An interview with online gambling industry pioneer Sue Schneider

From the mid nineties, nearly every operator, regulator and gambling company came into contact with Schneider.

Sue Schneider was recently given a lifetime achievement award

Two weeks ago, at the SBC Canadian Gaming Summit I sat down with Sue Schneider to discuss her career, including the highlights and low points of an evolving online gambling industry and to explore suggestions for individuals looking to get into the business. In 2025 Sue will mark 30 years in gambling. Schneider is well known from the 90s as the owner of River City Group, a reference to the nickname for St. Louis Missouri where Sue lives and where the company was founded. One of her first initiatives was running an online gambling magazine called Rolling Good Times Online, which provided news about the sector. She also created other online publications such as iGaming Online and the Internet Gambling Report. Rolling Good Times was launched before the internet and became viable as a print publication, but gained more notoriety in1995 when it was published on the internet.

In 1999, River City Group moved into the gambling conference space, initiating the Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo (GIGSE), a conference geared to gamblers based in North America and offshore companies which served them, as well as EiG (European Interactive Gaming), which focused on gamblers and companies based in Europe. The first GIGSE conference took place in Vancouver, Canada and later ran at facilities in Toronto and Montreal. EiG moved around Europe, although most conferences took place in Barcelona or Malta. In 2006 Sue sold River City Group to Clarion Gaming but stayed involved in the industry. Her current position is Community Director for SBC (Sports Betting Communities) which is headquartered in London, England, but has offices in Poland and Malta, as well as staff in the United States, Argentina and Manchester, England.

Women in Gambling

My first question to Sue centered around what it was like to be a woman in a very male dominated space. While women are commonplace today, the 1990s were a different time when key rolls for women were extremely limited.

"We started an association at the time called Interactive Gaming Council and we had about 120 members. We would have meetings and there would be well over 100 people in the room but only 3 women. It was interesting times. Personally, I didn’t face too many challenges since it was my own company and because I had a strong personality, but I’m sure for other women it was more difficult. I’ve been involved with women’s issues stuff since college and have tried to get more women involved in key positions since. But things are better. We started a group for women involved in the industry during covid which we didn’t have a name for, and that group has female CEOs, General Managers, Board Members, MDs and Presidents. We’ve identified 140 women who fit in that category."

HH: What led you to start up GIGSE?

GGIGSE Sue SchneiderSS: “The people at Law Gaming Review aren’t going to like this. But the woman who owned Law Gaming Review started doing events. She did one in Antigua and one in D.C., and we would help market them. And I started thinking ‘you know what, we can do this.’ And that’s when we started GIGSE. I borrowed $30,000 from the owners of Golden Palace and we made plans. Our first conference was in Vancouver where we had maybe a couple hundred people but we paid them (Golden Palace) back very quickly and we were off from there. The second one was at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto which was very well attended and then all our conferences after that were either in Toronto or Montreal with each one bigger than the next.”

Online gambling laws and operting in the U.S.

My next question related to the late 1990s and early 2000s when the U.S. Government was trying to shut down offshore gambling operations. Janet Reno issued arrest warrants against many offshore operators saying they couldn’t hide online or offshore, John Kyl and Robert Goodlatte tried to pass an Internet Gambling ban, Jay Cohen was arrested and went to prison for violating the Wire Act, and the FBI arrested many offshore operators who entered U.S. air space. So, I was curious if Sue had concerns being based in St. Louis.

SS: "At that time, our goal was essentially to fight the Kyl bill. There was no regulation at the time, so our mission was to fight for regulated gambling. But you’re right that no one wanted to be identified as being in the industry.  That’s why I became the chairperson of that organization (interactive Gaming Council) for 8 years because no one else wanted to have their mug put out there. 

As for being based in the U.S., I would have to say I was concerned, even though we were essentially an events company. But the only time I really had an issue being based in America was in 2006 after I sold the company to Clarion. It was a leftover from the Patriot Act. The banks really started tracking payments, so all of a sudden Bank of America just shut down our account because of all these transfer payments for registration or being exhibitors, etc. for a gaming events company. I knew we did nothing wrong, but it was still worrying because you never knew how far overboard they were going to go. But that is why we never did an event in the U.S., ever.

US gambling lawsAnd there was real concern by operators located in the Caribbean or overseas after David Carruthers was arrested. We were scheduled to have an event the next year in Montreal but operators asked, ‘What will happen if there is bad weather and we are diverted to Detroit?’ So many decided not to chance it. Mind you David and Jay (Cohen) were arrested because they challenged the U.S. government. And the FBI were there at the events. I don’t know if it was our event or another but I was told that in days before bringing laptops was commonplace there were labs and terminals where people could check their email. And from what I was told law enforcement were at the events and somehow got information off of the keys and passwords people entered on the public computers. It was definitely interesting times and quite a wild ride actually."

HH: Were those days more interesting, even though the threats of arrests were real?

SS: "Yes, today it is all corporate. Back then there was a lot of very talented entrepreneurs. I tell people that all the time. If I ever write a book, it would be about how all of that talent was driven outside of the United States and Canada. Had we utilized that talent we could have had a successful industry that was strictly North American. But instead they all went to other locations. It was a real waste." 

Along those lines I asked Sue whether she agreed that Antigua’s biggest mistake was challenging the USTR at the WTO.

SS: "I guess. Antigua won on paper, but it was all meaningless. That’s what frustrates me as an American. We use the WTO when it benefits us, but ignore their rulings if we don’t like them. I don’t blame Antigua for trying, but the U.S. were never going to comply with the WTO ruling."

Timing is everything

HH: Was the sale to Clarion in 2006 a difficult decision?

