September 14, 2021 Sports Betting, Interview

Casting A Wide Net

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As a leading industry advocate during her time at MGM Resorts International, and one of the principal voices at the American Gaming Association that led to PASPA being overturned, Sara Slane is understood to be “the face of legalized sports betting” and one of the most influential voices in gaming. For the last two years, and building on that success, she has cultivated the Slane Advisory, which services stakeholders from gaming, media and sports. Here, we learn about how Slane’s dedication to the continued pursuit of gaming growth in the US is always a work in progress.

Considering your time as VP of regional government affairs with MGM Resorts International, which led to licensure for MGM National Harbor and a $1.4 billion gaming resort on the Potomac River, how do you assess the role the pandemic has played in forcing law makers to explore or consider difficult regulatory options to help stimulate the economy and state budgets?

The pandemic has transformed technological adoptions that have been readily available for many industries, including gambling and sports betting. The moves that legislators and regulators have made to embrace more common-sense innovations, including mobile account registration and cashless payments, allow for the industry to remain competitive with other forms of entertainment, and as we’ve all seen, effectively stimulate local economies and deliver much-needed revenues to state coffers.

 

Are you encouraged with the momentum building, and the appetite increasing, for sports betting in the US?

The momentum that’s building and the increased appetite from a tremendous number of jurisdictions in the US is very encouraging for continued growth. It’s been most exciting to see the wide variety of non-gaming entities increased involvement and interest in sports betting, especially professional sports teams, leagues and media groups.

 

How do you think tribal gaming interests will advance with Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior?

Deb Haaland, as the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary will be someone who intimately understands tribal gaming interests. Further, as a single mother like me, Secretary Haaland understands the importance of hard work, which she will undoubtedly bring to her role for advancing the Interior’s priorities, vision and broad mission.

 

You’ve recently been honored as distinguished fellow of 2021 from UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation. What does this kind of recognition mean and how does it enable you to advance what the Center calls “the gaming ecosystem”?

It’s a tremendous honor to serve as a fellow for the UNLV’s International Center for Gaming Regulation. The work that the Center does is so important for focusing on and sharing best practices among global gaming regulators. Joe Bertolone is a great leader for spurring increased engagement among the public legislators and regulators and the industry, having spent  so many years in leadership roles in industry and cultivating those important collaborative relationships with the many others in the gaming ecosystem. I’m excited to help advance further dialogue and innovation in sports betting through the UNLV fellowship.

 

Can you tell us about a pivotal experience in your career you can draw a direct line from where you are today?

My experience at the American Gaming Association (AGA), advancing the legalization of sports betting before the federal ban was overturned was the most pivotal for the work that I do today and identifying the relatively niche capabilities that I provide.

It became clear that in order for sports betting to be successful, I had to expand my mindset from exclusively serving AGA members to understanding the needs and opportunities  for other, at times non-gaming, partners such as professional sports leagues, teams, media and broadcast companies, as well  as non-member global gaming operators and suppliers. 

Like so many aspects of all industries, these formative relationships continue to serve me today as I consult and advise on sports betting’s continued growth and expansion for all entities. My foundational gaming relationships with operators, suppliers and regulators continue to be integral as well, as does my foundational gaming experience.

Prior to my tenure at the AGA, I worked for MGM Resorts International (MGM), initially in Las Vegas then in Maryland, where I spearheaded the largest gaming ballot initiative in the country and ultimately won, which led to the MGM National Harbor licensure, and the resort outside Washington, DC. This was a major feat, and expanding the US sports betting industry is a similar approach albeit at a different scale.

Moreover, the gaming industry is incredibly complex. It still surprises me how few people outside of the gaming industry understand how complex it is. Educating new entrants on the legislative and regulatory processes as well as the business opportunities, particularly given how quickly everything is evolving with the rapid rollout of sports betting, is one of my primary functions.

 

Can you give us an example?

I worked with the Drone Racing League and the Premiere Lacrosse League to include betting on their contests. Initially, the leagues didn’t have a gambling policy, something that shows their commitment to ensure the integrity of their sport and to reinforce responsible gambling practices. Because the leagues didn’t live through some of the historical issues between their sport and gambling like Pete Rose and MLB, it took some sharing of and inquiry regarding potential scenarios to consider the regulatory implications, but in an easily understood way to make the complex simpler. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to present “what if” questions for consideration should the league embark upon betting. Whenever there were questions outside of my knowledge base, I’d rely on relationships with past and current regulators to serve as a sounding board for best practices and expectations of the league versus the operator, or other parties like the regulatory or another enforcement body.

 

And that continues to this day?

Absolutely. When it comes to leveraging my past experience from a legislative standpoint, both my time at MGM and the AGA help inform my advice to clients. Getting involved in legislative matters and government relations is intimidating to many, but through a thoughtful approach and again, the right relationships, it can actually be quite easy and instrumental for ensuring that an interest has a seat at the table when it comes to policymaking. For instance, many sports teams don’t immediately consider themselves worthy of a sports betting license, at least not in the same way as a land-based casino operator. However, when you look at the investments made by teams, the economic impact of a stadium or arena on providing jobs, spurring spending and generating tax revenues, it is significant. I help clients understand and quantify that value to harness the impact that they often don’t even realize they have to ensure a seat at the table when it comes to the discussion of sports betting. Just like you can’t have sports betting without betting, you can’t have sports betting without sports. Given I’ve been on the operator side, I understand the value and opportunity for partnerships and cooperation between these and other entities to ensure a new market is successful.

 

Apart from the professional world, what or who else gave you direction?

When it comes to the influences that have most shaped my ambition, I’d credit much to my parents. It was instilled in me from childhood that if someone says or thinks you can’t do something, you should do whatever you can to prove them wrong. That mentality fuels a lot of my ambition. As a woman in business, not just gaming, I find many women, particularly mothers are underestimated. As a single mom, I’m fueled by debunking that stereotype. I’d also encourage anyone who feels this way, regardless of sex, age, race, any other factor to prove the critics wrong. I’m heartened by the social conversations that are occurring today and hope that my kids experience more than the conversation, but truly the social change.

 

What was the impetus to establish the Slane Advisory?

It was also the environment and leadership during my early years at AGA that fueled my appetite to be an entrepreneur. In publicly held companies, which many of the gaming companies that I had worked with are, risk tolerance is low, and rightfully so. Pun intended, making a bad bet has big consequences. Taking a risk that doesn’t pan out can negatively impact stock prices, which is then echoed by mainstream, national media and increases pressure from shareholders. Pressure is quarterly. At AGA, adopting an entrepreneurial mindset was encouraged, taking risks was encouraged and it was okay to fail. It was viewed as a long-term learning opportunity when it happened. I became more resilient to failure, more ambitious to think creatively and try things I may have previously been apprehensive to try before. Starting my own advisory firm is following that ambition and embracing those principles of adventure and high tolerance for risk.

 

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