Keita Young has a job that she hopes will someday be obsolete.
“The end game is when there is not the need for DEI officers, but I think there is a long runway that I am on, and I am on the beginning of it, where people who are different or perceive themselves as different have that opportunity,” Young, the senior director for diversity, equity, and inclusion at FanDuel, told Sports Handle.
In the more than five years since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and made legal wagering a states’ rights issue, the industry has had many internal struggles, gone from being at odds with to partners with professional sports leagues, and is at once a new industry many are excited about and one that others want to tamp down.
As sports wagering has become more commonplace — more than 30 U.S. jurisdictions have live, legal wagering in some fashion with at least three more to come by the end of the year — stakeholders have managed the issues critical to offering their products and have now begun to refine the finer points and look beyond matchups, odds, and parlays.
Responsible gambling and more stringent guidelines designed to protect those at risk have been discussed persistently in 2023, and close behind as a serious topic is DEI. Nearly every major operator now has a DEI director, department, or committee, and regulators are prioritizing representation of all kinds within the industry. Some legislatures have started to include DEI in bills and laws.
But what, exactly, does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean, and what does it look like in a practical sense?
“When you talk about equity,” FanDuel’s Young said, “it’s not about everybody starting on the same page, it’s about everybody getting to the same page.”
Gaming more diverse than hospitality
FanDuel, the biggest operator by market share across the U.S., and PENN Entertainment, which recently signed a deal with ESPN to offer ESPN BET as its digital platform, are among the operators that have formalized what previously were looser, grassroots DEI efforts. Lawmakers in Maryland and Massachusetts mandated DEI in their industries, and regulators in those states are vigorously implementing those mandates.
According to an April 2023 American Gaming Association study, diversity has grown by 20% over the last 10 years among operators, including the two noted above. The study indicated that 61% of gaming industry employees are minorities vs. 42% of the total U.S. workforce, while 60% of operator employees are minorities. The number of Black workers in the industry has grown from 12% to 19% since 2011.
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When it comes to who places wagers, consumers are overwhelmingly white and male. According to a recent study by customer-experience company Disqo, 87% of sports betting search, app, and website visits were made by men, predominantly Gen Xers and millennials. The study points to baby boomers and women as untapped markets.
True change must come from top
Stakeholders say that just because the sports betting audience is predominantly male doesn’t mean leadership should be. And in the longer term, diversifying leadership will bring ideas that will, in turn, broaden the customer base.
As the industry works to diversify itself and its offerings, that effort has to come from the top, suggests Nakisha Skinner, a member of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
“I think the best avenue, quite frankly … is through those who are in power,” she said. “Those executives, those on the boards, or directors, they have to reach out and develop programs. The operators themselves have to avail themselves of ways to engage the community on this topic. It’s important for the operators to develop diverse perspectives.”
The idea that the current consumer base is not diverse shouldn’t matter.
“If the expectation was that only those who predominantly make up any one industry or consumer base, that that audience should be the only reflective voice, there would be no diversity,” Skinner said. “To the point about the audience not being diverse, those diverse perspectives will still benefit the community and allow marginalized people to be heard.”
‘You don’t ever call a white guy a minority’
To illustrate how quickly the industry has changed, gaming consultant Bill Pascrell III tells the story of a time he was on a diversity panel that was not at all diverse.
“More than a decade ago, I did a panel at ICE (International Casinos Exhibition) on diversity. You don’t ever call a white guy a minority, but I was the only white kid in my kindergarten class — that gives me sensitivity to what minorities go through,” he said. “So, I go up on stage, and sitting [near the front of the audience is female executive] Jan Jones from Caesars, and I get up on stage, and I am realizing that the other three people on stage, it hit me like a ton of bricks … four white guys?
“Back then, there weren’t that many conferences that did that much with diversity. I get up on stage, and Jan looks at me like, ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ So I gave a shout-out to Jan and said she should be up there.”
In the 2020s, a diversity panel at a gaming or sports betting conference is likely to be populated by women, Blacks, Asians, or Hispanics. The same could be said of C-suites for most major operators in the business.
