Susan O’Leary is the CEO of Alderney eGambling, the Alderney regulator’s strategic and development body. As a lawyer, she represented some of the world’s leading eGambling operators and gambling service providers including many of Alderney’s licensees. She has a keen sense of what they require from a jurisdiction: a strong pragmatic regulator who understands the commercial environment, a resilient technical infrastructure, a favourable tax system, excellent support services and an approach that encourages businesses to grow and prosper within safe and responsible parameters.
How did you find your start in the industry and how did you arrive at your current position?
Susan:I moved to Guernsey from Dublin as a finance lawyer over 10 years ago and observed that most gaming related legal work was being referred to a few niche practices in London. Alderney is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and it made no sense to me why London lawyers were leading this work or at least why local firms were not involved in some capacity as the legal structure is different. I set up the eGaming team for the law firm I was with and immersed myself in this thriving sector. The industry was smaller then and everyone knew everyone so I quickly made contacts, got to know the other lawyers, service providers, industry and got to grips with the sector. I worked with the other service providers for a lot of the Alderney licensees for many years subsequently and then was persuaded to join Alderney eGambling in 2015 and haven’t looked back! There is a saying that once you are in gaming you’re always in gaming, there is no escape! Once you’re in, you’re in!
What do you think the Indian gaming industry will look like in five years?
Susan: I am excited to see which direction the Indian gaming industry will go. The potential is immense. A lot will depend on the collective of law makers, governments and regulators as to how it evolves. There is no doubt that the gaming industry will continue to grow and develop, especially with technological advancements and ease of access. If regulation is ignored, growth will continue regardless it just means that players are not as protected as they could be, businesses will be driven further underground as opposed to being encouraged to develop and prosper in line with internationally recognised best practice and the economy does not benefit as much as contributions, taxes and fees are difficult to collect. I’m optimistic that the sector is growing in the right direction. At the 2018 Eventus Sports Betting and Gaming India Conference, I was honoured to meet the founders of so many successful businesses in India in the gaming space and delighted to observe that most were pro-responsible gambling and building their businesses around regulatory frameworks – essentially self-regulated. This is admirable, especially if there is no pressure or obligation from government or regulators. It is clear that Indian gaming businesses want to be the best and understand to achieve this there needs to be procedures in place for the long term sustainability of the sector as opposed to the “quick buck” you can see in so many other pre-regulated environments. There is a different feel to the Indian gaming market than others.
The technical know-how and economic growth is on an upward trajectory in India. Connectivity is at an all time high. The Indian population embrace gaming as a form of entertainment, they are passionate about their sports like cricket, as such, this sector is only going to grow, let’s hope it’s in line with best practice and in a safe and responsible manner for all.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?
Susan: One thing we are working hard on globally is changing the perception of the sector. Many perceive gambling and anything related to the sector as illicit or immoral. Even among the Indian market, where the industry is seeing exponential growth, the concept of ‘gambling’ is slightly taboo, as backed up by legislation, with skill games being preferred. Although, the line is increasingly blurred between what constitutes games of skill versus games of chance and there is a lack of consistency in interpretation.
There are many religious, political and social connotations to the industry. Yet if practised within safe parameters, in a well-regulated environment, adopting best practices, both gaming and gambling can be enjoyable forms of entertainment. There are many positives to the sector; it can raise sizeable revenues for social projects, the technology is sophisticated and ever evolving (and transferable to many other sectors) and the industry tends to be innovative (when allowed) and reinvent itself frequently. I think awareness of the whole picture of this incredibly fast moving, multi-faceted sector is important as opposed to clinging on to archaic belief systems that can be out-dated.
What advice would you give your younger self, starting out in the Gaming Industry?
Susan: I was quite young when I started out in the gaming industry. I wouldn’t change much about the experience or how I went about it. I am fortunate enough to love my job. I get to travel around the world and learn from and meet trailblazers and amazing people with fascinating stories that I can take onboard and evolve from both personally and professionally. I think passion is the key to success – you have to follow and pursue what makes you happy. We spend too long working not to enjoy it. Life is too short.
When I was choosing a university subject I tried to pick something that would be useful to many sectors and give me a wide skill set with transferable skills. If I was advising a younger me to make a choice now, I would absolutely opt for a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) related subject with a tech focus. Law was a great foundation too but the possibilities are endless in tech! I’ve signed up to a coding course now just to get my head around things from the other side, why not!
If I was speaking to a young girl now considering a career in gaming, I’d say “go for it!”. It is a fantastic young industry with lots of opportunities to evolve within a dynamic and ever-changing sector and room to truly make a difference. I’d also say to “be yourself,” that’s the secret sauce. If we all follow the crowd or try to fit in then the same things get done in the same ways. Being yourself is value in its own right, there is no one else like you!
What do you think is the most significant barrier for women in the industry, today? What can be done to promote more women and their better reception in the gaming industry?
Susan: I take a slightly different view to most as to why there are less women in some areas of gaming as opposed to men and it relates back to my point above – that the perception of the industry can pose a barrier to diversity. I believe that we must do more to dispell the myth that gaming and gambling are bad.
I spoke to a recruitment agent recently who wanted some advice as he was struggling to fill gaming industry related roles. He had a nearly identical role advertising a financial services job with the same specifications for skills and one third less pay and yet he had triple the amount of applications for that role than the gaming role!
The gaming industry encompasses such a broad spectrum of skillsets from coding to game development to technological advancement like AR, VR and AI, to animation, mathematics, trading, analytics, algorithym programming – so many of which are transferable from other industries. It makes sense then that this level of variety calls for a diverse workforce. I have discussed the topic of gender equality, diversity and inclusivity with many colleagues in the sector both male and female and of mixed backgrounds and the consensus is everyone wants the sector to be more balanced and equal. The problem is, there are not always the candidates to hire; male, female or diverse ethnicities.
I personally am opposed to a quota system as a tool for increased diversity but I do think awareness of the issue is important. By changing perceptions of the industry as a whole, we have more chance of encouraging gender balance in the uptake of those studying STEM related subjects and this will be reflected in the positions filled within the gaming and tech sectors going forward. What follows in turn, is a rise through the chain to more board level jobs for women.
I think we all have a responsibility to be our industry’s own PR – educating the public of the sector’s innovation, energy and drive. Of an industry that is well-regulated and a career path that can provide incredible opportunities for exciting and fulfilling work.
In your own words, describe what you believe SPiCE 2019 to be.
Susan: SPiCE 2019 to me is an opportunity to brainstorm with the thought-leaders in the Indian gaming space, from industry to potential regulators, law makers, operators and service providers to see where they would like to take gaming in India and to share my experiences from around the globe.
What do you look forward to by being a part of SPiCE 2019?
Susan: If SPiCE India is as good as the Eventus Sports Betting and Gaming India held last year in Goa, I will be very pleased. I made fantastic connections that I have kept in touch with since. India is an extremely exciting market and I can’t wait to see where it will continue to evolve in this fast-paced gaming space.