SS: "I sold to them on July 5th and then two months later the Carruthers arrest happened and then the UIGEA. They asked me ‘did you know that was going to happen’? I said of course not, no one knew that. It was a middle of the night thing. But the reason I sold to Clarion was because at the time Missouri was looking at upping the capitol gains tax. So, the time was just right. I’d been doing it for seven years and I like to start things and not so much maintain them. I had several suitors to choose from. It wasn’t a difficult decision to sell, but it was a difficult time. We worked with Clarion for three years after it was sold and then they came in and shut down the whole U.S. operation. That was the most difficult part of the sale really."

I then asked Sue if her decision to remain in the business and join SBC was always in the plans. Was retirement ever an option?

SS: "Well, after Clarion I got involved as a partner in a company called iGaming North America and ran that for a couple of years and then I got involved in a company called BIGS that ran gaming seminars for a couple of years and following that, I was truly fully retired. But I was asked to be an editor at Gaming Law Review which I was happy to take on for a while and then in 2018 when PASPA was finally overturned and legal and regulated U.S. sports betting began, my old staff said ‘let’s do it again.’ I said no I was 49 when I started the last company and I’m not going to do that again. I would not have weathered it well and would have likely just thrown in the towel at some point. But I’ve known Ras (Rasmus Sojmark, Founder and CEO of SBC) and Andy (Andrew McCarron, Managing Director of SBC), for years and I called them and said listen if you are going to do something over here (North America) let me know. And that’s where I am now.

I don’t have a retirement plan but I’m 73, so when I’m done, it will likely be due to health. But I’ll be involved in the industry as long as my health holds out. I’m also involved in something new to help startups and getting women, people of color and underrepresented people involved in the industry. We want to see innovation in the industry and there is a population that is just not getting any support. So that’s a new thing I’ll be more involved in as well." 

HH: Let's hear a few highlights and lowlights of your experiences in the industry.

SS: "Probably the part I enjoyed the most and felt was the most useful and a highlight was organizing associations. My background and Masters degree was in Non-Profit Administration, so forming the Interactive Gaming Council is the instance I felt was the most rewarding because I was organizing people from South Africa and underrepresented places all over the world who were only connected through the internet with this new industry and trying to get them all organized and meeting in a meaningful way. It was like herding cats because it was a new industry and there was no regulation and that level of organizing is what I enjoyed the most.  As for low times, I would say it was when our office was closed down by Clarion because we had such great staff and it was devastating to see them lose their jobs. I’m a big nepotism fan as well, so aside from great staff a lot of family members lost their jobs too." 

HH: Were there any particular people or companies you really enjoyed working with?

SS: "Golden Palace were great to work with and helped me get started. The folks at Microgaming were pioneers and were always involved in sponsorships and events. The people at Intertops were great to work with. And the people at the Kahnawake Gaming Commission and MIT were terrific. I still keep in touch with them and the Mohawks are great people and true warriors. These of course were all going way back. But as the years passed it just started getting more corporate so it just didn’t feel as personal. Everyone I work with are all great people, but now it’s corporate.

There are a couple of individuals I didn’t enjoy working with, but they are dead. Actually, there is one individual who is not dead, but that’s because they didn’t pay their bill. But I’m not going to name them." 

SBC events and recognition

HH: Are any SBC events that stand out more than others?

SS: "I like the Latin one (held at Hard Rock in Florida each year, but which will be combined with SBC North America next May at a new venue in Fort Lauderdale). The last night is always an amazing Latin dance party. But what I love most about SBC is that they are all different. All our conferences and exhibitions are great, but I don’t think anybody does social events like we do. You can play baseball, football, soccer. SBC North Amrerica  Sue SchneiderThey are lifetime experiences. Social media goes on for weeks after that with pictures and comments. It’s what really makes SBC special."

At the SBC North America Conference in 2023, Sue was given a lifetime achievement award. I asked if this recognition was special to her.

SS: "They talked to me about it before and I said that I don’t think that’s appropriate since I work for the company. So, I was shocked when they gave it to me anyways to put it bluntly. It was a lovely recognition but I was pleasantly shocked."

HH: Finally, is there any advice for individuals or companies who are looking to get into the gambling industry?

SS: "I’m a big advocate of getting involved with big industry groups. I think that’s a great way of meeting people and showing what you can do. Get involved in projects and things like that. It’s just good networking. It’s also a good way of knowing if the business is for you.

As for those looking to start up new ventures my big piece of advice is don’t feel like you have to be all things to all people because people can have a very profitable company if they carve out a niche. That could be catering to a certain demographic or having a certain kind of service or product. But just don’t think you have to have this magic thing that will appeal to all. Niche products and niche operations are what usually succeeds."

As we were concluding our conversation, Sue and I also discussed the old days where a lot of shysters felt that getting into the industry would be easy, but never had the skills or money to be successful. Most ended up shutting down and running off with player’s money, but there were also very talented individuals who never got a foothold because they simply couldn’t pay the licensing fees required or raise enough money to have a realistic starting bankroll.  

SS: "It’s interesting. Last week I was at a North American Gaming Regulator’s convention and there was a young man who started up a betting exchange and he’s only in 2 states because it’s not recognized in most states. But his whole point was that if you want innovation in the industry you have to reduce costs of entry. If a state is going to have a 5-million-dollar application fee you aren’t going to get innovation or a range of choices for the consumer because these companies just can’t afford it. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but it was a really interesting point.

That said, what I really love and am hearted by is the startups who are out there.  It’s hard for them to get going because they are really trying to find capital and this isn’t a good time for that. Even venture capital companies are having a hard time raising money. But I am heartened that there are a lot of 20 somethings who are coming up with interesting ideas. Some are B2B and some are B2C and I really hope some will survive and thrive and beat the entry level barriers. It will be hard but they have some really neat ideas and that is the future of the industry."

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