It was the biggest gambling conference in the world, and getting a lot of attention, just not, perhaps, for the right reasons. Instead of the media getting excited about developments in virtual sports, new online betting platforms or the latest releases from some of the most innovative gaming companies around, all eyes were focused on women at the conference.
Not the women attending the event as business leaders or as gaming visionaries however. Instead, the conference has received much scrutiny for its hostesses in swimsuits, burlesque performers and models in bondage gear pole dancing.
As free alcohol flowed and men in suits watched promotional hostesses dressed as Bavarian maids and cheerleaders, the row about women being hired to wear skimpy outfits and stand with merchandise or provide hospitality raged.
For decades, attractive and sometimes unnecessary women have been part of motor racing, selling cars, and events such as the ICE Totally Gaming Conference which was held between the 6th and 8th of February at London’s Excel. ICE also featured a party with a Playboy theme, despite a warning from Sarah Harrison, the chief executive of the UK Gambling Commission, to tone down sexually inappropriate behaviour at the event or risk a boycott.
Around 300 women, some dressed in thongs, fetish items, or underwear, were paid to be present at ICE exhibitors’ stands, pose for photographs with male attendees and perform hostess duties. Some of the women reported being harassed, groped and being asked for sex. ICE is a global gaming event with representatives from more 150 countries in attendance.
Two Labour MPs subsequently described the gambling industry as ignorant and exploiting women.
However, is employing women like this exploitation, or just part of the fun? The women seem to need the work, otherwise they would not be there. Is the outrage over hostesses being part of ICE threatening the livelihood of hundreds of women, or is it promoting sexist behaviour and creating more negative headlines for the gambling industry, of which many people disapprove anyway? Ms Harrison of the Gambling Commission referred to employing hostesses at ICE as a “stain” on the reputation of the industry.
A recent article on the European Gaming website however, criticised Ms Harrison’s stance, stating that any night of the week women can be found in scanty attire flashing their “assets” after a few drinks in a nightclub. Zoltan Tundik, who wrote the article and is a commentator on online gaming issues, also said that up to 90 per cent of the decision-makers in the gambling industry – approving promotions – are women.
Demise Of The Presidents Club
The issue has been in the spotlight recently following a Financial Times investigation where undercover reporters attended a charity event held by the Presidents Club on January 18, 2017 at the Dorchester Hotel. The Presidents Club Charity Dinner was attended by 360 men from the elite of British finance, business and politics.
Items for auction included lunch with the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. More than a hundred hostesses hired to work at the fundraiser were ordered to wear skimpy clothing with high heels and matching underwear. Many of them reported being propositioned, harassed or groped during the event.
The Presidents Club has since been reported as closing down. Formula 1, also a big employer of grid girls or hostesses for motor racing events, has since announced that it is replacing hostesses with grid kids. One commentator said grid girls sent sexist messages about sports. Women who were employed as grid girls of course may resent this decision being made for them, the result being some losing possibly lucrative and even enjoyable work. Liberty Media, which now owns F1, said employing models at races was no longer something that resonated with the values of their brand.
However, replacing grid girls with grid kids has been greeted with caution, as it has been pointed out that kids get distracted and could be injured. Meanwhile, there are other claims of hypocrisy, as the Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead, despite alleged human rights abuses in the kingdom, which is unlikely to resonate with any corporation’s brand either.
Darts Make A Pointed Stand
The World Darts Championships have also since stopped the use of “walk on” women at their events. However, for those who do think decorative women belong at sporting events, there are no moves at present to remove what are known as ring card girls from boxing matches.
There is a bitter divide between those who accuse F1 of normalising sexist behaviour, and those who say removing models from events with a largely male audience – such as motor racing and gambling conferences – are long overdue.
Of course, women can be involved in sport or gambling, it just depends what role you are talking about. Women can go online and bet on sports or play slots, and they can be successful poker players too. Victoria Coren Mitchell, for example, has won professional poker tournaments and more than £1.5 million in prize money. Women should be welcome to play in casinos if they have the inclination and the funds, but whether women in revealing dresses should be mandatory at casinos to serve drinks is a different issue.
Sexist behaviour has been under the microscope in recent months, and the #MeToo movement – where women have publicly indicated they are victims of harassment or assault – went viral and gathered momentum in the wake of alleged sexual assaults by film producer Harvey Weinstein. While the actors Catherine Deneuve and Brigitte Bardot have claimed that men are being unfairly targeted for harmless flirting, and Liam Neeson said that the movement has turned into a witch hunt, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says the movement has not gone far enough to bring long-term change and eradicate inappropriate behaviour towards women in the workplace. Sandberg has advocated for more women to fill leadership roles, and wrote a bestselling book called ‘Lean In’ which advised women on how to succeed in a largely male-dominated business world.
Some could claim that placing possibly provocatively clad women in largely male surroundings – especially when alcohol is abundant – encourages the objectification of women as sexual playthings, and even normalises treating women as merely bodies to be used for men’s gratification.
Others say that having attractive women at these kinds of events causes no harm, and that stopping the practice is simply another example of excessive political correctness and a lack of a sense of humour. Most men would be likely to contain their behaviour within respectful limits, and it would be a small minority who would harass women at a sporting or gambling event.
Assuming that women working as hostesses at a sports or gambling event were at risk of being harassed could also be construed as extremely insulting to men. If women wearing revealing outfits was deemed as an insult to women, then there could also be a case for preventing women from wearing clothing of their choice at a wide range of social and professional engagements.
Not all hostesses find working at sporting or gambling events unpleasant. One hostess interviewed said that doing this type of work boosted her confidence, and it was her body – if she wanted to show it off and make some money out of it, then that was her choice. Some women enjoy hostess work and find it preferable to other forms of employment, and the vast majority are not harassed or assaulted while doing it. Many heterosexual men enjoy the company of hostesses without becoming predators. No lewd or inappropriate behaviour was reported to have taken place during ICE.
One woman who works in the gambling industry said that in general no one had an issue with models and hostesses being present, except for the few who were almost nude. Another commentator said that the gambling itself was potentially more of a problem for society than women standing around dressed as saucy maids. Likewise in Formula One, driver injuries and cars exploding or mowing down spectators would cause far more misery than girls at the race track dressed as sexy cowgirls in shorts skirts and boots.
Whether women should be part of gambling and sports events is a complex issue. Women should, of course, feel safe in these environments, and possibly more vigilance is required. However, removing women could be seen as appeasing the PC police and the extreme demands of social justice warriors.