Tennessee’s Sports Wagering Advisory Council (SWAC) met on Thursday, Oct. 14 to interview three final candidates for its vacant executive director position.
After a thorough final interview process, the council has chosen to extend an offer to candidate Mary Beth Thomas.
The SWAC officially takes over as Tennessee sports betting’s regulatory body on Jan. 1, 2022, making it paramount for the council to fill the position of executive director before then. The council held a special meeting this week to advance that process.
After each candidate spoke and fielded questions, the council deliberated on what they heard. The vote ultimately came down to a unanimous decision by all nine SWAC members.
The council said Thomas took more initiative than any other candidate by reaching out to other jurisdictions before the final interview. They also said she is highly respected in the state.
Furthermore, the council was keen on her understanding of Tennessee law and government, her evident passion and intrigue, and her relevant experience in the gaming industry.
Now that the position’s proposed salary range is approved, the next step will be to formally extend an offer to Thomas.
Mary Beth Thomas is a lawyer by trade with a strong working knowledge of Tennessee government and legislature. After graduating from the University of Tennessee, she began her career at Nashville’s own Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis law firm.
It was during her seven years working in civil litigation at the firm where her strong work ethic was instilled.
In 2013, Thomas became a member of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s general counsel. During her time there, she dealt with matters pertaining to the General Assembly and worked in an array of other diverse departments.
Most relevant to the position is her background in fantasy sports.
Thomas is no stranger to launching a sports gaming platform within a short timeframe. The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law legalizing fantasy sports in April 2016.
Once the law officially passed in July, Thomas and her general assembly team were tasked with establishing rules in time for September’s first application submissions.
It was then that she began learning how the online sports industry operates and the plethora of issues surrounding it.
Thomas designed, developed, implemented, and managed Tennessee’s fantasy sports program for 18 months until it became so large that another division with new personnel had to take over.
Tennessee daily fantasy sports isn’t identical to online sports wagering, but it was the precursor to it in the state. Both deal with a few similar issues including account limitations, responsible gaming issues, and license appeals.
Thomas said her hope is to make the SWAC the most fair, transparent, efficient regulator possible. She wants the SWAC to be decisive, approachable, and in constant communication with its stakeholders.
It is the council’s role to implement the rules as intended. Council members may have to be the “tough guy” while still being willing to listen to and understand the issues.
Her first step as executive director would involve conducting a thorough study of statutory requirements and how those translate into job responsibilities.
She has already begun that process by preparing an organizational chart and familiarizing herself with the job requirements.
Step two would be to utilize her strong network of industry colleagues to establish a team of day-to-day operations specialists. The council would remain the project’s primary visionary, she explained. Her role would be to carry out its daily functions.
When this job position came open, Thomas saw it as her tailor-made opportunity to serve Tennessee.
Moreover, Thomas said her entire career has been leading her to this. She has always been motivated by difficult tasks, saying she finds the process extremely fulfilling. She concluded with a grin, saying,
I’m up for the challenge.
Thomas conducted as much research as possible on the Tennessee sports betting industry after applying for executive director. This included reviewing legislative history, reading bills, watching committee hearings, and establishing a feel for members’ views on particular issues.
Thomas even went so far as to network with current industry leaders. She scheduled one-on-one conversations with the Wyoming, Indiana, and Michigan gaming commissions, attended a gaming regulation conference, and even spoke with former Tennessee Lottery member Danielle Boyd.
Thomas appeared eager about Tennessee’s potential, admitting that this is only the first sprint in the overall sports betting marathon.
Mary Beth Thomas had to beat out two other qualified candidates to earn this role.
One of the council’s other top candidates was Roger Guillemette, who joined the meeting virtually via Zoom. Guillemette holds a background in math and computer science and began his career in the gaming industry on the Rhode Island State Racing Commission.
Guillemette then spent a number of years working as a project manager for IGC’s casino properties. When Class III gambling became legal in 2013, he became Rhode Island’s sports wagering and casino compliance supervisor.
Through that, he gained a strong familiarity with the legislative process.
If selected, he said he intended to create a level of scrutiny and oversight that ensured fairness to customers and maximum revenue for Tennessee.
Council member Haynes Torbett asked Guillemette what he thought might be a fair hold percentage – a recurring topic in the jurisdiction lately. Guillemette responded, explaining that sports betting exhibits natural ebbs and flows and requires a long-term outlook.
For instance, Rhode Island took a $1.1 million loss when the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. The state averaged a hold of 10.4% last year, while hold has been roughly 8.15% this year.
Similarly, Nevada is a state that has historically averaged a hold of roughly 5%, though it’s been around 6% the past three years.
Licensed attorney Scott Sloan has had the opportunity to be involved in a variety of roles during his past 15 years working within state government.
Since then, he says he has spent an inordinate amount of time studying Tennessee’s various rules and statues, creating a strong foundation for his current experience.
Sloan came prepared with packets for the council, complete with a draft organizational chart. He explained his thoughts on administrative, legal, and compliance issues and stressed the need for a robust legal division.
When asked what he considered to be a fair hold percentage, he said the decision ultimately belongs to council members. His job would be to conduct research to provide council with information to make appropriate decisions.