Following the repeal of PASPA, the USA has become an attractive market for iGaming veterans from Europe and beyond. Whether an operator or an expert, here’s what you need to know about working in America…
The notion of the American Dream has long inspired people from countries around the world to relocate to the US in search of work opportunities and a better quality of life. And following the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) back in May, and the subsequent state-by-state roll-out of sports betting, the opportunity for iGaming professionals from Europe and beyond to take their experience and expertise Stateside has opened up proper.
On paper, there are tremendous opportunities for both operators and experts to mutually benefit from the situation. American casinos and racetracks lack knowledge when it comes to key aspects of launching sportsbooks – from platform to marketing via payments and customer service – while their European counterparts have learned lessons from managing these core elements for more than a decade. The opportunity to transfer knowledge is significant, and should be leveraged where possible.
But the road operators and experts face when it comes to onboarding overseas talent to US corporations is long and bumpy. The reality of working in the US on a permanent basis – from the point of view of both employer and employee – is more complex and complicated that it first seems. These hurdles must be overcome, of course, given the value European experts can bring to the US market.
For US operators looking to employ overseas talent:
The main challenge faced by operators looking to permanently employ staff from outside the United States of America is applying for, and securing, the necessary work permits and visas. Without the correct paperwork in place, foreign nationals simply won’t be allowed to pass through US Customs, let alone through the office doors of their new employer. So what documentation is required, and how do employers and employees go about applying for it? First things first, you will need to secure a work visa.
Applying for a work visa:
To do this, the employer must file a Petition for a Non-immigrant Worker Form – also known as an I-129 Form – with the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). This document allows foreign nationals to travel to, enter, and work in the USA. For iGaming executives, the most relevant work visa is a Temporary Worker Visa (Skilled Worker), also known as a H-1B Visa. They are allocated to people working in specialist roles and occupations, and online gambling professionals should meet the criteria.
There are a couple of issues with the H-1B Visa, however. One, the foreign national must hold the US equivalent of a bachelor’s degree and occupy a professional position. The latter should not be an issue, but the former could be a concern for some. What’s more, there are only 85,000 H-1B Visa applications accepted by the government each year, with the application period opening on 1st April. Demand is high and disappointment likely; this year some 190,098 applications were received in a matter of days.
Alternative work permit options do exist:
● O-1: for individuals who can show “extraordinary ability or achievement” in business.
● E-3: for Australians with a bachelor’s degree.
● TN: for Canadians or Mexican nationals with a bachelor’s degree.
● L-1: for managers, executives or highly specialised workers of multinational companies (where the applicant has at least one year of work experience with the company abroad).
● J-1: for short-term (12- to 18-month) management trainees with a foreign bachelor’s degree or five years of professional experience.
● E-2: for managers, executives or highly specialised workers who have the same nationality as the employer (for example, the US employer is at least 50% owned by UK entities, and seeks to employ a British executive).
Once the petition has been approved, the application for the visa can begin proper. The foreign national you would like to employ must complete an online application and upload a photo of themselves via the Department of State’s website. They will also need to schedule an in-person interview at a consulate in their country of residence. Waiting times for interview slots can vary and, once booked, a non-refundable visa application fee of between $190-$205 is payable.
On the day of the interview, the applicant will need to take several items with them:
● Petition approval receipt number
● Visa application confirmation
● Passport-style photo
The purpose of the interview is to determine whether the applicant is suitably qualified for the visa they have applied for. During the interview, digital fingerprint scans will be taken, and, on completion, additional fees may need to be paid depending on the nationality of the applicant and the type of visa they have applied for.
Applying for a social security number:
Once a work permit has been granted, foreign nationals must apply for a Social Security Number (SSN). This is used to report a person’s salary to the government and to determine their tax liabilities, as well as whether they are entitled to any services and benefits. SSNs can be obtained once the foreign national has entered the USA with their work visa by applying at a local Social Security Administration office. Their Social Security Card will be mailed to their registered address within two weeks of the application being made.
Applying for a green card:
Of course, work visas only allow foreign nationals to remain in the US on a temporary basis. To make it permanent, they will have to apply for a Permanent Residents Card or “Green Card” as it is also known. The Green Card application process is complex and can take several years from start to finish. Once an overseas worker has established eligibility, they will need a sponsor to file an immigration petition on their behalf – this is usually their employer. Once this has been approved, they will need to complete Form I-485.
The red tape doesn’t stop there.
