Hiring in a time of talent scarcity

| By Scott Longley
Recent figures from the US Labor Department shows that initial jobless claims of 166,000 for the first week of April was the second lowest tally in the 55 years that the department has been reporting figures. It means the betting and igaming sector in the US is fighting a war for talent, putting huge pressure on operators to find the right people at the right price to drive their businesses forward. By Scott Longley

As was evident late last year when iGB published the latest salary survey from Pentasia, it was clear that the North American market had an insatiable appetite for talent.

“Major financial investment translated into record-high recruitment demand in 2021, spiking particularly high on the US East Coast,” the report found.

The report went on to state that the search for talent was broadening out with operators and suppliers looking to recruit from the wider pool of digital and ecommerce sectors and not just the existing land-based talent pool.

The report said then that “demand may settle somewhat in 2022” but that identifying candidates “will remain a huge challenge”.

“That is definitely the case,” suggests Robert Gray who heads up Pentasia’s US-facing operations from his base in Las Vegas.

You don’t have to look too far to understand one of the key reasons for this. The pace of change in the US, the opening up of new markets and the sheer intensity of the competition within the online space, both for sports betting and for igaming, is unprecedented.

“It is simply down to more states beginning to regulate,” says Gray, who notes that while Pentasia has been working in the North American market for many years, the past 18 months have seen an explosion of recruitment activity.

“We have seen land-based operators moving into the space, new online operators, European and global incomers, the lot,” he says. “It really has been the perfect storm.”

It is the kind of pressure that puts the pressure on companies working in the space to attract the right candidates.

“The market is incredibly competitive and we are constantly evolving how we can best showcase what makes FanDuel standout,” says Tricia Alcamo, chief people officer, FanDuel Group.

She adds that candidates are in a “good position” to be selective right now, and not just about their compensation packages.

“Candidates are focused on the whole experience,” she says. “What’s important to one candidate may be different from what’s important to another. Candidates are more focused than ever on the full package, including the workplace experience and culture.”

Kelli Glynn is interim co-chief people officer with Sportradar in New York. She says that the company needs unique skill sets and that with a rolling roster of 20-plus open positions available, the pressure to find talent is more intense than the situation pre-pandemic.

In particular, she notes that the candidates they are speaking to are often fielding multiple offers and that this means that employers “have to be creative to differentiate themselves”.

“It’s not just about salary anymore,” she adds. “We’re able to use some of our unique benefits like equity, company-paid medical and dental insurance, paid time off and flexibility to stand out – and, of course, culture is key.”

Turning to outside the sector

A major factor at play with developments in the US online sector right now is that the fight for talent has extended far beyond the borders of the gaming world and into other areas of technology and digital businesses.
Indeed, Gray suggests that many operators and suppliers are now specifically seeking out candidates without any experience of the gaming sector, whether online or land-based. “People coming from ecommerce is a popular route,” he says. “Plus, with technology generally, there are obviously transferable skills.”

As Glynn from Sportradar says, “great talent can come from a variety of industries”. “There are a handful of key roles for which we do need betting and gaming expertise, but for the most part we tend to look at the core skills of the role and growth mindset when recruiting talent,” they add.

Alcamo agrees, suggesting FanDuel is attracting candidates from a “broad range of backgrounds” including from ecommerce and general leisure as well as land-based gaming.

“Yes, there are some adjacent spaces like the ones suggested, but new hires are also bringing relevant skills from other areas like the payments industry or from other consumer brands that have experienced a similar rate of significant growth,” she says.

The Pentasia salary survey confirmed the trend for seeking talent from outside the sector, pointing out that direct gaming industry experience can be hard to find. But Gray adds a coda, suggesting that the US sector can do more to retrain people with a background in the bricks and mortar industry.

“I think they can be doing more to upskill people from land-based,” he suggests. “I understand some of the motives; the sector is moving so fast they are under pressure to produce results immediately and don’t have time to train people up. So, they look to other areas of tech. But they run the risk of ignoring a sizeable potential talent pool.”

