20 questions during quarantine with Sara Slane: ‘Face of legalized sports betting’ assesses state of the industry

Sara Slane (photo courtesy Sara Slane and SportsBusiness Journal)
Sara Slane (photo courtesy Sara Slane and SportsBusiness Journal)
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Without the efforts of Sara Slane, the sports betting industry may not be in the place it is today. As senior vice president of public affairs for the American Gaming Association, Slane was at the forefront of the push for legalization, which came to fruition just over two years ago, on May 14, 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA. Slane, in fact, earned the moniker the “face of legalized sports betting”.

Slane has since moved on from the AGA to form Slane Advisory, consulting with leagues, teams and media companies to maximize opportunities presented in the legal sports betting environment.

From her home in Baltimore, Sara spoke with me Thursday for the latest installment of our quarantine Q&A series. Beyond giving us a peek inside her life during these strange times, she enlightens us on what leagues are eyeing next, whether operators should be marketing toward untapped demographics and how well the sports betting ecosystem has performed over these past two years.

BetIndiana News: What are you working on? I saw news on the Premier Lacrosse League and Genius Sports. What else has been on your docket?
Slane: Super excited about the Premier Lacrosse League and their foray into sports betting and helping them get up and running and talking to operators about what a partnership could look like. That’s been a lot of fun. Across the board, everyone right now has been able to sort of hit the pause button, take a deep breath and stress what their technology looks like and how they can innovate.

BetIndiana News: The NHL (another client of Slane’s) announced the format to complete the season. Have you been engaged in those talks?
Slane: Yeah. They have been very forward-leaning when it comes to sports betting. They were (one of) the first league(s) to do a partnership deal with an operator, very much viewed this as an opportunity for fan engagement. They get it, they’ve been on board for quite some time. I think now every league is looking toward the in-play piece, how can they take advantage of that, build the technology and support the operators when they’re thinking about in-play proposition betting. That is something the NHL has been looking at with their puck and player tracking. While it won’t be up and running for this season, I think that by next year, next season it will be.

BetIndiana News: What have you been doing during quarantine when you’re not working?
Slane: (Laughs) Eating. A lot. Yeah, unfortunately eating. But I did get a Peloton, so at least I’m eating and working out a lot. Just trying to keep myself busy. I bought a boat, so that’s been fun. Someone said this, and I think it’s so true, I want to come out of this better than I was before. Just trying to reflect and appreciate what we have right now and make the most of it.

BetIndiana News: Is your boat on a lake or a river?
Slane: I’m in Baltimore, and I am extremely fortunate that I live next to the Chesapeake. It is on the Magothy River, a little river that feeds out into the Chesapeake Bay. We had one weekend with it. We had okay weather, but excited for the summer.

BetIndiana News: Very cool. What’s the most fun thing you’ve done during quarantine? Maybe it’s that boat.
Slane: It’s the boat (laughs), hands down. It’s the boat, and it’s the tubing that happened with my kids and the exhaustion as a result of that. I found some pretty cool new bike trails, so that’s been fun too. But yeah, the boat has been a real winner through this whole thing.

BetIndiana News: I was going to ask you about the best habit you picked up during quarantine and the worst habit, but maybe you’ve already answered that with the eating and the Peloton.
Slane: (Laughs). Baking has probably been my worst habit. Although that’s been fun. My sons are into reality TV cooking shows, oddly enough, and they love the Spring Baking Championship (on Food Network). So we are recreating a lot of the things that we see on TV, including these extremely decadent cakes that are to feed three people, which is ridiculous. That’s been probably not such a great habit. I would say the good habit is I have definitely explored a lot more of my neighborhood with the daily walks that I’m getting. Hopefully that will offset all the calories that I’m consuming.

BetIndiana News: Have you watched anything on TV that you might recommend? I’ve been doing these Q&As for a couple of months now, and everybody says ‘Ozark’, ‘Tiger King’, ‘The Last Dance’. Anything different that maybe not as many are as aware of?
Slane: I was not a fan of Tiger King. I think I made it through 10 minutes of it. I just could not bring myself to watch it. … I’ve been watching ‘Insecure’ (on HBO). It’s a cool millennial show about some singles in L.A. Love it, love it. They’re out and about, so it’s good to have at least some visual socialization of what that used to be.

BetIndiana News: What’s on your podcast playlist?
Slane: Oh, that’s a good one. The New York Times’ ‘Daily’, which can be somewhat disturbing. Sometimes I don’t want to listen to that one (laughs), but it’s enlightening with everything going on. The other one is the Modern Health show. Again, I’ve been trying to stay healthy in quarantine. That been a new one that’s been added to the rotation especially on my daily walks.

BetIndiana News: Have you read any good books?
Slane: I just finished a Brene’ Brown book, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’. That was revealing I guess, a lot of self-reflection – you can tell what’s happening in my life right now (laughs). There’s no better time than now to do that. I read the Disney/Iger book (‘The Ride of a Lifetime’). Bob Iger retired, and now he’s kind of been called back to help out during this time. But (it’s) a really interesting story about his ascension in Disney and all the paths he went down. It translates well. Disney has always been a model that Las Vegas and the casino industry has tried to emulate, minus the gambling part of it.

BetIndiana News: That’s interesting, Disney’s influence on the casino industry.
Slane: Yeah, at least when I was at MGM, we did have some executives that were hired from Disney. Obviously, Vegas is an adult entertainment destination, Disney being child friendly, but the model is still somewhat the same. There is a lot about operations and the way they view things that are very similar to running a multifaceted casino resort. (There are) fascinating parallels in both industries.

