Jacqueline Grace is breaking barriers as the senior vice president and general manager of Tropicana Atlantic City.
And the advice she gives to others: Just do it.
“(For) women trying to work in male-dominated industries, I’d say don’t let that discourage you,” Grace said in a recent interview. “Believe in your capabilities, believe that there are going to be people there to support you.”
Grace, who was appointed to the positions in September, is just one of three women running casinos in Atlantic City. And of the market’s nine casinos, only two — Tropicana and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa — are run by Black women.
“Not only are there not a lot of women in these roles, but particularly women of color,” Grace said. “Since I’ve entered the industry, I understood the meaning of that and the impact of that.”
As general manager, Grace oversees Tropicana’s staff of nearly 1,800 people. She also monitors the resort’s day-to-day operations and performance in both gaming and nongaming departments.
Grace, 44, of Ocean City, began her career in gaming more than 10 years ago when she joined Caesars Leadership Development Program and was assigned to assist the head of slots at Bally’s Atlantic City.
Grace then went on to work in human resources and management at Caesars properties in Baltimore and Philadelphia before returning to Atlantic City in September.
Although the American Gaming Association doesn’t keep statistics on the number of U.S. casinos run by women, many executives and analysts believe Atlantic City has one of the highest rates of women-led casinos in the country at roughly 33%.
For Grace, working with mostly men is nothing new. She studied electrical and computer engineering at Stony Brook University in New York, and after spending nine years working in financial services on Wall Street, she pursued her MBA at the University of Virginia.
“My entire academic and professional career has been that,” Grace said. “I never really made that a focus of mine. It was more about ‘I have this interest. I want to do this work. I’m going to go do this work.’”
Grace’s appointment to her current positions gives her a great sense of pride, especially when she considers where she came from.
“Knowing that was a long-term goal of mine and I accomplished that goal, that felt really good,” Grace said. “And if I think just about my background, my dad grew up in rural Alabama and was drafted into the Vietnam War right after high school. My mother grew up in the housing projects in Brooklyn. ... So I’m the first person in my family to graduate from college. And that was a big accomplishment for my family at the time. And then you add this, which is something they could never have contemplated.”
Reflecting back on her journey as a Black woman in gaming, there’s a particular instance that has stuck with Grace.
“When I first started when I was down at Bally’s and I was an entry-level manager, and there was an (environmental services) attendant that could have been my grandmother. And she stopped me and said, ‘I am so proud of you,’” Grace said, recalling the incident. “This amazing lady didn’t know my name, she didn’t know what I did for a living, but all she saw that there was someone who looked like her — I was wearing a suit and that meant something for her.”
For women who are hesitant to enter a male-dominated industry such as gaming, Grace has three words of advice: Just do it.
“Not to be cliché and steal from Nike, but I would say just do it,” Grace said. “I would understand the hesitation because again, representation matters, and when you look up and you don’t see people who look like you, you think perhaps maybe I can’t do it or maybe I don’t belong there. ... Push through the nerves, push through any type of intimidation you might feel that you have the capability and skillset to do it and just jump in.”
It’s this sort of determination that resonated with Steve Callender, regional president of Caesars Entertainment.
“She’s (Grace) a hard worker. She’s approachable. She’s very intelligent. She was the perfect candidate,” Callender said.
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