Q&A With Tennessee Action 24/7 CEO & Founder Tina Hodges

Q&A With Tennessee Action 24/7 CEO & Founder Tina Hodges

Tina Hodges is the CEO of Nashville-based Tennessee Action 24/7, a sports wagering company that plans to enter Tennessee’s online-only sports betting market.

Action 24/7 will be operating only in Tennessee and as a small, freshly minted gambling company, it will likely be competing against much larger operators, such as DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM.

RELATED: Learn more about Tennessee sports betting and gaming

While Hodges’ educational background is as a nurse, she and her husband have run a successful lending company, Advance Financial, for more than 20 years with over 100 branches throughout the state, and in the last few years it has expanded to 13 other states.

Tennessee is expected to flip the switch on sports gambling by Nov. 1 and Hodges, one of the few female CEOs of a sports betting operator, said that Action 24/7 will be ready.

Gambling.com (GDC): You are trained as a medical professional and have an impressive business background in loan services. So, what draws you to the world of gambling?

Tina Hodges: If you look at digital lending, which is the business that I’ve grown up in, it’s very, very similar. There’s digital customer acquisition. There’s employee-customer experience. There’s heavy data analytics, risk analytics, anti-money laundering, payment processing — hundreds of thousands of payments.

This is what I do now and this is what you’re doing in an online sports gambling company. Digital customer acquisition, customer-employee experience, data analytics, risk analytics, anti-money laundering compliance, moving money all over the place. It’s very, very similar. … In gaming, I look at your profile, your registration data, your gaming history, and I say “How much am I going to let you bet. We’re in this together.”

GDC: What is it about your prior business experience that prepares you to lead a sports bookmaking operation?

TH: After 24 years of running a business, I’ll say this — what I thought was leading a business when I was 30, I do not think now that I’m older. My job is to find the best people in this industry. The best data analytics people. The best HR people. The best sports book management people. To find those people to run an excellent organization. … What you learn over time is that it is not your job to be the expert. It is your job to be the leader and to bring together the experts.

GDC: An interesting aspect of Action 24/7 is that you intend it to be a single-market operator, meaning you’ll be operating only in Tennessee. Why did you make that decision and how do you see it contributing to the business’ success?

TH: We operated the lending business in Tennessee for 20 years. In the last four years, we expanded into (more than a dozen) other states. Every state in gaming now has its own rules and regulations.

What I want to do is become excellent in Tennessee. Provide the best service I can in Tennessee. We have a lot of different rules here in Tennessee. For instance, we have the mandatory 10% hold that other states don’t have. I want to be an excellent provider in Tennessee and then we’ll look down the road several years and say, “Are there other states that make sense for us?” But right now, I’m just thinking, “Let’s do Tennessee, let’s be the best we can be in Tennessee.”

Check Out: Latest updates and legal Tennessee Sports Betting Sites.

GDC: Who will be your oddsmaker?

TH: We’re using the managed trading services of Sportradar. … Years ago, I didn’t have a sophisticated in-house modeling service for lending in 14 states. Now I have my own proprietary models. And so, in time, I’m sure that we will grow to where we move some things off Sportradar and bring those in-house as we get our own risk analysts and our own data.

GDC: In online gaming, in the beginning, it is all about player acquisition. We’ve seen companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel spend fortunes on player acquisition. How do you plan to take on that challenge?

TH: That model of extremely heavy marketing spend has been driving them to almost unprofitable numbers. We are not planning to do that. We are planning to run a for-profit sportsbook. And that’s a different model.

There are people in the lending industry whose only goal is run up customer data bases and customer acquisition numbers and then sell that. And they had no intention of making a profit. That’s not our model. We intend to run a for-profit business in Tennessee giving back money to the Tennessee Lottery Education Fund for the kids in our state. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re under the Education Lottery for a reason, because we provide scholarships to kids in our state with the money we generate for the state. I have a nephew right now on scholarship and we want Action 24/7 to be a profitable business in Tennessee.

So, we’re going to have to fight for our customers. I think we have a lot of brand ambassadors across the state. They may not be world famous but they’re certainly known in Tennessee and Tennesseans will want to hear from them as to who they’re betting with. And we just think we’ll have a home field advantage.

GDC: Would you like to mention who those brand ambassadors will be?

TH: We’re waiting until a little bit closer to our launch date because we don’t want the “Hey, I’m here” until we’re about to launch. But I’ll mention this. We were sponsoring a charity golf tournament for children with special needs and their families, and everyone was like, “Hey, this (sportsbook business) is so awesome, I’m signing up with you right now. I’m so glad there’s a Tennessee-operated sportsbook … you’re not even open yet and you’re already making a difference.”

People really value that in Tennessee. And I just don’t think our competitors will be out in the communities like we will be. Tennessee is one of those states where people would rather buy locally.

GDC: Speaking of DraftKings and FanDuel, DFS has been legal in Tennessee for a handful of years and during that time, those two companies have been building databases that will drive their player acquisition efforts in Tennessee. Plus, there’s a name recognition factor for the big companies. How do you take that on?

TH: In our state, almost every business owner and many consumers, if you say, “That’s the Hodges, they own Advance Financial,” there’s not a person in Tennessee who doesn’t know our company, or who we are, or what we’ve done in the communities, whether it’s in the schools or 4-H programs. Everyone knows who we are. We have spent years building trust in our communities. So, people will say, “Check, I know them.” So, I’m very fortunate to have that because it goes a long way.

GDC: There have been reports that Action 24/7 plans promotions and programs that will be specific to Tennessee sports fans. Can you give some examples of what that would look like?

TH: We will wind up having parlays that are more Tennessee-specific that other (operators) may not go down to. While they are collegiate sports and sanctioned games, other operators may just not offer (those wagers). There may be next-level colleges that aren’t (high profile) teams. And those are events people here would be interested in — their kids go there, maybe their daughter plays basketball there or their nephew plays basketball there. We’ll be able to offer those things that will make us unique.

GDC: How about live promotional events, given health restrictions?

TH: We have been doing it safely and successfully since August. Our team is out with our Action 24/7 masks on. We’ve been out having Titans watch parties. The (University of Tennessee) first game, we had a big watch party. We were just at a golf tournament. We were at some wrestling events earlier, wrestling is super popular in Tennessee. So, we’ve been out and about. It’s not the larger crowds that we would probably be able to have (after the pandemic), like a big tailgate at a university. Maybe next fall, we’ll be able to have those live, in-person tailgates at various universities. We’re doing it now within local restrictions.

GDC: Clearly, you are banking on building a brand through regional pride and home state loyalty. Could you elaborate on how you plan to convince prospective customers to feel that same way about Action 24/7?

TH: What I’ve seen from interactions with people in restaurants and bars over the last 60 days, most people in Tennessee who are not already gambling with an unlicensed bookie, don’t know that sports gambling is legal here. They don’t know that it’s coming. So, we have a huge opportunity to educate people, to say, “Hey, it’s legal and we’re local. We’re your go-to guy.” That’s a huge opportunity out there.

There’s a small group of people who are interested in fantasy sports who already know it and have been keeping up with it. But there’s a large group of people who may not like fantasy but they’d like to gamble on a game if they knew it was legal. Those are people who, so far, only gamble on the Kentucky Derby or only gamble on the Super Bowl. … but now it’s, “Oh, it’s legal and it’s local, I’ll sign up for that.”