Work from home

If there is one aspect of the last couple of years that looks likely to have a life span far beyond that of the pandemic it is that of remote working.

As the Pentasia report said in 2021, the five-day week in the office has “vanished” to be replaced by working from home and hybrid options. The survey found that among tech vacancies, there has been a seven times increase in the number of remote posts. Notably, pay rates match or even exceed on-side hires.

Gray confirms the evidence from last year’s survey; virtually everyone in the gaming and betting sector is working a combination of remote and in-office days.

“That is a massive factor now,” says Gray. “The majority of conversations I have with candidates, their preference is to work from home or at the very least have the hybrid options.”

Alcamo says the whole landscape around flexibility has “changed dramatically coming out of the pandemic”. She adds that it has encouraged new thinking around workplace culture and to “put some of our creative innovation to the test as we redesign not just the gaming industry, but the way we define work-place success”.

“Where we are now, and with the experience of the pandemic under our belts, flexibility is currently at the top of the list of what we can offer candidates,” she says. “We’ve taken a position that a ‘one size fits all’ model isn’t the right approach.”

In practice, it means identifying roles where it can make sense to be remote and others where there are benefits from teams working together, with individuals given the opportunity to define the right mix of remote and in-office.

“Two years of working from home has been polarising in terms of how employees want to engage,” says Glynn from Sportradar. “We’re seeing both extremes – candidates who are desperate to be back in the office and those who want to remain 100% remote.”

It means that Sportradar has landed at the same position as FanDuel and presumably many others – accommodating flexibility in order to ensure they get the best people.

“Sportradar’s culture is rooted in sports and technology and we’ve seen that teamwork and innovation are enabled by being together so some in-person time is our preference,” she adds.

“Our three US offices – New York, Minneapolis, and Las Vegas – are all open again and we’ve made investments in them to ensure our employees get to enjoy great in-office perks on the days they come in.”

As the world progresses to a post-pandemic environment, things might change further when it comes to where people are working. But one thing seems unlikely to change, and that is the demand for more talent to feed an industry which is growing at pace.

“Talent could be the sector’s greatest challenge in the years to come,” concludes Gray. “Getting the right people in, at the right time, with the right skills to build your business has never been more crucial in the US.”

An operator’s view: Tricia Alcamo, chief people officer, FanDuel Group

Tricia Alcamo joined FanDuel only in April, taking on the role of chief people officer having previously been at Spectrum Enterprise and Amex. She took the time to answer some questions from iGB about the issues facing her in her new role.

iGB: How tricky do you find it competing with the biggest tech firms for tech talent? Do you find it hard recruiting from that space?
Tricia Alcamo: I think it’s all about differentiating the employee value proposition from that of the biggest tech firms. To many candidates, the stage of our growth is what excites them the most. We hear often that candidates find it appealing that we are a leader in a consumer-focused, high growth market. FanDuel is an exciting place to work, no doubt about it.

iGB: What percentage of new recruits comes from other online betting and gaming companies? Is this a particular battlefield?
TA: Hard to give a percentage, but for FanDuel hiring in the US, our ability to bring in talent with specific online betting and gaming experience benefits tremendously from our position as part of the broader group of companies under the Flutter Entertainment umbrella. In the broader Flutter group, we have a global population of subject matter experts and have facilitated a number of important internal transfers, bringing direct industry knowledge and experience.

iGB: Do you think the online betting sector benefits from being relatively high profile right now? Do you find there is a lot of enthusiasm from people to join the business right now?
TA: Absolutely. And to be a recognised brand and a market leader in that space is an attractive draw.

iGB: How hard does the patchwork of regulation in the US make your job right now?
TA: It adds complexity for sure and it means we look to our compliance and regulatory team as a critical area to bring in great talent. We are lucky to have some of the best and brightest from the legal and compliance fields as part of our team, leaders in the space who are passionate about taking on the challenges that come from this complexity. They understand that their work is critical to the success of the company and it is a fantastic opportunity for them to have a seat at the table as the regulatory environment helping to define the industry.

Subscribe to the iGaming newsletter