Reel Lives: SBC Americas Editor Jessica Welman On Gaming Conferences, Poker Media, And The Book She’ll Someday Write

Eric Raskin

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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 all points in between.

The subject in this interview: Jessica Welman, the editor of SBC Americas.

Casino Reports (CR): Where are you from originally and where are you based now?

Jessica Welman (JW): I am originally from Lexington, Kentucky, which is where I am based now, but I spent a good 13 years living in Las Vegas.

CR: What was your first job in the gambling industry, and how did it come about?

JW: I was in graduate school and, as part of my program, I had written a couple of papers and done a couple of anthropological research projects about poker players. I didn’t want to teach or attend summer school, but I needed to convince the program I was doing something over the summer, so I applied to be a poker reporter at the 2008 World Series of Poker for a now-defunct online poker forum called PocketFives. Came out for the summer and, by the end of the six weeks, the World Poker Tour had offered me a job.

CR: What’s your biggest remaining career goal, either inside or outside the gaming space?

JW: I’ve said for a long time that I have a book in me somewhere. The book I think I want to write is not about gaming, but I think there are certainly topics in the industry that fascinate me enough that it could end up being something in this realm in the end.

CR: If you told the 18-year-old version of yourself what you’re doing now professionally, how surprised/unsurprised would that younger version be?

JW: Oh, she would be so sad. Freshman year Jess was so convinced she was going to be in the film industry and she had never set foot in a casino or gambled on anything that wasn’t bingo at church events. I think that is what I love most about the gambling media, though. Not one of us is here because we grew up wanting to do this, so everyone brings these very rich and diverse backgrounds to what we do.

Welman with longtime WPT hosts Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten

CR: What are the pros and cons of being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

JW: I appreciate the phrasing of this question because so often we just get asked, “You’re a woman in this industry. How?” There are plenty of downsides. I think it takes significantly longer for women in our industry to be given credit that we know what we are talking about. I see people compliment female writers for example, but they focus on interview pieces or being a great manager or editor. There are very few women who get to live in the space of being a talking head or offering commentary on the industry, and that is so frustrating because so many of them have great insights but no platforms.

The gatekeeping is often unconscious. I read so many job descriptions where clearly a middle-aged white dude who wrote about sports for his local paper and transitioned into sports betting wrote it and, through no ill intent, has crafted a job description designed to recruit another middle-aged white dude who wrote about sports for his local paper for the role. Then the hiring managers are baffled why no women applied for the gig. I don’t have a journalism degree and I bristle when anyone calls me a journalist because I don’t think that is an accurate description of what I do. There is room for a wide range of backgrounds in this industry because, as I noted earlier, none of us grew up wanting to do this.

Photo of young Jess, presented without comment

But now that I have ranted about the negative, here is the good news: Once a woman has proven themselves to some extent, I think the opportunities really explode because people do want women in their organization, they are just scared to take risks on untested women. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I know I have something going for me when I interview for jobs and am the only female candidate in a sea of dudes. I hate that it is this way, don’t get me wrong, but at least it is a step up from never getting the opportunities at all.

CR: How do you like to spend free time away from work? Any interesting hobbies or secret talents?

JW: I have two very divergent hobbies. One is poker, which is funny, because when I lived in Vegas I basically never played and now I play weekly in Cincinnati. The other is ballet. I started dancing when I was 2 and, at one point, even attended a performing arts magnet school as a ballet major. While I was told very young I would be much too short to ever succeed as a ballerina, I have always found time to dance. I live walking distance from the Lexington Ballet, which offers a great adult dance program that allows me to still take challenging classes every week even though I know I am never going to be good enough to go on stage again.

Reel fast

Artwork by Blundell Design

On which social media platform do you currently spend the most time? 

Twitter. Blech.

The best thing about gaming industry conferences is …

The endless amount of interesting new people.

The worst thing about gaming industry conferences is …

Attending a conference and what amounts to a wedding three days in a row.

My all-time favorite TV show is …

The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

The worst job I ever had was …

Being a Hollywood assistant.

My favorite place I’ve ever traveled for work is …

Cannes, France.

You can find Jess on X and LinkedInor from May 7-9, you’ll be able to find her in New Jersey at the annual SBC Summit North America.

Previous installments of Reel Lives:

Square In The Air’s Stewart Darkin On Gaming Entrepreneurs, Longevity, And Beavis & Butt-Head

Fanatics Betting & Gaming’s Scot McClintic On Building Products, Quantitative Thinking, And Hockey Fights

OpenBet’s Jess Feil On Player Protection, Running An International Team, And Riding Horses

Maine GCB Chair Steven Silver On Rulemaking, Consumers, And Pickleball