iGB Most Influential Women: last year’s list

| By Joanne Christie
With nominations for iGB’s Most Influential Women 2021 now open, iGB catches up with some of those who made last year’s list to find out what they’ve been up to since, as well as get their views on who deserves to feature this year.
iGB Most Influential Women 2021

At the time of launching this year’s survey, we published an article listing some of the industry’s high-fliers of the past year to get people thinking about who they might like to nominate.

This week we caught up with some of the women who made last year’s list to find out what they’ve been up to since, and also get their tips on who they think should feature on this year’s list.

The most substantial changes to the careers of last year’s Most Influential Women were related to M&A and corporate restructuring within the industry.

The buyout of NetEnt by Evolution saw Lara Falzon leave her role as operational CFO of NetEnt and CFO of Red Tiger, however she was quickly snapped up Bragg Gaming Group, which announced Falzon had been appointed to its board of directors in February.

In Australia, the splitting up of Tabcorp’s business into media and wagering and lotteries and keno has seen Sue van der Merwe named CEO designate of the latter, with the demerger due to be completed by June 2022.

The other significant change in last year’s field relates to Susan Hensel. After more than 15 years at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Hensel left the regulator in May to set up her own gaming advisory service, Hensel Grad PC, alongside former colleague Joseph Grad.

According to Hensel: “My partner and I are focused on assisting companies in navigating US regulatory schemes, with a focus on international companies that are not yet in the US, as well as start-ups and those offering emerging products.”

New horizons

One of the first companies to benefit from the firm’s expertise is Colossus Bets, with the deal having come about thanks to Colossus Bets’ Eva Karagianni-Goel being included on last year’s list alongside Hensel.

“This is one introduction we entirely owe to our mutual inclusion on the list,” says Karagianni-Goel.

“With the US market increasingly opening up for business for sports betting products like ours, my biggest focus/challenge at the moment is to take the Colossus proposition across the Atlantic with everything that entails, especially licensing and strategic partnerships.”

Forging partnerships is an area that has also been front and centre of mind for Slane Advisory founder Sara Slane over the past year.

“I’m proud of having achieved successful partnerships for my clients and sports betting operators in a variety of jurisdictions where sports betting has begun.

“The growth of sports betting in the US, which may not have been as accelerated without the pandemic, has presented tremendous opportunities.”

Lotteries is another area that has seen accelerated growth during the pandemic, according to van der Merwe. “In the first half of FY21 we saw a 39% increase in revenue from instant scratch-its tickets, our instant lottery game that is only available in retail outlets. In fact, maintaining the supply of instant scratch-its was one of the biggest product challenges we faced during this time.

“In response to this, we worked even more closely with our international ticket printers to secure production capacity and invested in air freight to expedite delivery when required.”

However, she says the biggest challenge posed by the pandemic was on the company’s “ways of working and the wellbeing of our people”, a view echoed by Kindred’s Maris Catania.

Forging a path

While still in the same role as head of responsible gaming and research, Catania’s remit has expanded to include more projects with experts by experience, research projects and work to minimise gambling harm on a social level.

“Kindred starting to publish the revenue coming from harm has been quite a great accomplishment,” she says. “We have started more collaborations with universities such as sponsoring more PhDs on the topic and also a research fund to help students in doing research.”

She adds that her inclusion in last year’s Most Influential Women has led to more connections with others in the field. “From a professional level, it did create some conversations and people reaching out to do more collaborations on the topic.”

Similarly, Hensel says: “I was amazed by how many people called to congratulate me. I also have had the opportunity to meet several of the women on the list and that has definitely enhanced my network of top quality gaming professionals.”

Van der Merwe adds: “I was honoured to be recognised, and it was a great reminder of how fortunate we are to have this connected and supportive global industry in gaming.”

For Cristina Romero at Loyra Abogados, her inclusion on the list “was an honour and it helped us raise our profile”.    

Hot tips

Given three of the women on last year’s list had been tipped as strong candidates by the previous year’s Most Influential Women, we again asked last year’s winners who they thought deserved to make the cut this year.

Van der Merwe says Rebecca Hargrove, president of the World Lottery Association and president and CEO of Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation, is a worthy contender.

“Rebecca is the first ever female WLA president and is also founding chair of the Woman’s Initiative in Lottery Leadership, a programme designed to support the advancement of women into top positions of lottery management, leadership and responsibility.

“I have great respect for Rebecca’s immense experience and strong leadership in the lottery industry and am proud to regard her as both a friend and colleague.”

Slane champions her former American Gaming Association colleague Elizabeth Cronan, who last year moved to GeoGuard, where she is now VP of government relations. “In the last year, under the mentorship of GeoComply chair and co-founder Anna Sainsbury, she has advanced responsible gaming efforts as a trustee of Conscious Gaming,” says Slane.

“The growth in mobile sports betting and online gaming wouldn’t be possible without the consumer protections that Elizabeth and the GeoComply, Conscious Gaming teams and partners provide.”

Hensel puts forward Jennifer Roberts, general counsel at WynnBet, while Romera nominates fellow partner at Loyra Patricia Lalanda.

Catania is also keen to see her colleagues recognised, nominating responsible gaming managers Daria Magdoiu and Esther Scheepers, as well as group deputy general counsel Liv Biesemans.

Karagianni-Goel says she’d like to see someone from the academic sphere on this year’s list. “I think it is important/timely for a couple of reasons. On the one hand, given the regulatory backlash we are facing in the UK, there has never been a better time to turn to impartial research to separate fact from myth and inform sound policies; and on the other hand, we have in the US the making of the biggest regulated gaming market and an opportunity to ‘design’ laws and policies that strike the right balances from the start.”

She therefore nominates Brett Abarbanel, director of research at the International Gaming Institute at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, saying: “She’s often present at industry events sharing insights on a range of gaming topics and, on a more personal note, she was very supportive/helpful to me when I reached out for help to identify relevant literature for my own industry education.”

Nominate someone for iGB’s Most Influential Women 2021 here.

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