Webinar focuses on accomplishments, needed improvements for Black women in gaming

March 23, 2024 1:06 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
March 23, 2024 1:06 PM

When Rose Hudson first was appointed CEO of the Louisiana Lottery Corporation 24 years ago, she was asked to speak at an event. When she arrived, the audience looked at her with surprise.

Story continues below

“I think I did not look like what they thought the CEO would look like,” said Hudson, who is Black, Friday during the American Gaming Association webinar Celebrating Women in Gaming.

“Where are the leaders who look like me?” Hudson said later. “I can’t be the only one like me who is the leader of a lottery corporation.”

Nearly a quarter of a century later, progress has been made regarding women of color in gaming. But the participants in Friday’s webinar still think there’s work to be done.

“We have a great story to tell,” said Wondr Nation President and CEO Anika Howard, who moderated the session.

Howard noted that research conducted by the AGA indicates that the gaming industry is more diverse than most other U.S. workforces.

“But what you see is the higher you get up the ladder, there’s a bit of a drop-off,” Howard said.  We have a strong pipeline of talent but once you get to the executive level. That’s the conversation we need to continue to focus on.” It would read better as one sentence: We have a strong pipeline of talent but once you get to the executive level, that’s the conversation we need to continue to focus on.”

The wide-ranging discussion emphasized the need for women to develop allies in the gaming industry. Fundi Sithebe, CEO of 4Racing, a Johannesburg, South Africa company that promotes horse racing, said that throughout her career – she also was the chief operating officer of Airports Company South Africa, and ran her own consulting service – men stepped up and championed her talents.

“It was always males that pushed me, that were there for me, that really opened up the doors,” Sithebe said. “You would think it would be the other way around. But be that as it may, I’m very grateful for them. And what I took from that was I also had to be that woman who deliberately advocates for other women. That was the lesson I learned.”

Hudson noted that she has a T-shirt that is about 25 years old that she still wears on occasion because of the message emblazoned on it.

“It’s a little bit threadbare, but (it reads) ‘each one, teach one,’” Hudson said. “That’s what are requirements for each other, to carry that message and uplift and look out for others.”

Howard noted that there are still areas of concern. She mentioned how in some jurisdictions, diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives have faced a backlash. This backlash gained momentum after gaming companies, in the wake of social justice protests during the covid-19 pandemic, started to reform workplaces and earmarked funds for racial justice initiatives.

“Four years later, those kind of commitments, and diversity, equity, and inclusion have started to come under fire,” Howard said.

Demi Adebowale, director of casino operations for the Borgata Hotel Casino Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey, said the backlash stems from the belief that “folks have moved on, we say these big words about what we’re going to do, we shout it out, and this has finished, and it’s moved on. And that’s just not the case. There’s social injustice still in almost all communities.”

From Adebowale’s perspective, however, the Borgata has been steadfast in its support.

“There are many webinars and folks in positions you can have a chat with,” Adebowale said. “There are conversations that are happening daily that employees are not only supportive of, but they’re active. So for me, that’s where I see who is doing it right. We are very transparent. And there’s always room for growth and improvement. And that’s never going to change as long as these things are an issue in our everyday lives.

“But the idea that we continue to move forward, the idea that we are continuing to say yeah, we messed up here but we’re going to continue forward, we’re going to continue to support you, I think for me that’s important.”