Jones, who has been an executive with Caesars Entertainment since 1999, was for 20 years the company’s executive vice president for government relations and corporate responsibility. Under her guidance, Caesars increased its diversity, with 41% of management positions now held by women and 57% held by minorities. In 2019, she joined the company’s board of directors.
Pascrell believes that DEI in sports wagering goes beyond the moral responsibility that Skinner points to. It’s just good business.
“If you look at the major operators, none of them are catering to women,” Pascrell said. “You go to a football game, and there are thousands and thousands of women, but no one there is catering to them. There are over 60 million Latinos [in the U.S.] and they love soccer, and there is nothing [in wagering] that caters to them, to provide comfort, to bring people in. But I think it starts at the top, where there are all white men catering to other white men.”
Lawmakers mandate diversity
Lawmakers in Maryland, which legalized wagering in November 2020, were the first to offer incentives to minority- and women-owned businesses. Along with Massachusetts, which legalized in August 2022, lawmakers and regulators have pioneered opportunities and methods to diversify gaming.
In Maryland, lawmakers were clear in their intent to have a diverse industry. According to the law (Section §9–1E–02), the industry must maximize “the ability of minorities, women, and minority and women–owned businesses to participate in the sports wagering industry, including through the ownership of entities licensed to conduct sports wagering under this subtitle.”
The regulator, the Sports Wagering Application Review Committee, went on to lay out diversity plans, including requiring each applicant for a license to have at least 5% direct or indirect ownership by individuals with a personal net worth of about $1.85 million or less and that applicants present diversity plans.
In Massachusetts, the law calls for a study providing “recommendations to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are included in this method of sports wagering.”
Business owners in Massachusetts are required to submit diversity plans that include both the operator and its vendors. The MGC, which holds diversity as a core tenet, has expanded on what the legislation requires, and Skinner said that while the law “speaks specifically to racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, we have our own internal goals that also pull in veterans. And there may be a new category on the vendor side that encompasses LBGTQ+ and disability that might be worthwhile for the MGC to explore.” The MGC also has its own DEI program manager and diversity manager.
TY to the 14 senators who voted for @SenChangDiaz's amendment to create astrong DEI component in licensing for sports betting.
— Progressive Mass (@ProgressiveMass) April 28, 2022
During application reviews held publicly in Massachusetts, the commission questions potential licensees on how they will diversify and on what kind of timeline. And now that wagering is live, each time an operator shares a quarterly report with the commission, it is asked for an update on its diversity initiatives. Massachusetts has a wide range of operators of different sizes, from DraftKings and FanDuel, which combine for more than 75% of market share for wagering in the country, to Betr, a startup microbetting platform.
“We are expecting to hold operators accountable to meet or exceed their goals,” Skinner said. “How they do that will vary widely, and how fast will vary. You have some operators that are a little more experienced than others, but at the end of the day, what I would look for is commitment. We can’t really put a time frame on how fast that will happen.”
What operators are doing
Since 2020, as lawmakers and regulators have increasingly strengthened language around minority inclusion, operators have been incorporating DEI into their corporate plans.
At PENN Entertainment, which owns retail casinos and offers digital sports betting in states across the U.S. and Canada, Justin Carter, chair of the company’s diversity committee, said CEO Jay Snowden told him “we need to commit what we do to paper,” and the diversity committee was born.
Since then, PENN executives have developed five tenets around DEI: scholarship, recruitment, leadership development, procurement, and community engagement.
As examples of how PENN puts these concepts into action, it created the PENN Diversity Scholarship Fund, which is a $1 million annual commitment to help the children of employees pay for college. To date, Carter said, 58% of the recipients have been first-generation college students. Beyond that, PENN partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) around the country through a STEM scholarship and associated internship program, has created an in-house “Emerging Leaders Program” to encourage frontline workers to explore management, partners with minority-owned suppliers and vendors, and is active on HBCU campuses.
When PENN partners with minority-owned suppliers and vendors, the company doesn’t just sign them to a contract and end the effort there. PENN offers training and assistance to help those companies grow, from marketing to operations, and to be in position to compete for larger contracts nationwide.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Carter said. “We have to meet people where they are.”