Applying for a state gaming licence:
In addition to obtaining a work permit, foreign nationals might also need to be licenced by the gaming regulator in the state where they will work. This process can be just as arduous, particularly for those who worked for online gambling operators that remained active in the US following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006. This is certainly true for those employed by companies indicted by the Federal government – PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, Absolute Poker – on April 2011, also known as Black Friday.
In New Jersey, for example, PokerStars was forced to cull several senior members of its team in order to receive its iGaming licence from the Division of Gaming Enforcement once online casino and poker had been legalised in November 2013. It took PokerStars’ then parent company Amaya a further two years to be approved to launch, and at the cost of some of its most experienced and long-standing executives and managers.
The scale and scope of the regulator’s investigation into the suitability of executives should not be underestimated, and goes way beyond the companies they have worked for in the past and whether those organisations hold “bad actor” status. It is not uncommon for them to go as far as requesting school reports to fully assess the reputability of the person in question. In some cases, certain foreign nationals will find the process of applying for a state gaming licence even tougher than obtaining a work visa.
There is another way in which operators can gain access to experienced experts, and without becoming tangled in red tape. Consultants.
Consultants provide instant access to top talent:
Onboarding consultants on a project basis is the easiest and most effective way for US operators to access top talent from Europe and beyond. The process of engaging an expert, briefing them on the project, and them starting work can be completed in a matter of days rather than weeks or months. There is absolutely no need to apply for a work permit or Social Security Number, and, in most cases, approval from the state gaming regulator will not be necessary, either.
For foreign nationals looking to work in the US:
As with operators looking to leverage European expertise, the best way for experts to work Stateside is to become a consultant, and work on a project basis.
The advantages of project-based consulting:
In addition to there being an influx of work available, there are further benefits to working as a consultant. This includes working on projects that interest you, and with organisations where you believe you can add genuine value. You do not need to worry about relocating, you can work to a schedule that delivers the work/life balance you are seeking, take more control over the future direction of your career and, finally, secure more favourable terms and fees for the work you carry out.
That said, consulting is not for everyone, and some iGaming experts will prefer the job security and support that comes with a full-time, permanent role. As discussed above, to do this you will need to go through a fairly complicated process of applying for a work visa and, in some cases, a state gaming licence – a process that can take many months. Another way to cross the pond is by finding employment with one of the many third-party platform, product and service providers working with US operators.
Seek employment with a third-party provider:
The early signs suggest that the majority of operators will launch online sportsbooks and casinos via fully-managed platforms. This provides an opportunity for talent from Europe to work for these providers and request secondment to the USA, if it is feasible to do so. Of course, you will then likely have to go through the visa application process, but this should be more straight forward given your existing position within the organisation. It is also likely the business will have done this before with other employees, which should make things easier.
Unleash the power of your green card:
If you already hold a Green Card, it is very much open season for you. Perhaps you are a US citizen that has been working for a European operator or supplier for several years and would like to return to America. For operators looking to access European experience instantly and onboard talent without being hampered by the need to go through visa applications, it is perhaps the most ideal solution. That said, the number of experienced executives in this position will be limited.
In addition, operators working with this type of executive will still face the usual challenges of employing someone new. This includes the interview process, bouncing backwards and forwards with offer and counter offer, notice periods to be worked out, and the lingering fear that they may turn out to be the wrong person for the role but are locked into a watertight contract. Again, the option of engaging project-based consultants is more attractive and offers tremendous upsides to both employer and expert.
Other things to consider:
Regardless of whether operators opt for permanent employment or project-based consulting, there are additional aspects that need to be considered. This includes:
Given the fledgling nature of the US market, there is a lack of data for operators to use to help set salaries. To overcome this, operators should look to more established markets such as Europe for an idea on what specific roles command. They can also use tools such as the Betting Jobs Salary Survey for even more detailed insight.
Candidates from abroad will expect a relocation package. At the basic level, this will include flights, visas and temporary accommodation upon arrival. In addition, some will request their employers pay for the shipping of their possessions. In terms of on-going benefits, healthcare will be a must, while at executive and management level, schooling for children may also have to be taken into account.
The US undoubtedly provides a huge opportunity for experienced iGaming executives to work with casino and racetrack operators, but the practicalities of doing so are not as easy as you might expect.
The easiest option for both operators and experts is project-based consulting. Operators can access talent instantly without the need to obtain work permits and licences. Knowledge can be shared quickly and effectively, and then the consultant can take a back seat once the operation is up and running and firing on all cylinders. There are benefits to the expert, too; they have immediate access to the booming US jobs market, there is no need to relocate, they have flexibility over when they work, and they can work on projects that interest them.
It’s very much a win win.