DraftKings’ Young NJ Staff Finds A Home In Hoboken

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Surveying the staff at work at the new DraftKings office in Hoboken during a brief tour before a ribbon-cutting event on Tuesday, I jokingly asked an executive, “Um, is there an age limit?”

No, but this is indeed as youthful a group as you’ll find at most companies.

Jamie Shea, the director of DraftKings’ digital sportsbook, estimated the average age at 26, while co-founder Paul Liberman roughly pegged it at “27 or 28.” (And, yes, it looked at a glance as if they are mostly male.)

Turns out that as DraftKings went through the hiring process — and Shea said they’ve received 48,000 applications in the past year to become part of what is a 700-member team nationwide — a generation that grew up with daily fantasy sports found the DK brand to be a magnet.

New Jersey, meanwhile, has one of the most highly educated workforces in the U.S., especially on the technical side.

That inspired the seven-year-old company to open the 7,500-square-foot office space for 65 employees who can walk outside to killer views of Manhattan — a perk of having an office on “River Street” (as in “Hudson”).

“They’re coming out of school so invigorated, they have played daily fantasy sports before, and they know about sports betting and embrace it,” Shea added. “Our hires have the experience we were looking for, and there’s a little bit of molding you can do. They are teachable.”

National expansion

The majority of the company’s employees work in a massive new Boston office, but already satellites have popped up in places like Manhattan and San Francisco, with a Las Vegas office on the way.

Liberman, who co-founded the company from his spare bedroom in Boston in 2012, said that New Jersey will continue to play a prominent role as DraftKings grows.

“There’s a lot of talent here in tech and marketing, so New Jersey is becoming an epicenter of gaming,” said Liberman, who a few weeks ago merged his two smaller Hoboken offices and another in Jersey City into this new place. “This is turning into a gaming hub for our overall product — it’s not just New Jersey-related. As the company expands, I think New Jersey will play a more critical role.”

Both Jersey City — where PointsBet and other rivals have planted a flag — and Hoboken are turning into gaming hubs in part because that’s where the workers are, but also because urban areas are where so many of the workers want to be.

“If you go back 10 years ago, people wanted a job in Manhattan,” Liberman said. “Now, a lot of people are happy to be in New Jersey. There’s a great community and a great nightlife.”

There is admiration nationwide in the gaming industry for New Jersey’s victorious six-year court battle that ended in 2018 with the option for sports betting nationwide. Shea added her name to a long list.

“I was watching from afar in 2012, and watching what New Jersey was doing, I was so excited,” said Shea, then in Las Vegas but since last fall a Hoboken resident.

Taking part in Tuesday’s ribbon cutting were Bill Penders and Brian Sabina of the state Economic Development Authority and DK execs Karl Gambin, Paul Liberman, and Jamie Shea

Liberman noted that the company hired people with a variety of skill sets.

“A lot of them were not sports fans, but they have become bigger sports fans since they started working here,” he said. “Some have sports knowledge, some have tech knowledge, some have gaming knowledge. So we do a lot of cross-training across those three competencies.”

Many prospective employees are looking at the company as more of a “tech and product” company than sports, Liberman said, so their main job is solving various technical challenges that pop up.

Longterm path for DraftKings?

Liberman was bullish on the company’s longterm growth, given the rapid expansion of legal sports betting — and even the recent addition of Alabama as a 42nd DFS state.

But while DraftKings is poised to pounce on DFS in that state, legal sports betting bills around the country are offering a mix of results for DFS companies.

Illinois, for instance, has moved forward on a bill sending “bad actors” to a “penalty box” for up the three years. That would include DraftKings and FanDuel, which continued operating in the state in 2015 even after DFS’s legality there became murky. The concept has been mentioned in preliminary legislation elsewhere, too.

Another issue is the number of “skins,” or sports betting platforms, available in a state. New Jersey allows up to 42, and a year in, fewer than half have been scooped up.

But many states are contemplating anywhere from one to six, and other states may not allow companies outside of casinos and horse racing to get in the game.

“It is hard to project,” Liberman conceded. “We don’t know where legislation is going to end up. But our company ultimately will continue to grow.”

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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