FanDuel champions diversity with myriad programs, including its Women’s Leadership Development Program, which is focused on developing and enhancing leadership skill sets to “accelerate women into future leaders” at the company, according to a spokesman. There are two arms to the program — one directed at senior-level women employees and another focused on emerging women leaders.
The genesis of DEI as a strategic priority, according to Young, came from CEO Amy Howe and the executive leadership team, and the support from that team has been “star class,” Young said.
“Before I came here, a lot of people said that other companies were hiring DEI heads, but they are figureheads,” Young said. “At FanDuel, this is a place where leadership is leaning in. … I come in every day feeling like I have wings on my back and can do anything.”
Young’s initial goal was to consolidate and provide framework around the grassroots efforts already going on at FanDuel. The company also continues to grow its employee resource groups and highlights women and minorities who have “broken through barriers of entry” and excelled in the sporting industry through an internal web series titled “Breaking Barriers.”
Young has formally established four employee resource groups — Women, Speak (Asian American-Pacific Islanders), Bold (Black Organizational Leadership Development), and Outfield (LGBTQI+) — with three additional groups in process.
FanDuel’s efforts extend beyond the company into the community at large — it has partnered with the United Negro College Fund to provide emergency aid funds to those in need. As part of this partnership, FanDuel also provides summer internship opportunities for UNCF-HBCU scholars to experience career opportunities at FanDuel and in the industry.
Diversity on the field
While lawmakers, regulators, and operators are changing how they view and manage diversity within their realms, the product on the athletic field is also evolving. Black men have long been a critical part of the sports landscape — according to Interbasket, 81% of NBA players during the 2019-20 season were Black. In 2022, about 56% of all NFL players were black, according to Statista.
According to Major League Baseball, about 40% of its players came from “diverse backgrounds” in 2022. Overall, about 30% of all MLB players are Latino or Hispanic, and about 6% are Black. The NHL, the least diverse of the four major professional leagues, did its first diversity study in 2022 and found that nearly 84% of all players are white, while Asians, Blacks, and Hispanics/Latinos each make up about 4% of the league’s population.
Women’s sports continue to expand, both in scope and wagering interest. Stakeholders say that’s partly because professional and college women’s basketball are more easily accessible through streaming and traditional television and because of the U.S. team’s success in recent decades on the world soccer stage.
FanDuel recently embraced the Women’s World Cup by crafting “FanFuel” coffee “to fuel your passion for soccer and support for our United States Women’s National Team.” The company provided free coffee from trucks for fans 21-plus in several key cities the day after U.S. games — some of which were played overnight, U.S. time, as they were held in Australia and New Zealand — and bags of coffee were available for customers to purchase from North Edge Coffee Company, the woman-owned roaster FanDuel partnered with for the promotion.
Every major operator offered odds on the Women’s World Cup, and all offer wagering on the WNBA, women’s college basketball, tennis, and other women’s sports. While the amount wagered on women’s sports is dwarfed by the volume bet on men’s sports, the sector is growing, creating a more diverse landscape for bettors.
Evolution has begun
As wagering matures, there will be more and more opportunity for jobs like Young’s and Carter’s, and ultimately, new pathways for women and minorities to move into management. But those pathways likely won’t be straight lines nor will they be smooth.
“I think it’s axiomatic that it will be a stepped process,” Pascrell said. “Oftentimes to make a change, there has to be some protest, there has to be some pushing and protesting, like civil rights, women’s right to vote, the suffragettes.
“The problem in society, and not to get political, but let’s go back to Hillary Clinton, one of the most accomplished people of our time. If I had a dollar for every person who said, ‘I’m a Democrat, but she’s a bitch’ … When a woman is as capable, fiery, and competent as Hillary, and that’s what people say, it is very disturbing to say the least. They would never say that about a man. I think it’s one of the reasons we are where we are at, that we’ve never had a woman president. One would handle things in a different way.”
Like any sea change — in the White House or in the digital universe — it will take time. But more than 10 years after Pascrell’s “four white guys” diversity panel, leadership in gaming has at least begun to evolve.