Women buck bookie bias

Nov 6, 2001 5:03 AM

Women executives in the race and sports book industry face a double-edge sword every day they work behind the counter.

“They have to deal with male customers, who simply do not trust women handling sports bets,” a former Las Vegas race and sports book director told GamingToday. “No matter how good they are, men prefer to deal with men because they feel more comfortable.”

The other stumbling block is the industry itself, still mostly male-dominated in the administrative division, although female ticket writers are employed at virtually every race and sports book venue across Las Vegas.

“I was writing tickets when you had to do them by hand,” said Toni Johnson, a supervisor at Sam’s Town. “I think the situation has become a lot better for women in the past 10 years, especially in the race portion of the book. Sports still has some catching up to do, but it’s getting there.”

The newspaper’s inside source, a male, conceded that more women are being hired, but said that was mostly because of their expertise in typing and book-keeping, not for sports knowledge.

“It’s not important at all whether they know about sports or not these days,” the source continued. “Hiring women ticket writers today is nothing more than recruiting glorified secretaries.”

Johnson admits that typing and accounting experience goes a long way in the industry, but said that knowing sports is important to dealing with customers on a daily basis.”

“Women are in this business because they like sports, not just because they can type and add well,” said Johnson, who has been at Sams Town for 10 years after previous stints at the Stardust (7 ½ years) and the Fremont (three years). “I think we have the best writers in town because we don’t mind putting in the extra hours. And, that has everything to do with our employers. They are great to work for.”

Julie Kraff has been supervisor of race and sports at the Boardwalk Casino on the Las Vegas Strip for six years. Kraff believes a stereotype exists, but said she was fortunate that people in the business took the time to teach her the profession.

“I got involved in the industry because I was a sports fan,” Kraff said. “I was in the right place at the right time. This was the first job I had. Nikki Ernst and Kirk Brooks were really influential in my life. If not for them, I would have had a lot more dues to pay in the business.”

Kraff concurred that this was still a “man’s business.”

“I was attracted to the excitement of the sports book,” Kraff said. “Our crowds are locals and you develop friendships over the years with them.”

Johnson also credited the steady customers as the primary reason that women are drawn to the business, particularly in casinos off Strip.

“You get to know everyone by name,” said Johnson, who has worked with fellow supervisor Crystal Banschback at Sams Town for nearly a decade. “I find the Strip to be pretty cold to people compared to out here. Men don’t have hang-ups at Sam’s Town discussing sports with the women in the sports book. In fact, I think they really admire the fact we know something about it and can converse with them.”

Johnson conceded that women moving from entry level positions to management are still rare in this industry, but that the gap is closing.

“It’s true that sports knowledge is not as important now as it was when I first started in the business,” she said. “But knowing about the sports business helps you move up the corporate ladder.”

Trudy Smuin at Treasure Island and Glynis Mickelian at Primadonna are two women that have moved into major roles in their respective resorts, with Mickelian recently assuming the duties as head of race and sports book.

Smuin, when contacted by GamingToday was unable to receive clearance to discuss her position as is the policy of MGM-Mirage.

“Yeah, that can be a problem,” Johnson said. “Thank goodness it isn’t that way at Sams Town. We enjoy promoting Sams Town and getting the word out to everyone.”

Mickelian was unavailable for comment.