Panelists Examine What It Will Take to Achieve Inclusivity in the Sports Betting Industry

By Christopher Calnan

As the popularity of online betting continues to rise, the demand for greater diversity in fast-growing gaming companies is being backed by state lawmakers regulating the industry.

Sports betting accounts for the largest portion of the Internet-based gambling, or iGaming category, which also includes video games, virtual poker, bingo, and casino game betting[MC1] . Considering the gaming industry’s lackluster diversity history, the growth in iGaming is prompting greater calls for more inclusive practices.

Diversity in the gaming industry was the topic addressed by a group of esteemed panelists during a September 2021 webinar. Collectively, they suggested there is no easy answer, or “silver bullet,” regarding issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, in gaming businesses.

More specifically, panel participant Vanessa Spatafore, director of inclusion, equity and belonging for Boston-based DraftKings Inc. said managers can determine diversity levels by analyzing several positions and using different metrics[MC2]  to assess whether their workplaces provide the proper amount of diversity. But the equity component is based on how those workers are treated and how they fare in their organizations.

“So, if you think of each inflection point of the employee lifecycle, from attraction and recruitment all the way through alumni,” she said. “How long are people staying in their role? What does our promotion system look like? Is it equitable? That diversity data against the context of how people are experiencing the business is really where you start to see equity.”

Integrating DEI with everyday business practice can play a crucial role in successful diversity outcomes Instead of creating a separate DEI function within a business, DEI needs to be part of its culture, panel member Agatha Agbanobi, founder of Texas-based Optimal Leadership LLC, said.

“It should live in every aspect of everyone’s job within the company or organization. It should be a shared responsibility,” she said. “We can’t just say it and expect people to do it.”

Webinar moderator Amy Knapp, executive director of iDEA Growth, a Washington, D.C., -based trade association with 30 member companies in the online interactive entertainment industry, agreed.

“Sometimes we imagine that inclusion is something that is handed out by the people who are in management,” she said. “This is a different concept. It is not that I feel privileged to be in the space or thank you for letting me in the space and add my voice. But I feel like a full voting member of that space.”

Knapp said her trade association is advocating for legal online gaming in United States and gaming protections for consumers.

Businesses need to celebrate differences to make work more interesting in general. But they also need to avoid tokenism, said another panel member, Lindsay Slader, managing director of gaming for Vancouver-based GeoComply Solutions Inc.

“Skill and talent may be hard to find for among those who are not equitably positioned in an inclusive environment,” she said.

Pressure Emerging from States like Maryland

In April, Maryland lawmakers passed legislation that mandated DEI practices of companies seeking online sports betting licenses in that state.

The state’s General Assembly dictated that legislation be enacted so that it “maximizes the ability of minorities, women and minority and women-owned businesses to participate in the sports wagering industry.”

Within six months of obtaining a license, retail and mobile sportsbooks are required to promulgate reasonable and appropriate goals and procedures for boosting the number of minority business enterprises with whom the organizations contract for sports wagering-related services.

Authenticity Is a Key Ingredient

Authenticity is a key ingredient in any type of DEI program a company may implement, DraftKings’ Spatafore said.

“You don’t want to pander to audiences or try to apply what you think they that want based on your perspective that might have nothing to do with the audience you’re trying to reach especially those in marginalized communities,” she said

Also, DEI measures can’t be one-time deals. They need to considered part of a continuous improvement protocol followed by managers, Spatafore said.

“There really is no end game,” she said. “There’s no one metric that needs to be hit and maintained. This is people stuff and people evolve so the work will evolve.”

Ifrah’s Take

Ifrah Law attorneys believe other states will monitor how Maryland implements its diversity goals in sports licensing. It is likely other states may give substantial consideration to diversity in ownership and employment when analyzing new sports betting applications, particularly in those states with limited licenses.