In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s historic decision last week to overturn Roe v. Wade, a host of major companies moved swiftly to expand benefits to cover employee travel costs associated with an out-of-state abortion and other reproductive health care.
The list of prominent companies pledging to reimburse employees for some or all of the travel costs runs the gamut from Meta (Facebook) and Conde Nast to the Walt Disney Co. and Dick’s Sporting Goods. Among sports betting companies, DraftKings set the standard with an enhanced employee assistance program that has been lauded by some gaming industry observers.
The 5-4 decision by the nation’s highest court to invalidate the landmark 1973 ruling effectively removes federal protections for abortion, pushing the question of legalizing the procedure to states. In anticipation of the decision, approximately a dozen states put trigger laws in place that allow for full prohibitions or near-complete bans on abortion if certain conditions are met.
As protests occurred around the nation over the weekend, DraftKings entered the fray with a pledge to offer expanded benefits for employees in states with prohibitions on abortion. It has headquarters in Massachusetts and new offices in Nevada — both legal abortion states where employees are unlikely to be affected by the court decision. But for workers elsewhere who may need coverage from the assistance plan, DraftKings will reimburse U.S. employees and their dependents up to $10,000 for all covered medical and behavioral services for which access is limited based on the ruling.
“At DraftKings, the health and well-being of our employees and their families is our top priority,” said DraftKings CEO Jason Robins in a statement. “DraftKings is committed to supporting our employees and families in states which have already, or might in the future, ban abortion or other critical health and medical services.”
DraftKings received more than 1,900 likes for the post on LinkedIn, along with positive feedback from gaming industry professionals and its own employees.
Weighing their options
At present, DraftKings is one of three sportsbook operators that hold a firm grasp on market share throughout the U.S. The triumvirate, BetMGM, DraftKings, and FanDuel, represent at least 70% of the nation’s online sports betting total addressable market, according to various estimates. The three sportsbook operators each accept wagers in at least 15 states, including Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Wyoming, four states where overturning Roe v. Wade will likely trigger bans on abortion.
When asked if FanDuel is planning to offer reimbursement to employees for abortion travel, a company spokesman told Sports Handle that it is “not commenting on health benefits for employees.” While DraftKings does not have operations outside North America, FanDuel is owned by U.K.-headquartered Flutter plc, the world’s largest gambling conglomerate.
MGM Resorts, which owns a 50% stake in BetMGM, also declined comment this week. Although no major gambling company has immediately followed DraftKings’ lead, it is likely that many will offer some sort of assistance in the future.
The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, also upheld Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The majority opinion in Dobbs held that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. The controversial ruling reshapes decades of abortion law while shifting the responsibility of legalizing abortion to the states. With 29 casinos statewide, Mississippi supports more than 37,000 jobs in the casino industry, according to the American Gaming Association.
ICYMI: The landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case has been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court following a 6-3 vote in favor of Mississippi’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.
— SuperTalk Mississippi (@supertalk) June 25, 2022
In total, Sports Handle reached out to seven of the nation’s largest sportsbook operators for this story, a distinguished group that handles billions of dollars in wagers each year and employs tens of thousands of workers. Beyond the three market-share leaders, two others have indicated that they are considering employee assistance plans similar to that of DraftKings, according to multiple sources. A third is conducting an analysis in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision, but it will not be impacted as much as the others since a majority of its employees are based in states where abortion is expected to remain legal.
“Corporate leadership is about doing the right thing for employees regardless of personal points of view. It is encouraging to see the gaming sector offer competitive health benefits and assistance to their employees similar to other Fortune 500 companies. I would expect other gaming companies to follow suit,” said Sara Slane, a casino industry consultant who was formerly senior vice president of public affairs for the American Gaming Association.
New books vs. Vegas-style casinos
It’s possible and likely even probable that other wagering and gambling companies will follow DraftKings’ lead. Within days of the decision, companies from CitiGroup to Bumble and Lyft joined the list of those announcing enhanced financial support for employees seeking abortions. In addition, nearly a dozen companies, including Starbucks, Tesla, and Microsoft, announced after the May leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision that they would offer financial support.
