Hannah Morelos, director gaming at The Star Casino in Gold Coast, Australia, was the recipient of the 2019 Women in Gaming and Hospitality Australasia EDP Gender Diversity Scholarship. In this interview, Morelos discusses her love of working in casino gaming, the importance of gender diversity, and how the UNLV/UNR Executive Development Program and scholarships like this can help propel the industry forward.
Please describe your background and how you got to where you are today.
I started off working at Treasury Casino as a bartender in 2004 while I attended university. As I progressed through my business degree, I realized I wanted to continue working in casinos after graduation. It was never a career path I considered growing up because careers in gaming aren’t something you learn about in school. But I’m grateful I had real-world experience in the industry, otherwise I might not be where I am today.
You mentioned that you knew you really wanted to work in a casino. Why do you think that is?
I loved the energy of being in a casino, the fact that you would go home after your shift and you would come back after 12 hours and you had 12 hours of stuff to catch up on. The casino doesn’t stop when you aren’t there, and for me, that was really exciting. You had to be prepared to adapt and keep pace and consider things that you might not have thought about. There is no other industry quite like it.
How did you find out about EDP and the Women in Gaming Australasia scholarship?
I actually found out about EDP when I was working at Treasury Casino, so it was nearly a decade ago. I remember overhearing our general manager talking to someone about the program. From then on, I knew that one day I would be an attendee; it was just a matter of when.
I started actively looking into the application process in 2018, when I felt I was at a point in my career that I could benefit the most from the program. The timing of the 2018 EDP unfortunately didn’t work out for me, but in 2019, after I had officially applied for EDP, I got Women in Gaming and Hospitality Australasia’s newsletter that had a link to apply for the scholarship. I was convinced I wasn’t going to get it, but I thought “why not?” and applied anyway. I applied to EDP before I even knew I got the scholarship because I knew I was going to go no matter what.
Did EDP meet your expectations?
It exceeded them. It's been phenomenal. The great thing is for me there's no safe spaces: I’m not familiar with the location, I’m not familiar with anybody else in the room, I’m not familiar with the assignments we have to do, there is nowhere for me to get away from being uncomfortable. That is so, so good for you.
Does one session in particular stand out to you?
I think the session that will reshape the way that I think about the gaming industry and my career is the sex trafficking panel from Maria-Christina Annaloro [director of government relations & social sciences, Sands Corporation], Amy Ayoub [President, The Zen Speaker], and Becky Harris [former chairwoman, Nevada Gaming Control Board; current distinguished fellow in gaming and leadership, UNLV International Gaming Institute]. After their session, after all my anger and emotion had settled, all that was left for me was the motivation to do something and be part of the solution.
Why is diversity important to you, especially in the gaming and hospitality industry?
I think diversity across all industries is important, but I think it’s particularly important in a people-focused industry like gaming and hospitality. Your organization and the way you conduct business has to be a reflection of the community that you’re in. It just makes good business sense.
But for me, it’s also about providing opportunities. At my company, The Star, we have a diversity program that encompasses four types of diversity: gender, LGBTQI, age, and multiculturalism. It’s a step in the right direction, but I think the one we are missing is representation for differently-abled people.
In my own career, I’ve unfortunately faced my own set of challenges just by being a woman in a primarily male-dominated industry. For me, it’s been a lot of little things—small attacks and microaggressions that eat at you over time. They might not be enough to make you angry in the moment—but if it happens enough it starts to make you question whether you are good enough, whether you are capable, whether you do have the credibility.
How can EDP improve the ways we incorporate diversity into our program?
I think my EDP team of eight is a fifty-fifty split between male and female attendees from different countries, cities, and cultures. And I think our little group of eight is quite reflective of EDP’s diversity as a whole.
The only thing I would like to see is more female leadership represented in the speakers from STEM and STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math] or other non-humanities fields. It’s a difficult request because you want the EDP speakers to be the absolute experts in their fields.
It’s just an observation that the speakers and presenters we had in the humanities fields tended to be female, and the presenters in STEAM were typically male. It's just something to be aware of in the gaming community. I mean, even amongst the attendees in the room with us now, there are some really strong females with analytical brains. I would love to see them speaking on those issues in a few years time when they reach the top.
This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.