Ask anyone about Susan Sheridan Tucker, elected president of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) board of directors last summer, and the flattery flows.
“I brought six-to-eight rock-star candidates, and the stack got narrowed down pretty quick,” headhunter Walt Flynn said. “She just shone. The way she showed up to me, she showed up to them. She was, in short, the hands-down selection.”
“She seeks advice and feedback. I see her as curious, she wanted to learn, take advisement, and is an excellent communicator,” DraftKings Senior Manager for Responsible Gaming Julie Hynes said.
“She’s going to tell you what she thinks, what she wants, and that’s why she’s a very good leader,” NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte said.
Sheridan Tucker didn’t enter the field of responsible gambling for any personal reasons, but in the five years since Flynn matched her with the Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling, the issue has become a passion, and her goal in her first year as NCPG board president is to effect tangible change.
When Sheridan Tucker was ready for a new challenge — she’d been the executive director for the Minnesota League of Women Voters for just over three years — she wasn’t expecting to land in the gambling landscape. Her new position coincided with what has become a tidal wave of newly legal sports betting states, after the Supreme Court made it a states’ rights issue.
While her non-profit and executive experience span 30-plus years, she’s a veritable newbie when it comes to problem gambling. But as those around her shared, she’s a quick study, and she landed a position as a powerful national voice at a time when responsible and problem gambling have risen as priorities in the industry.
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“I’ve not really worked with people with addiction, and I thought, ‘I can get behind this, I can be authentic,’” she said. “I had the skill set and I knew I could do this. Five years into it, I think it’s a very challenging industry to be working in.”
Sheridan Tucker’s first challenge was wrapping her head around the idea that responsible and problem gambling are issues that touch every stakeholder in the industry.
“I thought it was interesting from the perspective that it might be really eye-opening bringing all those stakeholders in one room,” she said. “I mean, are they throwing things?”
Here’s the plan
But in those five years, she’s learned that responsible and problem gambling are critical issues in the industry, and while operators, regulators, suppliers, and other interested parties may have different perspectives, no one wants to see their customers in pain.
Given her focused, take-charge personality, Sheridan Tucker plans to use her presidency — terms are one year, with a limit of two terms — to revamp what responsible and problem gambling initiatives look like, how they are best implemented, and who should regulate them.
“I think for the longest time, the responsibility has fallen solely to the gambler,” Sheridan Tucker said. “And if you are somebody who has an addiction, none of this stuff is going to work. I think the hope for what we call responsible gaming tools are a necessity for every player, from the newest player to the ones who are showing risking behavior. But I don’t think they are effective.
“We can’t just rely on the gambler or those who are addicted. The more that gambling becomes part of electronic devices and with player cards, a lot of data is being collected. This is the Holy Grail that we have to wrap our hands around. … I think it is beholden on the industry that we provide intervention to those players who are showing problematic behavior.”
In a departure from how responsible and problem gambling programs had been funded, nearly every U.S. jurisdiction that has legalized since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned in 2018 has earmarked at least some funds. But as wagering stakeholders have shared and seen in recent months, while there is enough money out there to make gamblers aware of responsible gambling tools, few are using them. And problem gambling help isn’t necessarily always just a phone call away.
‘Fresh eyes’ just what’s needed
Sheridan Tucker’s limited experience in gambling could be to her — and the industry’s — advantage. When she began work in the field five years ago, she brought an untainted view to what some might consider tired programs. And she brought them just as sports betting apps began to sweep the nation.
“It’s very helpful to have fresh eyes,” DraftKings’ Hynes said. “We do have a lot of people with a lot of experience, so her experience as an executive means she can bring a complement to that. … NCPG has shaped and changed its mission, they really are future focused. I think that five years is important because there really has been a shift.”
Susan Sheridan Tucker, our Executive Director, recently sat down with @StarTribune to share some of her experiences in the course of enacting change and raising problem gambling awareness in MN.Read the article: https://t.co/LwG0kQ8pBd#MNAPG #ProblemGambling #SportsBetting pic.twitter.com/Syjd3obECs
— Minnesota Alliance on Problem Gambling (@MinnesotaAPG) October 11, 2023
Whyte, who has been the NCPG executive director for more than 20 years, says Tucker isn’t “bound by historical precedent.” Her local experience in Minnesota will allow Sheridan Tucker to understand how a good idea may be difficult to implement on the ground and that bringing an idea from concept to fruition is fraught and could take time or revisions.
Legal wagering a boon for RG and PG progams
For Sheridan Tucker, the goals are to create clear and consistent messages and functional programs and to continue to evolve. She calls legal sports betting the “silver lining” for responsible gambling because it has shone a light on an issue that needs new ideas.
“I think people are trying their best in terms of being innovative enough to solve problems,” Sheridan Tucker said. “The talk of responsible gaming has been around for a while, and honestly, I think this it is the silver lining to the explosion of sports betting. We’ve seen what poor legislation can result in, and it creates problems. But that is not to say that things can’t get harnessed.”
The most tangible initiative Sheridan Tucker is behind at the national level is a plan to have 50% of the federal excise tax earmarked for gambling addiction research and programs, which are currently funded at the state but not the national level. To that end, she’s part of a group that has been crafting a bill to change how the excise tax is spent.
Five years after their introduction, Sheridan Tucker wasn’t sure Flynn — of WJ Flynn and Associates LLC, an executive search company — would remember her. After all, Flynn places many executives each year, and the two only met in person once. But Flynn didn’t miss a beat when asked to talk about her.
“We had coffee and I was impressed,” he said. “Her emotional intelligence is off the charts. She’s very self-aware, she shows up really well. She wasn’t going into an easy job. She has the intestinal fortitude to handle the job.
“She crazy smart, so that would work. And I knew she would pick up the gambling addiction stuff pretty quickly.”
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