While a number of women have taken on senior roles as C-suite executives in the sports betting industry, the predominance of males as a whole in the industry may give it less exposure than is the case for companies in other fields.
In the sports betting and gambling worlds, meanwhile, tech-first companies like DraftKings, FanDuel, or PointsBet often appear to react more quickly to events than some of the more traditional casino companies. Some companies may have plans in the works but multi-national corporate governance concerns to address. There are different cultural norms for abortion in Australia, where PointsBet’s parent company is located. FanDuel also operates under the auspices of U.K.-based Flutter, presenting another layer of complexity in a lengthy process.
Nearly all of the major gaming companies have exposure in terms of employees in states that either do or will ban abortion. A key difference, though, is that the tech companies have less of a footprint than the major casino companies.
As an example, in Louisiana DraftKings runs a sportsbook at the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles while Caesars owns and operates the biggest and only land-based casino in the state, the Harrah’s in New Orleans. Caesars also operates a second retail sportsbook in Bossier City with plans for a third in Lake Charles.
— AG Jeff Landry (@AGJeffLandry) June 29, 2022
Penn National Gaming, which operates sports betting digitally via its Barstool Sportsbook brand, has five properties in Louisiana and Boyd Gaming has four. The casino companies have more employees and have made bigger financial commitments in the state for much longer than DraftKings, which entered the Louisiana sports betting market in 2021. DraftKings has offered daily fantasy contests for some time, but its number of employees in the state is limited.
Louisiana, which went live with digital sports betting in January and retail wagering in October 2021, has two dozen casinos including Harrah’s New Orleans, which was a popular spot for fans during the NCAA’s Final Four in April. All told, there are more than 40,000 casino industry employees in the state, AGA data indicates. If the state of Louisiana places a ban on abortion, the average distance for a one-way trip to the nearest provider will increase 630 miles, according to a study from the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to improving reproductive rights.
If bans are enacted, casino employees in other Southern states will also have to travel hundreds of miles to seek abortion treatment. Of the five states nationally in which employees could need to travel nearly 250 miles or more to the nearest out-of-state provider, four are so-called red states in the South, as Guttmacher reported in the study citing the following average distances:
- 630 miles, Louisiana
- 567 miles, Florida
- 525 miles, Texas
- 428 miles, in Mississippi
- 247 miles, Utah
Less than a week since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, it still remains to be seen how many Americans will travel hundreds of miles to another state for abortion treatment. Dick’s Sporting Goods, which announced that it will compensate employees or their spouses up to $4,000 for abortion travel, has more than 750 retail stores across the country, according to data company ScrapeHero. The sporting goods store has 49 locations in Texas, with another 94 in Virginia, Florida, and Georgia combined.
A Virginia resident living near the nation’s capital does not need to travel far if abortion remains legal in Maryland and Washington, D.C. That is not the case for a worker in McAllen, Texas, who faces a drive of 803 miles to the Women’s Reproductive Clinic in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, the state’s closest abortion provider. The trek, according to Google Maps, would take on average 11 hours and 48 minutes.
Of the 34 U.S. states and jurisdictions that currently allow sports wagering, 15 of those also allow women to get abortions. Nineteen other states either have abortion bans or bans will be triggered in the coming months since Roe v. Wade was overturned. For a company that is considering support for women who need abortions — or in DraftKings’ case, other controversial procedures as well — where they are headquartered and where they have large pools of employees are critical inputs to consider.
Proud to work here 👏 👏 👏 https://t.co/1JfhgudAkV
— Adam Rosenberg (@HeyRosenberg) June 29, 2022
PointsBet, for example, has its U.S. headquarters in Denver, where abortion is legal. Barring party changes in the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, Colorado will not ban the procedure in the coming years. That is similar to DraftKings’ situation in Massachusetts and Nevada.
When asked if DraftKings has come up with a projection on how many employees may seek reimbursement for travel expenses related to out-of-state abortion services, a company spokesman declined to comment. DraftKings also declined to reveal whether it has set a range for the financial impact in covering enhanced health benefits.
