young people going to school who want to work in this industry. So the challenge of today is not necessarily the challenge of tomorrow.
BD: I’m sure many years ago problem gambling would have gone unchecked. So for the first time, we’re having robust discussions about what more we can do. A big problem though, is the source of the information. Where are the experts coming from? There’s a huge lapse in research.
We’re also really looking at our global partners and those that came before us. As we’ve seen in the UK, the backlash for unchecked problem gambling has been outstanding. It’s really something we are mindful of as we embark on the creation of policy, both at the statutory level and in regulation.
JM: It’s also important to add that this week is problem gambling education week in the US. Throughout properties you’ll see a lot more of that commitment to the industry. About $300m is donated towards responsible gaming research; it’s something we all need to make sure we are taking it seriously.
BD: Here in the UK some of the biggest companies have contributed to filling in some of the gaps where the federal government has fallen short. March is also problem gambling awareness month. While we do applaud the AGA and operators for taking responsibility, I think we have to be mindful that as the market expands, there really is a short coming across all 50 states when the infrastructure is simply not there.
BP: Jonathon, what programs does the AGA have to help recruit talent to new companies emerging in the market?
JM: One of the things that came up in our discussion earlier was diversity. How do you recruit people in gaming and sports betting, which are usually male driven fields? More female and minority talent; how do we make sure we make this a place where everyone wants to work?
BP: In 2013, when the New Jersey Department of Gaming Authority got the law kicked to them in a six-month time scale to develop the regulations and role this out for a November launch, they did something brilliant. They knew what they didn’t know and now they’re the go to folks. They hired a former regulator from Malta.
But what I see happening now is, and I’ll use the example of Continent 8, most employees in the US are on six-month work visas. Wait until those run out. There’s a huge backlog and as you know, the immigration policies in the US are becoming tougher and tougher, so I think the biggest opportunity presented is trying to find talent. So do you keep flying them in, or is there another solution?
GR: I think it’s going to be a combination. Companies will keep rotating employees in and out of the country. This is a long term issue and I think there is going to be a space there for someone to develop people who have an IT background but need to be indoctrinated into the ways of gaming and technology. I’ve spoken to some people about this; it’s not a bridge too far. A lot of it is having a solid IT background and the right personality. Understanding the particularities of gaming is not all that difficult.
JM: Education is also critical to this entire process, whether it be regulators or operators. We see a lot of people who just don’t understand the business; we want to bring people together to talk about how it works. These are new days for everybody and we don’t want people to say that this is the way we’ve always been doing things.
BP: When another sports betting gaming conference was announced for the Meadowlands, I had my doubts. But that was a phenomenal conference. I saw a lot of young people there. They weren’t in the industry yet, but were trying to get educated. This is a place where you can get a cursory education, you can’t get a degree. But I’m glad it’s on again next year. There was standing room only at some of the panels and presentations.
BC: All those young people that attended the conference, those are the future leaders in the industry. Innovation in the US market isn’t going to come from any of us, or certainly not many of us, the innovation is a 15-year-old kid sitting in a classroom right now who views the world of fan engagement in a way that we are not capable of. He’s from a new generation, a different era, and that’s where the innovation is going to come from.