Some women in the gaming industry are missing out on C-Suite and other executive positions due to a lack of confidence to apply, even though they’re eminently qualified, according to two trailblazing women in gaming.
That’s the lesson from Julie Cameron-Doe, who in April 2022 became chief financial officer of Wynn Resorts, and Debi Nutton, who in April was named as a board member at Everi Holdings. Before that, Dutton was a female executive on the Strip for three decades; in 2018, she received a Great Women of Gaming Lifetime Achievement Award by Global Gaming Women and started a consultancy and coaching business in 2020.
The 66-year-old Nutton started as a craps dealer at Palace Station in Las Vegas in 1979, when few women occupied that position. She saw opportunities passed up by women when she helped Resorts World Las Vegas open in June 2021. She said a man will apply for a job when he’s 65% qualified, but a woman won’t apply until she thinks she’s 100% qualified.
“We need to stretch ourselves a little more, get out there, and take a shot, because the truth is, people are ready and willing to hire women,” Nutton said during a panel discussion on trailblazing women at the Global Gaming Expo. “Stretch yourself, trust yourself, and know that you can do it. You don’t have to do it perfectly, because we can all learn as we go.”
Cameron-Doe, 54, started her career in gaming in finance at Aristocrat in Australia in 2013 after previously working for the Walt Disney Company and Orbitz Worldwide. She was eventually promoted to chief financial officer, then relocated to Las Vegas in 2018. When she was at Aristocrat, she worked with Craig Billings, who in November 2021 was CFO of Wynn and was appointed CEO after Matt Maddox unexpectedly stepped down.
“I kept in touch with Craig over that time and at a board meeting in November 2021, and one of the members said, ‘Wynn Resorts has a new CEO,’” Cameron-Doe recounted. “I never thought anything more and the very next day, Craig phoned me. I said ‘How do you have time to call me? You’re doing at least three jobs. This is insane.’ He said, ‘I’m calling you because I wanted to know when you’re coming to work for me.’ I nearly fell off my chair.”
Cameron-Doe said she thought Billings was just being nice, because he was a friend, or maybe the board told him he had to diversify. She said she imagined all the things she could possibly think of as to why — except that she was great for the job.
Most people in a CFO role come from a banking background and most of them are men, Cameron-Doe said.
“Before I had another chat with him, I figured it all out,” Cameron-Doe said. “I’m a public-company CFO and live in Las Vegas. I’m in gaming and have actually been to Macau. Why am I thinking the opposite, that he can’t possibly want me? Actually, I’m really qualified. Still, I kept it a secret until he announced it. It was one of those lessons where you really have to put yourself out there. I always think a man would, but I never expected that phone call.”
Nutton said she has told Cameron-Doe to be confident going forward and think about what’s possible. Maddox was Wynn CFO before he became CEO and Billings took the exact same route.
“I told Julie she’s next in line and her reaction was that same 66% (from the study thinking she’s not qualified),” Nutton said.
Cameron-Doe thinks about it a lot about how much more needs to be done to pave the way for younger leaders into senior roles, like happened with her.
“It’s a thorny issue I struggle with,” Cameron-Doe said. “When I was making my way up the ladder, I had a stay-at home husband. I had my baby when I was 39 and already reached that semi-senior level, but to make it up to the C-Suite, my husband had to stay at home. I could show up for early and late meetings and weekend conferences. I have some regrets; I’m not going to lie. But it enabled me to show up. That’s the case for everyone these days. I know lots of guys don’t see their families as much as they’d like, but that’s one of the deals you do when you become an exec. Now, I’m a single mom, but I have a ton of help.”
As for how the trailblazers can help inspire the next generation of women to apply for executive roles, Nutton said the industry is “already doing pretty well and better than it was.” But she added it’s important to talk about the work-life balance and not scare women away from those executive positions, even though it takes a commitment of time.
Nutton’s break into management came after joining the opening team of The Mirage in 1989 as a dice-pit manager, the only woman offered that role on the team. She went on to work for MGM/Mirage for 24 years, reaching the role of senior vice president of casino operations and marketing for MGM Grand and Bellagio. She left to join Wynn Resorts in 2013 as the executive vice president of casino operations.
Nutton said that she owned only three sets of clothes, for work, the gym, and pajamas; she had no time to go anywhere else. When it was time for dinner, it was out in the car, since she didn’t have time to cook.
“This business gave me a beautiful life and the ability to retire young,” Nutton said. “Gaming takes a lot of people without master’s degrees or PhDs and provides them a very good life. It’s a good business where women can thrive and do great things. It’s full of integrity. This is not some backroom dice game. It’s a beautiful industry.”
Being confident is important, both women agreed. The best advice Cameron-Doe ever received is not to look at things as half-full, but at all the things you can bring to a position.
“I had a boss years ago who said, ‘I see big things for you. I see you in the C-Suite.’ I thought that’s never going to be me. His advice always stayed with me. To stop being scared of being wrong and failing was a huge change for me. I believed I could do it, but only if I put myself forward.”
She made herself “step out and be vulnerable and say I’m going to play in this world,” Cameron-Doe said. “It was a hard route. Aristocrat was doing an external search and I was an internal candidate and the search went on for six months. Every day for those six months was like a job interview. I had to show up every day and felt like I was being tested. I grew so much in that period. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t taken that big leap that I could do it.”
It’s important for women to have courage, because they tend to doubt themselves, Nutton said.
“When we made decisions, people used to say to me, ‘Don’t change your mind and look like you don’t know what you’re doing.’ I said no. What it really looks like is we tried something, it didn’t work, and now we’re trying something else. It’s okay. You have to give up the idea that everything has to be perfect. Everything will never be perfect.”
Despite the concerns, gaming is in a good position when it comes to hiring female executives, Cameron-Doe said. She spends a lot of time with bankers and many times she’s the only woman in the room.
“I wonder about what they’re doing to address it. I haven’t seen much progress on that side of the fence,” she said. “I don’t see the same problem where I am at now. At Wynn, we have a mix of people in leadership roles. Two of the three executive officers are women. We’re visible and setting an example and that’s a big part of it. We don’t have the same systemic issues the banking and finance industry has.”
Women shouldn’t be intimidated, even if they’re new to gaming or just considering a career in the industry. Cameron-Doe said, “It’s easy to feel that unless you were born into the industry, you’re not going to fit.
“I got in and learned what to do and brought in some talent,” Cameron-Doe said. “The CFO at Aristocrat was someone I hired eight years ago. The current CEO I hired five years ago. These people knew nothing about gaming until they came to Aristocrat and they’re now running the show. Be open minded about the skills you need to bring to this industry and be more welcoming and help people learn the industry and be successful.”
Nutton earned a nursing degree, but knew she could make more money in gaming than in nursing. The moment she stepped into the crap pit, she knew she wanted to run a casino someday. She said it took courage to tell the men that she’d be a casino executive someday. “I knew what they were thinking: Shut up and deal.”
It’s important for women to hold each other up and when they rise to the top bring others with them, Nutton said. Sometimes, women think there’s room for only one and with one there already, there’s no more room.
“Women need to protect and be happy for each other,” Nutton said. “There is room for all of us everywhere, as long as we bring each other with us.”
Melissa Aarskaug, a senior executive at Gaming Laboratories International who moderated the panel, said Nutton and Cameron-Doe are “two trailblazing women who embody not only exceptional talent and relentless dedication, but also unwavering commitment to kindness and support for their fellow women along the way. These remarkable women have not only shattered ceilings, but have consistently extended their hands to lift all of us up. I hope these stories will inspire and uplift you, because they sure have me.”