Roe v Wade was struck down in the US supreme court last week, paving the way for individual states to ban abortion. @DraftKings immediately responded by implementing a policy to support their employees.https://t.co/rttmiaTvkg
— Pierre Lindh (@Pierreobv) June 27, 2022
Wide-reaching companies like Caesars, MGM Resorts, and Penn National Gaming face different considerations. The location of their headquarters may not be as important in making a commitment to supporting those who need abortions; rather, it will be where they have the most employees. Penn National is based in Pennsylvania, one of nine legal gaming states where the laws on abortion could change based on the political makeup of legislatures and gubernatorial seats. The company owns multiple properties there and in Ohio, Kansas. and other states.
Last year, Penn National employed 21,973 workers. By comparison, DraftKings had more than 3,400 employees across six nations, as of Dec. 31, 2021, the company disclosed in a 10-K annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. DraftKings’ global technology and product team consists of about 1,350 employees, while its headquarters in the Back Bay of Boston is home to more than 600 workers.
Eventually, DraftKings expects to house 1,000 employees at the company’s new 90,000-square-foot technology hub in Las Vegas. For now, it appears that a sizable portion of its workforce will be in states where abortion is legal. While DraftKings’ offer to employees is viewed as an admirable, people-first move, others in the industry employ far more people in states where bans could be forthcoming.
Among the nation’s 15 most populous states, there are six — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Arizona, and Tennessee– where abortion is either illegal or could become so, given upcoming election outcomes. Few gaming employees will likely be affected in Tennessee, where only digital wagering is legal. The same goes for Virginia, where retail sportsbooks will be allowed at up to five brick-and-mortar casinos, none of which has been built yet.
A reassessment of benefit and health coverage
Had the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade five years ago in the pre-PASPA era, few sportsbook employees would have been affected by abortion travel costs. That is because legal sports betting, with the rare exception of several spots in Delaware, did not exist outside of Nevada. When the casino industry dealt with mass layoffs two years ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, an industry source told Sports Handle that Nevada alone employed between 5,000 to 6,000 sportsbook workers.
Hours after the Supreme Court’s decision last week, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak criticized the ruling. Sisolak, a Democrat, is up for reelection.
“I’m disappointed to see this decision from the Supreme Court — it will rip away critical health care and the right to choose for millions and undoubtedly cause harm,” Sisolak said. “As long as I’m governor, Nevada will continue to fight for reproductive rights and expand access to health care.”
While most Nevada sportsbooks have reopened after the brief shutdown in 2020, sports betting is now legal in 30-plus U.S. states and jurisdictions. Numerous states have at least 10 brick-and-mortar sportsbooks, many in Southern footholds where restrictions on abortion are forthcoming.
As of 2019, U.S. commercial casinos supported more than 737,000 employees, the AGA reported from an Oxford Economics study. Although the AGA does not have a definitive count on the number of sportsbook workers nationwide, the industry has added thousands of jobs over the last four years based on the number of sportsbook managers, ticket writers, compliance specialists, integrity monitors, and in-game traders that have joined the workforce.
On Thursday, the AGA released a nine-page directive titled “2025: Strategic Plan: Leading Gaming Forward.” The AGA listed four guiding principles to buttress the new strategic initiatives, including a goal of “leading a rigorous and inclusive process to define positions on consequential industry issues.” The association has not taken a position yet on the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision as it relates to labor issues in the casino industry.
Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, took to Twitter immediately after the court decision to air his thoughts on the subject. He works hand in hand with Penn National (part-owner of Barstool Sports) to promote its Barstool Sportsbook but emphasized he does not speak for Penn National, which has not publicly shared its plans with regard to reimbursing employees for abortion travel.
“What if you are poor in that state and you can’t go to another state?” Portnoy asked reflexively, in a video that received 3.6 million hits.
With protests taking place across a deeply divided nation, Lorraine Rafferty a compliance official with expertise in the sports betting and iGaming industries, provided praise for how DraftKings is responding to the health care needs of its employees.
Rafferty is not an employee of DraftKings. Over the last two years, she has served as a manager of technical compliance at BetMGM.
— Jill R. Dorson contributed to this story