Reel Lives: Invariant Communications Pro Caroline Ponseti On Owning The Issue, Mental Health Awareness, And DC’s Food Scene

Brett Smiley

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Every gambler has a story to tell. And so does every person who chooses to make a living in this unique industry.

In our “Reel Lives” seriesCasino Reports shines a spotlight on people working in the gaming business, from executives, to analysts, to media members and communications pros, and all points in between.

The subject in this interview: Caroline Ponseti, communications strategist at Invariant, a Washington, D.C.-based governmental relations firm. Caroline previously served as the American Gaming Association’s director of media relations, and before that spent two years as a press secretary in the U.S. House of Representatives, which is among the topics covered below.

Casino Reports (CR): Where are you from originally, and what’s your favorite little-known spot in D.C.?

Caroline Ponseti (CP): I’m originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, which I attribute to why I’m such a foodie. I’ve been in D.C. for more than eight years and love the city’s vibrant Ethiopian food scene. Some of my favorite spots are Habesha and Chercher.

CR: How much of your current role centers around clients in the gambling industry? How closely are you following gambling in the U.S. these days?

CP: One of the things I love about being a communications strategist is the ability to work across multiple industries — from healthcare and agriculture to gambling and beyond. I’m actively involved in the gambling industry, from speaking on panels about responsible gambling, investor relations, and crisis communications to penning columns about how companies can more effectively own the message about mental health. I also continue to advise gambling companies on their communications and public affairs strategies. I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary at Invariant, a bipartisan lobbying and communications firm in Washington, D.C., which has given me a new opportunity to integrate communications strategy with government relations.

CR: Between the time your shift at the AGA ended in December 2020 and present, what’s a change, for better or worse, you’ve observed in the industry that stands out to you the most?

CP: The gambling landscape has changed drastically since I left AGA in 2020, and the industry is still grappling with its message around responsible gambling. We’re starting to see companies more proactively own the issue around problem gambling, and I’m optimistic that we’ll start to see a shift in the narrative over the next six months.

CR: Will you share one of the most bizarre or eye-opening experiences you had while serving as press secretary in the House of Representatives?

CP: Serving as press secretary in the U.S. House of Representatives enabled me to learn how the legislative process works firsthand, which has been invaluable for my career in public affairs. While I certainly had many bizarre and eye-opening experiences, one of the experiences that made the biggest impression on me was the House of Representatives’ employee assistance program that offered free counseling services to staff.

It’s no secret that congressional staff aren’t bringing in the big bucks, so it would have been difficult to access mental health care without that program. I can’t overstate the impact that having access to free mental health care had during that time of my life, and it helped underscore the need to ensure such resources are available to everyone.

CR: What did you do to prepare for your gig moderating a discussion at E&M’s Capital Markets Forum? Any topics in particular you were eager to get insight on?

CP: I’m grateful to have formed connections with wonderful people in the gambling industry who are always willing to lend a helping hand. I prepared for my panel by picking the brains of people who are plugged into the gambling investment community while also trying to bring in my own expertise (public affairs, messaging, etc.). I think that every conversation about gambling should involve responsible gambling to some degree, so I was particularly interested to hear from my panelists about to what extent they think that investors factor responsible gambling into their investment decisions around iGaming.

CR: Two years ago, during Mental Health Awareness Month, you made a promise to discuss your mental health more publicly. And you did. Can you share — anonymously — some of the feedback you’ve received since putting yourself out there like that?

CP: One thing I’ve learned over the past two years is you never know what someone is going through. It means the world to me when I talk to someone who says they also experience mental health issues and seeing me being so open about my struggles has helped normalize their own experiences.

That said, publicly putting myself out there in such a vulnerable way is really hard. Almost every time I post about my anxiety or depression, I experience some level of residual anxiety. So any time someone tells me my speaking out about my mental health experience helped validate their own, it reminds me why I do this in the first place.

Reel Fast

Another person in gaming who has my utmost admiration is …

Jess Feil of OpenBet.

If you find me in a casino or on a casino app, the game/bet I’m most likely to be playing is …

Betting on the Saints to win the Super Bowl, a bit too optimistically.

If I close my eyes and picture a casino, the first one that comes to mind is …

Caesars Palace (formerly Harrah’s) in my hometown of New Orleans.

First website you peruse in the morning (other than Casino Reports of course)?

Axios AM.

First vehicle you drove?

I learned to drive on my dad’s Toyota Tundra.

What is your preferred brand of bottled water?

Topo Chico.

In which packaged product you consume semi-regularly is the shrinkflation most apparent/egregious?

SkinnyPop.

My Spotify (or equivalent) most played artist/musician is …

I wish I had a cooler answer for this, but the truth is that it’s Taylor Swift.

You can find Caroline on LinkedIn here, as well as at Habesha, Chercher, and other fine Ethiopian restaurants in the District.

Previous installments of Reel Lives:

The AGA’s Bill Miller On Helping The Industry Through COVID, The Sports Betting Explosion, And Coaching His Kids

Strive Gaming CMO Jamie Shea On Soaking Up Knowledge, LTVs, And Stray Cats

Sporttrade COO David Huffman On An Operator’s Challenges, A CEO Who Leads By Example, And Betting On Birth Weights

SBC’s Sue Schneider On The Interactive Gaming Council, Mentoring, And The Mississippi River