Oct. 22, 2021

Trio promotes UNLV Innovation Igniter initiative to attract more diverse gaming workforce

LAS VEGAS --- (April 1, 2021) --- Three of the most prominent women in gaming urged the worldwide industry to take concrete steps to rebuild the gaming and hospitality industry’s workforce diversity after the COVID pandemic displaced a disproportionate number of women and black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) from their jobs.


The three executives spoke at a March online forum, titled “Women in Innovation and Leadership,” that celebrated Women’s History Month. The panel was a collaboration between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) Innovation Igniter initiative and Entain, the leading global sports betting and entertainment operator.  UNLV’s Igniter Initiative, also a collaboration with Entain, is an academic, technology, innovation and mentoring initiative designed to provide UNLV undergraduates and graduates with a pathway toward successful careers in the sports betting, gaming, and technology industries. The panel discussion can be viewed in its entirety here.


The executive panel was moderated by Jan Jones Blackhurst, Chief Executive in Residence at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and head of the Igniter Initiative (part of UNLV’s Office of Economic Development), current board member and former executive vice president at Caesars Entertainment, and former mayor of Las Vegas (1991-99), the first woman to hold that office; Sandra Douglass Morgan, former executive director and chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, and the first woman of color to lead the agency; and Virginia McDowell, member of the board of Entain, former CEO of Isle of Capri Casinos and founder of Global Gaming Women, an advocacy group for women in the gaming industry.


Reflecting on how the pandemic “disrupted our way of doing business,” McDowell observed, “We’ve lost a generation of women in the workforce, especially women of color.”  And, Blackhurst noted, many of those women face “overload” responsibilities, managing their families and extended families’ health and households and their children’s education, all while trying to return to work.


“If someone (in the gaming companies) had reached out, we might have been able to save some of the workforce” that was also required to perform full-time duties as partner, teacher and household manager. “If they (employers) had taken care of the family,” Blackhurst said, “we might not have lost as many” from the workforce.


McDowell noted the pandemic “disrupted the status quo,” and “caused us to look at everything” in a different way, even “how we build companies.”  At the same time, she said, “This is an opportunity to reset for the first time. The gaming industry has an opportunity -- an obligation -- to step up and regain what we’ve lost,” McDowell urged, starting with re-evaluation of basic activities like recruiting and job descriptions, to ensure against inherent bias. “Our world has changed,” she concluded.


Citing Entain as an example of workplace diversity, McDowell pointed to Entain’s new CEO, Jette Nygaard-Andersen, one of only six female CEO’s in the FTSE index of major companies.  The Entain Board also includes four women, compared to three years ago when there were only two. Women comprise nearly 50 percent of Entain’s global workforce, although not as much in managerial ranks.  “Our workforce needs to reflect the diversity of our customer base,” she said.


One effective way to ensure increased workplace diversity, Morgan said, is for the gaming industry to accelerate its outreach to the community and especially to communities of color.  “I’m hopeful and very optimistic that there will be change,” she said.  “When you have families succeed, you help everyone.”  She continued, “People sometimes think when you help one demographic, another one is losing something.”  Countering that misgiving, “When we help women, we help everyone.”


Morgan also observed, “The younger generation wants employers to reflect their values, where diversity is as important as the bottom line.”  The gaming industry is “trying to attract a younger demographic” that places high value on sports as well as corporate social responsibility.  “As Nevada reopens, the industry has an opportunity to rebuild its workforce consistent with the values of a younger generation.” 


Looking back on when they were part of a younger generation, all three executives credited their parents and mentors for encouraging them to achieve their career ambitions.  Their immediate families inspired confidence and stressed relationship-building as well as hard work, education and professional skills as keys to career success.


Looking ahead, Blackhurst expects the igniter initiative will help participants “to see their full potential and to advocate for that potential.”  She also expects business “to come to the reality that more representative management teams are higher-performing management teams.”  Companies should “use your highest and best talent, use it wisely and don’t squander it.”




About UNLV

UNLV is a doctoral-degree-granting institution of more than 31,000 students and 3,900 faculty and staff that has earned the nation’s highest recognition for both research and community engagement from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. UNLV offers a broad range of respected academic programs and is committed to recruiting and retaining top students and faculty, educating the region's diverse population and workforce, driving economic activity, and creating an academic health center for Southern Nevada. Learn more at unlv.edu


About Entain

Entain plc (LSE: ENT) (formerly GVC Holdings plc) is a FTSE 100 company and is one of the world’s largest sports-betting and gaming groups, operating both online and in the retail sector in more than 20 countries, across five continents. Learn more at www.entaingroup.com. Entain also operates The Entain Foundation US, a first-of-its-kind non-profit organization, dedicated to promoting responsible gambling, sports integrity and corporate compliance in the U.S. The Entain Foundation US sponsors a variety of information and education programs.  Globally, the Entain Foundation has committed more than $100 million to responsible gambling programs over the next five years.


Nicole Schultz (UNLV)




David Klucsik (for Entain)

Princeton Strategic Communications