BetIndiana News: Do you bet on sports yourself?
Slane: I don’t (often). That’s not to say I don’t have fun when I do, it’s just not something that I do on the regular. I kind of view myself as a Guinea pig for the industry – I think the industry’s done an amazing job so far to take advantage of the opportunity – but we’ve only touched the low hanging fruit, and the challenge is going to be turning more to that casual bettor or women, like me. Betting is dominated, obviously, by men. So that’s not to say I wouldn’t (bet) more regularly. It’s fun and engaging. I’m also in a state right now that it’s not legal, but it will be on the ballot this November, so I do look forward to being able to do that. Although DC now is up and running. So anytime I’ll be in the District, I will take advantage of it when I can.

BetIndiana News: Do you think operators would serve themselves well by targeting women? It is such a small part of the market, but is there a lot of potential there? Or are operators better off focusing on who have traditionally been their core demographic?
Slane: Of course they should focus on where the money is and where traditional sports betting has taken place. I get that, and like I said, that’s sort of the low hanging fruit, the singles and the doubles. I think the home runs are going to be how you’re tapping into that new demographic that doesn’t traditionally sports bet but is interested in doing it. I think about how there used to only be sports team apparel for men, which was just ridiculous. The pivot that was made then toward women and creating clothes that fit women instead of (asking them to wear) these big boxy shirts that were their husbands or boyfriends. So I think there’s opportunity for sure.

BetIndiana News: Good answer. … What sport have you missed the most as a fan?
Slane: I love going to baseball games with my kids, I love going to hockey games with my kids. I have two boys, they’re eight and 10, and (we miss) being in the stadium or arena. We were driving by the O’s stadium, although they’ve not been very good as of late, and we were reflecting on the fact that we haven’t been able to go to a game. So that part I really, really miss. Being outside in the nice weather and eating Old Bay fries and everything else sounds pretty good right now. Looking forward to that happening and returning soon.

BetIndiana News: In the news today, the soft launch of Interlot’s product in DC. A lot of pushback from industry watchdogs on odds that are unfavorable for the customer, similar to what we’re seeing in Montana. There’s a school of thought, though, that most bettors are not price sensitive. Do you agree that most bettors are not price sensitive?
Slane: You are certainly not going to get the sharps or experienced bettors that know what they’re doing and know what the odds mean and know if they can continue to play on their offshore market then why would they even bother with some of these ridiculous odds that are out there. With the typical person, I don’t know. If the market is small enough, (handle is) certainly not going to be at the level where the states or the operators are gonna want it to be. When we look at successful models – and New Jersey is always held up on this pedestal because they have a great framework that’s created competition; they have a very good tax rate; they have online and mobile and it’s not just limited to retail – they have driven a ton of activity. If the objective is to get more people to bet, to place more wagers and get people off the offshore illegal websites, having bad odds is definitely not going to help.

BetIndiana News: Whose responsibility do you think it is to educate bettors on issues like this?
Slane: I think it’s the industry, right? The industry has to do its marketing and selling and pull it together in a way that’s easy and digestible and like English for people to understand. The lines can be overwhelming and confusing for a novice bettor. So I think that lies with the industry. Who else would it lie with would be my question.

BetIndiana News: We just celebrated the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court striking down PASPA – and I’m sure this is the 500th time you’ve answered this question in some form – but what grade do you give the sports betting ecosystem two years in? The states, operators, leagues, technology providers – all of that collectively, how are we doing so far?
Slane: I think we’re learning, and I think that’s normal. I am impressed at how far along things have come and how quickly legislation has passed and how quickly states have moved to mobile. Just having lived and breathed gaming for a long time, (knowing) certainly from a legislative perspective how difficult is to get legislators to embrace it. The fact that we have over (10) states that have mobile now, I mean, that’s incredible. Do I think that it’s perfect? Of course not. Is anything? No. Do I think that the operators have done a really good job at pivoting and learning from their mistakes and adapting? Yeah. But that’s just part of the process, right? That’s what’s going to happen with something new.

BetIndiana News: I’ve asked everyone during these Q&A’s, ‘how will the industry change as a result of this pandemic?’ It’s been a pretty much unanimous answer, and that’s more mobile betting. Of course, the states have to be on board with that. Are you sensing that kind of momentum at the state level toward allowing more mobile betting, mobile deposits, mobile signups?
Slane: Yeah, maybe where it was a sticking point with legislators, do I think this is nudging them in the right way to more mobile? Yes. Do I think that it still is an uphill battle? Yes. Especially with online casinos, it just gets a little bit harder for legislators to embrace that because there’s so many divisive opinions from a brick-and-mortar standpoint about whether it’s going to cannibalize the business. My short answer is yes, I do think it’s something that will come as a result of the pandemic.

BetIndiana News: What is one positive thing we can take from this. From a personal perspective, from an industry perspective, perhaps it’s something as a nation or as humans, what’s one good thing or one lesson that we can take from this?
Slane: I’ve read a lot about this and it’s probably not original, but I do think that people will remember the way that you acted during this time. Everyone is being squeezed in some form or fashion. To use the most overused cliché, we are all in the same boat here. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it will end, but the way that you acted during this time, people won’t forget. It’s important to remember that coming out of this. We’ll all get through it, and we’re all in it together, and we do need to help each other where we can.

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