Sara Slane has been the face of legalized sports betting for the casino industry these crucial last couple of years.
She spearheaded an aggressive campaign that pointed out the failures of PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act), a sports-betting ban that led directly to a massive black market throughout the country.
She met behind the scenes with leagues and other stakeholders to educate them on the industry, addressing their misconceptions and explaining how a heavily regulated legalized market had worked successfully for many years in the state of Nevada.
She’s also the one who testified last month before a House Subcommittee that is examining whether federal involvement is necessary as sports wagering becomes legalized in more states.
During the recent Global Gaming Expo, Johnathan Cohn, a lawyer who has argued cases in the Supreme Court, went so far as to say, “The Supreme Court listened to Sara. We owe a debt of gratitude to Sara.”
But there’s some irony to Slane being the one leading this charge: She said she can’t remember ever placing a sports bet in her life even though she lived in the Las Vegas area for several years.
“I’m actually a good person when it comes to this because I’m pretty objective,” said Slane, senior vice president of public affairs for the American Gaming Association, the national trade group for the casino industry. “I’ve bet on horses, but not on sports. My dad (Larry Slane, who lives in Nevada) will send me the stuff he’s betting on all the time. I have promised myself that I’m going to sit down with him and learn more.
“I don’t have a full appreciation. I know people absolutely love it. I know that if I got into it, I’d probably love it myself.”
Slane, 39, grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and was an all-city softball pitcher in high school. She studied political science at Ohio University and interned during the summer for a senator.
Her tenacity comes primarily from her mother, Lynn, a 67-year-old special-education teacher.
“She’s still teaching in one of the high-risk schools in Henderson (Nev.),” Slane said. “She’s crazy. She’s a very driven, ambitious person. She definitely instilled in me an element of toughness and persistence.”
Slane’s first job out of college was as a law-firm receptionist in Washington D.C. before going to work for two trade associations. After her then-husband received a job offer in Las Vegas, Slane got involved in Catherine Cortez Masto’s run for Nevada Attorney General in 2006.
That helped her make connections at MGM Resorts, where she eventually took charge of government affairs, including playing a key role that led to the opening of MGM National Harbor, a $1.4 billion resort in Maryland.
Her life changed, however, when the American Gaming Association had an opening in 2014 and a friend who worked there asked for her input on identifying potential candidates.
“One night it hit me, “Maybe I’m the right fit for this,’” Slane said.
She was right. It was the perfect fit.
Slane, who has two boys soon to be 7 and 9 years old, started to take on this mission of legalized sports betting nearly four years ago. She was the one who kept pushing for data from the Nielsen TV ratings to show a direct connection between fans betting on games and greater viewership. That information helped validate the point that the leagues and networks would benefit substantially by supporting a regulated, legal market.
On May 14, Slane’s persistence paid off when the Supreme Court shot down PASPA, giving the rights back to the states and tribes on whether to legalize sports betting.
Since the decision, sports betting has become legalized in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia and New Mexico, and many more are expected to follow in 2019.
“It’s been a labor of love,” Slane said of the journey. “I couldn’t be happier, clearly, with the outcome. We won the election and now it’s time to govern. We need to be very responsible.”