Jan Jones Blackhurst has often wondered why more women are not gaming equipment designers – particularly slot machines.
“They’re 80% of all slot players,” said Blackhurst, a longtime communications and public affairs executive and current board member with Caesars Entertainment.
A new program that Blackhurst is helping launch may change that model.
The Women’s Igniter Program, a partnership between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Entain PLC, a global sports betting and gaming operator, will offer undergraduate and graduate women an opportunity to learn about sports betting, gaming, and technology.
“This shows the gaming industry coming together realizing that there’s a lack of young women in these fields and putting their resources and talents behind them to remedy that,” Blackhurst said.
Blackhurst who is the chief executive in residence at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute will lead the Women’s Igniter Program with Robert Rippee, Ph.D., executive director of the Innovation Hub at UNLV.
The gaming industry has traditionally been slow to promote women in leadership roles. But in the last few years, more women have been appointed to executive positions, including Melonie Johnson, president of the Borgata in Atlantic City, and Jacqueline Grace, senior vice president, and general manager of the Tropicana in Atlantic City.
There is also Jette Nygard-Andersen, who was named CEO of Entain in January.
“We are honored to be a part of such an inspiring and pioneering program with UNLV,” Nygaard-Andersen said in a statement. “Women can face many obstacles in getting traction in careers that are often or traditionally male-dominated. This program will encourage women to aspire for careers they previously may not have considered, and it provides the hands-on experience they need to make the sports betting, gaming, and technology industries more inclusive.”
Entain is the 50-50 joint venture partner with MGM Resorts International in Roar Digit, the New Jersey company that operates the BetMGM sports betting app. Entain operates several European online gaming brands, including bwin, PartyPoker, Ladbrokes, Coral, and FoxyBingo.
Blackhurst said that one of her first missions will be to let students know that there are opportunities for women by highlighting those now in the industry.
“You expose these women to students, and they see themselves.” Blackhurst says “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Blackhurst was the first woman mayor of Las Vegas, serving two terms leading the city before joining Caesars where she and her teams developed the industry’s first responsible gaming practice, advanced environmental stewardship, and advocated for important social issues.
Blackhurst is not certain the entirety of the curriculum that will be offered but said one of the features will be to encourage the students to be innovative. Instead of telling them what to design or make, they’ll be encouraged to come up with original ideas.
“Think of these young women designing a sports betting game that has a broader appeal for a female audience,” Blackhurst says. “It grows the market for all of us.”
The program is scheduled to start in August with approximately 20 students.
It will be based at the Harry S. Reid Research and Technology Park in Las Vegas, which features a state-of-the-art laboratory with an eSports arena and a virtual reality studio.
Rege Behe is lead contributor to CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Please follow @RegeBehe_exPTR on Twitter.