Q&A: Outgoing MGCB Communications Specialist Mary Kay Bean Reflects On Career

Written By Drew Ellis on May 11, 2023
Linda Forte

Mary Kay Bean has done it all in the communications industry.

Most recently, she has been the Communications Specialist and Public Information Officer for the Michigan Gaming Control Board since 2014.

Her time with the MGCB will be coming to a close as of June 1, as Bean will be retiring following a career that spans over 40 years.

Prior to her time with the MGCB, Bean spent time as a reporter for The Romeo Observer and taking on communications positions with companies like DTE Energy and JPMorgan Chase.

Bean’s run with the MGCB covers a time when the Michigan gambling industry took on groundbreaking changes, especially in the past five years.

We had a chance to chat with Bean prior to her retirement to discuss her communications career and the challenges of the ever-changing gaming industry.

Interview with Michigan Gaming Control Board’s Mary Kay Bean

Through your extensive career in media relations, what interested you about working with the MGCB?

Bean: The MGCB offered the challenge of learning new industries and the opportunity to work in the government sector. I worked for an investor-owned utility company, DTE Energy, and a major financial services company, JPMorgan Chase & Co. Gaming and horse racing are very different businesses, and it’s always fun to expand your knowledge and experiences. It was completely different, which I found intriguing.

How did your experience in media relations differ with the MGCB compared to other companies?

Bean: When I worked for the utility company, I handled many crisis situations such as storm-related outages. You learn how to respond quickly to protect and inform the public, and it was a fast-paced environment. I worked mostly with reporters within Southeastern Michigan, but I also spoke with reporters in Lansing or other parts of the state and sometimes at the major TV and radio networks. I was on call 24/7 for a week on a rotating basis, and I responded to after-hours media inquiries as they came in. There were a lot of taped and live radio interviews as well as print media for large network affiliates and small-town newspapers and radio stations.

When I worked in the financial services sector, mergers and acquisitions and the subsequent rebranding of the bank and the 2008 recession were among the highlights of my media relations experiences. I also covered a geographic region which included states outside of Michigan (Wisconsin, and later Ohio), which meant I developed relationships with reporters I hadn’t known previously. I also handled Chase Auto Finance and Chase Student Lending, working with trade, local and some national reporters from around the country.

The MGCB today typically receives most inquiries from trade media, but we also are contacted by local, state and national news outlets. The agency has become more active in media outreach in recent years as we added more forms of gaming.

Technology also has changed media relations. When I started, we mailed or faxed news releases and did a lot of onsite and taped interviews and news conferences. Today, we can use internet-based technology to communicate via email, social media and text messages, and we can do interviews and news conferences quickly on a computer connected to a service like Zoom. Telephone interviews are less frequent but still used.

How did your job change with the addition of online sports betting and online casinos?

Bean: My job became much busier with the addition of online sports betting and online casino gaming. There was great interest from trade, local, state and national media. Of course, there were new laws and rules to learn, and more news to share. The time leading up to launch was challenging because everyone was interested in Michigan’s approach. We launched successfully, and the level of interest has remained high because our state is among the few to allow internet casino gaming.

What was the greatest challenge about being in media relations in the gaming industry?

Bean: It’s a difficult industry for a reporter who doesn’t cover it regularly to understand fully. It can require much more effort to help reporters grasp its nuances.

What do you feel you learned most about in the gaming industry in your time with the MGCB? Did anything surprise you?

Bean: The gaming industry is among the most heavily regulated industries in Michigan. I had worked in regulated industries, and the nuclear industry and the gaming industry have some parallels in terms of licensing and oversight. Although, the nuclear industry is regulated at the federal level instead of the state level. I didn’t fully appreciate the level of regulation involved in gaming until I joined the agency.

I had read about horse racing, but I wasn’t familiar with the pari-mutuel wagering system and wagering on simulcast horse races.

What areas do you think gaming/casino companies could improve their communications/media relations?

Bean: I hope the industry will continue to keep the consumer/patron in mind. It is in everyone’s best interest to provide clear communications to customers. Particularly in internet gaming and sports betting. Responsible gaming options and patron dispute information are significant areas where clear, consistent communications is very important to patrons, and the information about both should be easy for patrons to find and understand on operator/provider websites.

Drew Ellis Avatar
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of PlayILottery.com. He was the former Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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