March 12, 2021 Sports Betting, Interview



Tina Hodges, CEO of Tennessee startup Action 24/7, discusses with Ezra Amacher what it takes to outslug the biggest operators in sports betting.

When Tennessee launched online sports betting last November, DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM were joined by a home-grown startup sportsbook named Action 24/7. The brainchild of veteran fintech exec Tina Hodges, Action 24/7 is out to prove that regional sportsbooks can compete with the biggest operators in the game.

Hodges recently chatted with Gaming America about her journey into the sports betting space, where she shared what makes the Tennessee market ripe for growth, her frustration with sportsbook customer service and why she feels lonely operating out of her home state.

What is the brief origin story of how Action 24/7 came to exist?

I knew immediately when sports gambling was to become legal in Tennessee that I wanted to launch a local sportsbook. I grew up in financial services, or the more cool name fintech as it’s known these days, and after my nursing career, I knew my skill set as an executive and an operator would be a good match for an online sportsbook.

What motivated you to step into the sports betting space?

I've been working in fintech for 20 years, and multi-state online for the past five years. I know I am uniquely positioned as one of few Tennesseans that could succeed in this exciting venture.

Had you been following the expansion of sports betting before it became clear that Tennessee would join the fray?

Yes, of course, I was following the PASPA case closely.

As someone native to Tennessee, what advantages does that provide you compared to operators who are from out of state?

We've found that players respond very positively when they find out that there is a local sportsbook that is licensed and legal. I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "Why would I bet with someone else when you're from Tennessee." We've had the opportunity to get out and meet players all across the state. We offer events that other sportsbooks don't simply because we know what's happening in Tennessee.

Tennessee is the only state with an entirely online and mobile sports betting environment. From an operator’s perspective, what are the benefits of being exclusively online?

I don't know if there are advantages or not to being online only. I've only experienced the online model. I've run a retail business for 20 years at a peak of 1,400 employees, so I can imagine it would be similar runninga retail sportsbook.

How does your experience as CEO of Advance Financial influence and impact your role at Action 24/7?

I've been the CEO and CXO of Advance Financial since 2013. It's the CXO, or chief experience officer, skills that are really coming into play at Action 24/7. I was surprised to see how poor the service is in the sports gambling industry. Our players are delighted that we answer the phone and solve issues on the first call. I think we were all surprised to see this news coming out of NJ about sportsbooks delaying withdrawals and even incentivizing players to cancel withdrawals. We are the only sportsbook in Tennessee to offer same day pay, cash deposits and cash withdrawals. The service sports gamblers get in Las Vegas is top notch, but I haven't found that it’s the same for online sports gamblers. We are certainly changing the customer experience here in Tennessee.

What was the turnout like for the Super Bowl? How do you expect it to compare to March Madness?

The Super Bowl was definitely a big day for all of us. We are still so new and we’re registering new customers every day. I wouldn't be surprised if we don't have some days in March that are larger than the Super Bowl, though. Our book is just growing so much larger. It would make sense for us.

Is there still untapped potential in the Tennessee market for customer acquisition?

I believe there is definitely more potential in Tennessee. There are lots of players still working with unlicensed sportsbooks. They've heard the stories of the licensed sportsbooks holding money and not paying out games for several days. When we tell them about our same day pay and cash deposits and withdrawals, we win them over. We've got a long way to go to bring all of those bettors out of the shadows and into the regulated market, but we're doing it.

Does Action 24/7 have plans to expand to other markets, particularly as other Southern states consider legalizing online sports betting?

Life moves so quickly. I want to provide the best possible experience to players in my home state before I go to another. But it's not out of the question; just not right now.

As a female president of a sports betting company, what improvements have you seen in the industry regarding gender equality? What if any areas does the industry need to improve on when it comes to promoting women employees and entrepreneurs? 

To be honest, I'm a little isolated here in Tennessee. I'm the only sportsbook executive and operator here. Because of COVID, I've not been able to attend any national conferences and meet other women in gaming. I'm looking forward to that in the coming years. Generally speaking, and considering how to build successful work teams, men and women think differently. We analyze and respond to challenges in different ways. All companies benefit from diversity on teams of all levels.