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Light & Wonder Announces CFO Transition

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Light & Wonder Inc. announced that effective August 25, 2023, Connie James, the Company’s Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Corporate Secretary, will be stepping down from her role at the Company to pursue another opportunity that will allow her to further advance her long-term professional objectives outside the gaming industry. Following Ms. James’ departure, Oliver Chow, the Company’s current Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance, will assume the role of Interim CFO until a permanent successor is appointed.

The Light & Wonder Board of Directors has initiated a search process to identify the Company’s next CFO and has retained a leading search firm to assist in evaluating both internal and external candidates for the role.

Matt Wilson, Chief Executive Officer of Light & Wonder, said: “Connie has played a key role in advancing Light & Wonder’s cultural and financial transformation, which has led to operational excellence, double-digit growth and a strengthened balance sheet. She also helped us build a deep and talented finance team that will help provide a smooth transition to the next chapter of financial leadership within the Company. On behalf of the Board and management team, I wish her well in her future endeavors.”

Ms. James said: “Serving alongside such a talented team has been a highlight of my career, and I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished together. We have scaled our business, evolved our capital allocation strategy and driven considerable efficiencies that have created a stronger, more flexible Light & Wonder. I am confident that Light & Wonder is well-positioned for continued success, and I am focused on ensuring a seamless transition over the coming months.”

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Mr. Wilson added: “We are pleased and fortunate to have a leader of Oliver’s caliber step into the role of Interim CFO. With more than 15 years of entertainment and gaming leadership experience and deep financial expertise, we are confident that Oliver is well-positioned to support the continued execution of our financial priorities while the Board conducts its search.”

Prior to joining Light & Wonder in October 2022, Mr. Chow spent five years in senior-level finance roles at Aristocrat, most recently serving as Chief Financial Officer – Americas, EMEA and Customer Experience. Previously, he served in various financial roles with Universal Pictures, Deluxe Entertainment Services and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Mr. Chow is also a current Board member of United Way of Southern Nevada, where he serves as Board Treasurer. He received a BS in Business Administration from the University at Albany, SUNY and an Executive MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

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Penn Entertainment to Lay Off About 100 Employees

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Penn Entertainment plans to lay off about 100 employees as it focuses on growth for ESPN Bet.

CEO Jay Snowden told staff members in an internal email that the changes will enhance operational efficiencies following its 2021 acquisition of Canadian media and gaming powerhouse theScore.

The company employs about 20,000 people.

“When PENN acquired theScore, we hit the ground running with the build-out of our proprietary tech stack and the migration of our sportsbook to theScore’s best-in-class-platform,” Snowden wrote in the memo. “This led us to temporarily set aside any potential organizational changes that would typically follow a major acquisition.”

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Penn went on to say it’s embarking on a new phase of growth in its interactive business, which includes ESPN Bet, a $2 billion branding partnership with Disney’s ESPN. Snowden said the initiatives include product enhancements and deeper integration into ESPN’s ecosystem.

Investors are impatient for Penn to demonstrate its muscle with the rebranded sportsbook, and activist investor Donerail Group has called on the board to sell the casino company.

Rumors have swirled about the potential interest from many other online gaming and brick-and-mortar casino companies.

Truist gaming analyst Barry Jonas wrote in a note Thursday that a sale is unlikely in the near term because of the complexity of a transaction that would likely involve major divestitures.

Penn’s release of new ESPN Bet features this fall during football season should meaningfully improve its product, Jonas said, and a focus on costs indicate the company’s commitment to seeing its investment yield results.

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Penn shares have plummeted 25% year to date. It has missed earnings expectations the last two quarters and lowered guidance.

“Investors continue to wonder what an ESPN Bet success could look like, and how much more investment (beyond what’s guided) it’ll take to reach,” Jonas notes.

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Stevin ‘Hedake’ Smith to Promote Gambling Harm Awareness Through EPIC

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Stevin ‘Hedake’ Smith was at the center of one of the most high-profile examples of gambling-related harm in basketball history, which makes him the perfect latest addition to EPIC Global Solutions’ team as they continue to educate the current generation of professional and collegiate athletes on how to avoid the repeat of a similar scenario.

The former point guard made his name as a star player at Arizona State University in the early 1990s, setting college records for three-point attempts and being a two-time All-Pac-10 selection. However, his involvement in point-shaving – which was the subject of a 2021 Netflix documentary – led to a one-year prison sentence and impacted an NBA career with hometown team, Dallas Mavericks.

The source of his gambling harm – being approached by a gambler to change the final score of a game without changing who wins – is an issue that remains very pertinent to student-athletes 30 years on, in spite of the significant changes to sports wagering legislation.

This ensures that his planned involvement in EPIC’s range of education sessions to teams connected to partners such as the NCAA, MLB, and MLSPA will be an important lesson for the athletes, coaches, and staff in attendance when he travels to address them in his new role as US sports advisor for the company.

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“I’m passionate about wanting to tell my story and get out there to prevent this from happening again,” he explained.

“I’ve been able to tell my story to players previously and I’m able to have a relationship with all of them in the audience because of the way I deliver my message and coming from one big fraternity in sport. Knowing that EPIC has a global reach is something that really stood out to me about this opportunity and I’m passionate about getting out there and speaking about my experience.”

Though already a renowned name in sporting circles, Smith’s profile is set to rise again in the months ahead with the release of eponymous autobiography, ‘Hedake’, which will coincide with his work with EPIC.

“We’re proud to welcome Hedake to our team and can’t wait to see the impact he’ll have on audiences,” added Teresa Fiore, EPIC’s VP of partnerships.

“In being approached to shave points on game, Hedake has experienced a type of gambling-related harm which is different to many of our other team members. His story represents an area of increasing concern within sports, which adds to the range of our education designed to benefit our valued partners and the key people in their organisations.”

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Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) Calls for Overhaul of “Responsible Gambling” Model

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As the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) gathered for their annual conference in San Diego last week, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI)—a nonprofit research center for public health laws affiliated with Northeastern University School of Law— released a new video to highlight the ethical and scientific failure of the “Responsible Gambling” model.

Under the direction of its president, Professor Richard Daynard, Executive Director Mark Gottlieb, and Director of Gambling Policy Dr. Harry Levant, PHAI is leading the efforts to replace the Responsible Gambling model with a comprehensive public health response to the unprecedented expansion of the gambling industry and online gambling. PHAI will be advocating for and advancing much-needed public health reform and regulation at both the federal and state levels.

The new video, which can be found on the PHAI website here, analyzes key flaws in the Responsible Gambling model—an approach favored by both the gambling industry, and the gambling-industry-funded NCPG.

In the video, Dr. Levant highlights the situation’s urgency, stating “The expansion of online gambling without appropriate safeguards and regulation is an industry-driven ‘wild west’ environment, resulting in a looming public health crisis.”

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President Daynard echoed this statement by criticizing the current Responsible Gambling model: “The Responsible Gambling model puts the onus on the customer, rather than focusing on the irresponsible design and marketing decisions of the gambling industry.”

Professor Gottlieb also emphasized the need for change. “The time has come to expose the failures of the Responsible Gambling model and move forward with a public health approach to regulation and reform,” he said.

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