When the state of New Jersey legalized internet gambling in 2013, Tony Rodio knew it was an opportunity. Then CEO of the Tropicana in Atlantic City, Rodio had decades of experience and was a respected figure in the gaming industry.
But internet gambling was a puzzle he couldn’t solve.
“I didn’t know anything about digital, I didn’t know anything about online,” Rodio says. “I knew I couldn’t speak that language.”
Fortunately, Luisa Woods was able to help. Woods, who started her career in gaming in the mid-1990s in Canada, was working as Tropicana’s executive director of online and internet marketing when online gaming was legalized in the Garden State.
Quickly, Woods explained to Rodio what needed to be done.
“Luisa was able to simplify things for me and articulate exactly what we needed to do in terms of strategy in a way that made it really easy for me, who again, was a fish out of water when it came to digital gaming,” Rodio says. “She was just so impressive to be able to communicate to myself as well as the other senior management team members all of this that was brand new to the state.
“I just have nothing but the utmost respect for her.”
Woods is a thought leader in the online gaming space and an in-demand speaker at gaming industry conferences and expositions. Currently Delaware North’s vice president of marketing of gaming and entertainment, Woods has a quiet but commanding presence, a way of disseminating information without being overbearing.
“Most brilliant people are ego driven and lack the ability to understand things holistically and properly listen and mine information,” says Jonathan Karlin, who worked for Woods at the Tropicana and is now CEO of Neo Insurance Solutions. “Luisa was always listening and able to mine data from her employees and customers and effectuate performance based on listening.”
AN UNEXPECTED CAREER
The trajectory of Luisa Woods’ career was unexpected. After earning an undergraduate degree from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and an MBA from York University in Toronto, she worked for Sportspick, a Canadian company that designed and deployed networked gaming kiosks for sports pools based on in-game events.
Woods admits that “people don’t typically start their careers saying to themselves ‘I want to pursue a career in gaming.’”
But in graduate school, one of her areas of research was leveraging new media technologies for education and gamification. Almost immediately, Woods was intrigued by the industry’s possibilities.
“I love gaming because I love the relationships we can build with customers,” Woods says. “I love how we can leverage data to build consumer insights to engineer customer experiences, and gaming provides me the opportunity to do that in ways other industries do not.”
Since the mid-1990s, Woods has worked for gaming operators in Las Vegas, Canada, Malaysia, Brazil, and Argentina. She purposely sought global opportunities to develop her language skills and expand her experiences.
“I dreamed of getting out in the world and always said I didn’t want my physical presence to be a limiting factor in my career,” Woods says. “I wanted to be able to do my job from anywhere; that was by design. Ending up in gaming has been my great good fortune because it enabled me to live and work in other places.”
A DIFFERENT WAY
Those who know her says Woods has the ability to strategically solve problems large and small. Ellen Koch, who worked with Woods at Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas, remembers a meeting debating how poker players wanted to be addressed. Was it “Hi Peter” or “Hey Peter” or some other salutation?
Woods suggested simply testing various greetings and seeing what best resonated with the players.
“She is a passionate voice of the consumer,” says Koch, executive director of marketing product management, eCommerce, at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. “She comes to all decisions with a strategic balance of customer satisfaction and business goals and acumen.”
Koch adds that Woods is “a leader, a true mentor, an innovator, and an all-around nice person. She empowers her team, leads through example, and has a true finger on the pulse of the industry.”
Woods also has a charismatic presence that’s immediately noticeable. When Karlin interviewed with Woods for a marketing position at the Tropicana, “within 10 minutes of meeting, I begged her for a job,” he says.
Karlin was 26 years old when he started working with Woods. She taught him how to create deliverables, look at granular and enterprise-level data, and run a small business unit. He points to her work for the Tropicana when online gaming was legalized in New Jersey as an example of her ability to not only successfully navigate new technologies, but to intuit future possibilities.
“They say chess masters are great because they think many moves ahead, and Wayne Gretzky has a famous quote that he was such a successful hockey player because he didn’t think about where the hockey puck was but where it was going to be,” Karlin says. “Working with Luisa was an embodiment of that ethos. She perpetually thought about where things were going to be and how we could be ahead of the curve, whether through marketing initiatives, product, or rewards, or how we think about the space generally.”
While Woods is considered a visionary, she admits that the path that online gaming has taken has surprised her. For ten years, she told operators that they needed to prepare for mobile gaming.
“I was wrong for a decade until I was right,” she says. “Sometimes things move a lot slower than you expect them to. There are some things in this industry that seems so obvious to me that we still struggle with, and then there are other things about the industry that I’m amazed at how cavalierly we raced forward.”
Woods notably thinks that the impact of online and mobile gaming needs to be addressed and examined, and that tax revenue and compliance issues are crucial to the industry’s ongoing success.
“We have a lot of new entities jumping into this market without a history of building the compliance infrastructure, the responsible gaming infrastructure, the surveillance infrastructure,” she says. “Casinos are custom built to create a safe, secure, tightly monitored, tightly surveilled, tightly regulated gaming environment. We’re very quickly picking up elements of that, but I think sometimes we’re forced to scramble to keep up.”
Woods also thinks that many operators are going to market in the mobile and online gaming space, thinking they need to be the next DraftKings or FanDuel. That’s akin to a regional casino operator assuming MGM is its primary competitor.
“The temptation is to want to get into this industry and say there’s only one model that we can pursue, and it is trying to take on the titans head-on,” Woods says. “There are a lot of available models, there’s lots of opportunity… The land-based casino operator that says to themselves, ‘If I can’t be DraftKings, I can’t play,’ is doing themselves a disservice.
“The other thing people love to do in this industry is declare winners and losers out of the gate,” she adds. “It’s a marathon and what we’re going to see and what we’ve seen in Europe, that the market leaders 15 years ago and ten years ago and five years ago and two years ago they continue to shift. Yes, there are some giants, but it’s always shifting.”
After almost three decades, Woods is still intrigued by the gaming industry’s potential. She’s still heavily invested in gaming and thinks there’s much more to do.
The passion Woods has for the gaming industry still burns brightly.
“I sprang out of bed in the morning thrilled to be going to work,” Woods says. “If I were to get to a place where that were not true, it would be time to move on. The amount of time that we all spend in our lives focused on and thinking about and executing work, which admittedly, in my case, is probably more than it should be — if I weren’t enjoying it, that would be a terrible waste of life, wouldn’t it?”