As she prepares to be inducted into the Sports Betting Hall of Fame, Sandy Drozd reflects on an “interesting career” that started with a part-time job during college and grew into her becoming one of the industry’s leading technology experts.
While most people who choose a career in sports betting are motivated by their love of sports, the story of how Sandy Drozd started is very different. During more than 30 years in the industry, she has travelled the world and helped to implement a host of important technological changes, but the wagering business was not originally in her plans.
“It’s been an unexpected career choice. The truth is I was an art major, art and communications, and I had no intention of going into this industry at all. I wanted to be a photographer,” recalled Drozd, now VP Special Projects for Elys Game Technology’s USBookmaking operation.
“I was at University here in Las Vegas and, as soon as I turned 21, I took a job working in a sportsbook doing auditing. It was just a part-time thing, but I had a knack for it and I just seemed to really blend with my co-workers and really enjoyed what I was doing.”
Given how quickly Drozd’s career took off and the industry-changing projects she was soon trusted to manage, the phrase “had a knack for it” is an understatement. The first of those major projects was the introduction of computerised sports wagering at the Marina Hotel & Casino.
“I was only 22 and they asked me to come over, set up their audit department and then help them bring the system through the approval regulatory process. And that’s really how it all started,” she recalled. “I jumped right in from an auditing perspective and, as a result of that, I had to really drill into the technology, the reporting and the regulatory process.
“I also had to work closely with the platform provider, which was Autotote, a totaliser system providing software to all of the race tracks. What they wanted to do was convert it to sports betting and, as a result, it took over a year. But I was able to really connect with regulators, learn the industry, get an introduction into technology and successfully get the system approved.
“From there, while still going to school, I moved on to Caesars Palace, which wanted to do the same thing. That’s really how I started, by setting up audit divisions, bringing these systems through the regulators, and then moving on to the next property.”
After graduating, Drozd chose not to pursue her chosen major and instead focused on a career that “sort of fell in my lap” and “just snowballed”. A series of consultancy roles for Nevada and Mexico- based sportsbooks and racetracks followed, during which time she met such industry stalwarts as fellow Hall of Famers Roxy Roxborough and Vic Salerno.
The mobile technology revolution
In 1997, the connection with Salerno led to a job with American Wagering and the opportunity to work on projects that changed the face of the industry, helping to move it towards mobile betting and in-person self-service solutions.
“Vic was such a visionary at that time. He was way beyond where technology in the industry really was,” Drozd explained. “We provided software to every book in Las Vegas – the Mirage, Caesars, all of the big main locations, in addition to our own – but sometimes there was resistance to change and to new things. It was hard sometimes to push people to the next level to say, ‘Hey, this is going to be really great. This is the way of the future’.”
At a time when remote betting involved a phone call to the sportsbook and a room full of ticket writers taking wagers, the idea of mobile betting seemed far-fetched to many. However, the American Wagering team, with Drozd directly involved in product development, eventually managed to convince its customers and the Nevada Gaming Control Board of its benefits.
The available technology functioned very differently to the slick systems of today, with the earliest incarnation running on a BlackBerry and requiring a five-minute log-in process that involved a series of camera flashes and phone vibrations to help verify that the user was in Nevada. The system later evolved to work on iPhones and Android devices, and mobile wagering was born.
Drozd said: “That was really big for us because nobody was offering sports betting on a mobile device at that time, so it was quite revolutionary. I was really happy to be part of that and to be working with the tech team to develop the product’s user experience, understand what the technology could do for us and how we could take it to the next level.”
She was also instrumental in the introduction of self-service betting terminals at casino sportsbooks. Again, the first iterations were far removed from what bettors see today, with huge kiosks that employed early facial recognition technology to allow account holders to log-in.
“One of the kiosks we had was so big and clunky that when we were trying to sell it to the Mirage, (the casino’s Director of Administration and Hall of Fame member) Yolanda Acuña used to refer to it as Rosie because it reminded her of the robotic housekeeper in The Jetsons,” said Drozd.
The objections were not merely about aesthetics though, as casino employees worried that they would lose their jobs to the new technology. Eventually, American Wagering was able to persuade people that the kiosks were an enhancement for sportsbooks rather than a way of cutting payroll costs, and they became widely adopted.
Once American Wagering had been acquired by William Hill in 2012, Drozd focused on product development and honing delivery methodology. Her skillset was hugely important to the company once PASPA was overturned and companies raced to be first to launch in new states as they opened up legal sports betting.
“I worked very closely with (former William Hill US CEO and Hall of Famer) Joe Asher and we were among the first to market in New Jersey,” she recalled. “From there, we just moved from state to state, always doing the regulatory piece and product at the same time, which was so exciting as I never thought that sports betting would ever go outside of Nevada.”
That “regulatory piece” has often involved seeking approval for new products, something that Drozd has consistently achieved throughout her career. She attributes this success to an ability to form strong relationships with regulators’ technology chiefs, from Travis Foley and Jim Barbee in Nevada to managers in newer jurisdictions as they went live.
“It’s important to have processes in place even though, at times, they can feel like blockers to progress. But establishing open and transparent relationships with regulators is the way forward, as in the end, we all want the same thing – a safe market for our customers that generates revenue for states,” said Drozd.
In 2019, Drozd joined Wynn Resorts and played a key role in the launch of WynnBET in seven states, before linking up again with Salerno at USBookmaking earlier this year.
So 30 years into a storied career in an industry she fell into, is Drozd thinking about finally getting that photography job?
“I don’t think so right now. I’ve missed it but I’m not sure it would have been as exciting as the sports betting industry has been for me.”
The Sports Betting Hall of Fame Class of 2022 ceremony takes place at Meadowlands Racing and Entertainment on the evening of July 13.
It forms part of the SBC Summit North America 2022 conference and tradeshow for the sports betting and igaming industries, which runs across July 12-14 at Meadowlands Exposition Center, New Jersey.