Why It Matters

Diversity isn’t just a platitude to be trotted out at employees rallies or shareholder meetings, says casino veteran Richard Schuetz. He points to the difficult road traveled by civil rights pioneer James Meredith (l) and why his commitment to freedom was so crucial. Why is it any different in the gaming industry of today?

Why It Matters

In 1995, I had the opportunity to hear James Meredith speak at a church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For those who do not recognize the name, James Meredith was a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force for nine years. Upon leaving the Air Force he attended Jackson State University for two years where he received good grades. When Mr. Meredith heard the inauguration speech of President John F. Kennedy, he became inspired to apply for admittance to the University of Mississippi. He was declined admission to that university because he was black. Through a series of lawsuits that made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in spite of numerous efforts on the part of the Mississippi government to stop him, in 1962 he became the first black to enroll and attend the University of Mississippi, escorted by over 500 U.S. Marshalls. This event was met with riots brought on by white protestors who wanted to stop Mr. Meredith, with two deaths and numerous injuries being reported.

During much of the time surrounding the civil rights movement in this country, I was in college. I had heard of people like Mr. Meredith, but it seemingly did not affect me. I was busy going to school, partying, trying to get laid, smoking dope, drinking beer and stuff like that. What was going on with people like Mr. Meredith was certainly not my concern for I had other things on my mind. It wasn’t until I heard him speak many years later in 1995 that the significance of it all it began to sink in—and what resonated was that a human being was not allowed to attend a college because of his color. Further, this rule was both developed and enforced by white men. As I was sitting listening to Mr. Meredith, this incredibly intelligent and articulate man, talking about how these white men said he was not entitled to go to a state supported school, I could not even imagine how I would feel to be in such a situation.

It is this same sense of frustration and amazement that I am now experiencing in today’s gaming industry where men apparently have determined that women should not be allowed in upper management, or if they are allowed, only in small doses.

I am sure that the white men who made the decision to not allow blacks in a university thought they were right and doing something good, while in fact they were embarking of a program of blatant discrimination that contradicts everything a university should be about. So too I would guess the leaders of today’s gaming firms feel as justified for working to allow only small numbers of women to participate in the higher levels of their organizations. In spite of a great deal of evidence that greater female participation enhances firm performance, and in spite of the fact that more women are graduating from our colleges and universities than men, these men steadfastly hold to keeping women away from upper levels of management and explain this nonsense with some foolish explanation just like the racists in Mississippi did to keep blacks out of their sacred institutions. In Mississippi it was discrimination driven by the belief that whites were superior to people of color and therefore they needed to protect their educational institution by precluding blacks from entering the University of Mississippi, and in gaming it is discrimination based on the beliefs that men are superior to women in business and need to be a dominate majority in the more elevated positions of leadership. Both beliefs are inappropriate and civilized people should be ashamed to embrace either.

The worldwide press often chronicles countries that do not allow women to drive, to vote, to open bank accounts without a man’s permission, and the like. These probably seem, to the modern American male, as very primitive and backward societies. Yet these same men seem to find no issue with women being materially limited in the upper leadership roles in gaming, where access is primarily controlled by men.

In 1995, while listening to Mr. Meredith I marveled at his strength. When white people told him that he was not good enough, he did not accept that conclusion, but rather he walked forward with strength and courage, and as he walked toward the university a crowd of whites shouted and spit at him. In looking at this through the lens of history we understand that the whites running Mississippi at this time were ignorant to a fault and devoid of many of God’s graces. This is not the way to treat a fellow man, and it is like the old medical practice of leeching, a process that is foolish, painful, dangerous, and fatal – yet it was done year after year after year. Why? Because this was the practice of the people in charge, of white men, who actually were so incredibly self-absorbed in their superiority that they felt comfortable discriminating on this grand scale, and were looked upon by many as the pillars of power within their communities.

To the men running the gaming industry, you might take notice. In the same way that the folks in Mississippi thought they were doing right by excluding blacks, so too I would guess that you have a great many rationalizations as to why there are so few women in the higher levels of your organizations. And I would expect the passage of time will find your reasons as poor and uncivilized as those of the folks in Mississippi. The view of history will demonstrate that you did not really work to mentor women, that you did not really support them, but that you both explicitly and subtly oppressed them—and that you were either too involved in your own world of self-deception and importance to notice or care, or too busy spinning nonsense as to why this was all okay.

I am no longer in college. I am not much of a partier. I no longer drink, and I do not smoke dope. I also understand that the woman in the gaming industry today should not be led to believe that they are not good enough to be leaders—and the men in the industry have a million little ways of making this point, and making it clearly. That is why I am trying to do today what I wish I had done many years ago with Mr. Meredith. If I could turn back the hands of time, I would much prefer to be walking at the side of Mr. Meredith. It would have been an important and significant use of my time—something that I could look back upon with pride. That is why now I have chosen to stand with the women of the industry and the crowds can shout and spit at me in their own inimical ways. At the end of the day, I will know that I stood up in support of a group being subjected to discrimination simply on the basis of their sex… and that is not right.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.