Along with being Problem Gambling Awareness Month, March is also Women’s History Month.
In the growing gambling industry, more opportunities are opening up for women in roles of leadership.
Linda Forte serves as the Michigan Gaming Control Board Chair and has been in the position since July of 2021.
Forte is graduate of Bowling Green with a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan. She served as the senior vice president of business affairs and chief diversity officer at Comerica until 2016.
Forte has been in positions of leadership for decades and knows the challenges women face working up the corporate ladder.
As the gaming industry continues to expand, we asked Forte how opportunities are opening up for women and how they can put themselves in position to succeed.
She also touched on the challenges facing Michigan two years into legalized online sports betting and online casinos.
Interview with Michigan Gaming Control Board Chair Linda Forte
How have you seen opportunities for women change in the gaming industry?
Forte: My formal introduction to the gaming industry and gaming regulation took place less than two years ago when I was named chair of the Michigan Gaming Control Board in July 2021. I spent my career in banking and watched the rise of many women, including myself, to leadership roles in the financial services industry.
I encourage women to find mentors — men and women who can guide professional growth — and use professional organizations for continuing education and opportunities to expand their networks.
In recent years, the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission have been or continue to be led by women: Sandra Douglass Morgan in Nevada, who has moved on to a leadership role with the National Football League’s Las Vegas Raiders, and Cathy Judd-Stein, who has led Massachusetts through the launch of sports betting.
FanDuel’s Amy Howe and Entain’s Jette Nygaard-Andersen are influential gaming executives, and they have encouraged women to join the gaming industry. FanDuel’s parent company, Flutter, has set a goal of 40% of leadership roles to be held by women by 2026. Entain has invested in Girls Who Code, which is dedicated to encouraging girls to get involved in technology, closing the gender gap.
What would you like to see improve for women in the gaming industry?
Forte: Self-improvement and networking can help open doors for women. By becoming active in professional organizations, women can take advantage of professional growth and development opportunities.
The industry’s major networking organization is Global Gaming Women, and African Americans in Gaming is as a professional support organization for African Americans in the gaming industry and welcomes operators, suppliers, legislators, board members and other industry professionals. Locally, women can join groups like inFORUM to develop their professional network and participate in leadership programs in person or virtually for early, mid- or senior career workers.
Employers also recognize the benefits of networking and learning opportunities. The State of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officers have developed many learning opportunities for employees, and MGCB’s own DEI officer and a team of employees work together to develop programs for agency employees.
During March, I joined board members Joni Thrower Davis and Deidre Lambert-Bounds for an agency-sponsored employee engagement program, Beyond The Board: Celebrating Women’s History Month.
The MGCB also offers employees a mentoring program, which encourages professional growth and development. Other regulators and gaming companies have similar programs for their employees.
The American Gaming Association established Global Gaming Women to create networking opportunities and nurture women leaders through professional development. GGW offers educational events, training and meet ups. While many of these programs are held in Las Vegas, I encourage women to attend them when possible or take advantage of any GGW resources, including mentoring opportunities, that can be done remotely.
What advice would you give to young women interested in pursuing a career in the gaming industry?
Forte: Young women should take advantage of internships or student assistant positions to get introduced to the industry and to people who make hiring decisions for full-time positions.
Over the years, the MGCB has hired many student assistants after they obtained a college degree and applied for a permanent, full-time position. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for an opportunity!
If you are interested in working in the industry, study it and then apply the knowledge to your job search.
Check internet job boards to see what kinds of positions are available or follow industry leaders on LinkedIn or other social media channels. For example, regulators are looking for technology workers and auditors right now as internet gaming and internet sports betting grow both in Michigan and nationally.
The industry also needs technology workers to meet the increasing demand for online gaming.
Over the last two years of online gambling in Michigan, what areas do you think have gone the smoothest in regard to regulation and implementation? What areas do you think were more challenging than anticipated?
Forte: I was not leading the Board when internet gaming and sports betting launched in January 2021. From all reports, launch went smoothly. Michigan added more operators and providers successfully after the initial 10 involved in the January 2021 launch, reaching the 15 licenses for each form of gaming authorized by law in April 2022.
VHL Michigan also was approved as the new platform provider for the Hannahville tribe after its former partner, TwinSpires, exited this aspect of the gaming business in 2022. Recently, multistate poker was launched with New Jersey, which was highly anticipated by players and the industry.
Michigan created a model for the U.S. gaming industry by establishing a way for the tribes to obtain licenses for statewide internet gaming and sports betting.
I don’t believe anyone anticipated the level of internet gaming and internet sports betting advertising as companies try to attract and retain customers. I’m sure many Michigan residents found the advertising blitz more than they wanted to see and hear.
The Michigan Legislature did not give the MGCB authority to regulate advertising when the gaming legislation was developed in 2019, but the Board and the agency are keeping an eye on the industry’s use of media.
For those with gambling addiction, the introduction of internet gaming poses an ongoing challenge. The MGCB has worked to promote responsible gaming, adding more staff and recently launching its public service campaign, Don’t Regret The Bet, to raise awareness and share information to help Michigan residents.
I also am encouraged to see the Michigan Legislature address the issue of educating young people about responsible gaming, and I hope the proposed legislation will be successful.
Linda Forte began her term as MGCB Chair on July 22, 2021 and her term expires on Dec. 31, 2024.