One of the things that I find heartening about the recent history of the casino industry is the rapid acceptance of gaming as a legitimate business by colleges and universities around the world.
I had the opportunity to hear about this trend straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, last month when I attended a press conference by Bill Eadington, who founded the industry’s first academic think tank, the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. Eadington was speaking along with Bo Bernhard, the executive director of the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, about the cooperation of the two groups to produce Eadington’s groundbreaking conference, the International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking.
Started by Eadington back in 1974 and held every three years, the next event will be presented May 27-31, 2013 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
During the course of the informal press conference, Eadington gave a short history of gaming in academia. When he first started studying the industry, Eadington said the industry was leery.
“They thought we were a bunch of eggheads and could never understand how the industry worked,” he said.
Yet, right from the beginning, the conference uncovered much surprising research that has benefited every part of the industry, from the executives and employees to the players and shareholders. It took a look, really for the first time, at the problems that gambling causes for some people and tried to figure out what was going on. To be honest, some of the early papers on problem gambling were full of guesses and anecdotal evidence, but the conference spurred interest in this field that today is in full bloom at the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
I learned the basics of the casino industry in New Jersey at the first college outside of Nevada that taught courses on the industry, the Casino Career Institute at Atlantic Community College in Atlantic City. Now, this institute was as much a trade school as it was a real learning environment, but my two professors in casino management there, Jess Hinkle and Bill Downey Sr., taught me lessons that I still use today.
So it’s great to see such prestigious colleges like Cornell University, the University of Houston, Tulane University, Penn State University and San Diego State University, just to name a few, raise gaming to the same status as any other business when it comes to teaching the principles and theory of the casino industry.
There is a dark side to this interest in the casino industry, however. In several international jurisdictions, the study of problem gambling has become something of a cottage industry that depends on making the problem look as bad as possible so the universities involved in studying the issue continue to get the public funding that comes streaming out of governments concerned about their citizens who have the affliction.
In Australia and in some Canadian provinces, there are ongoing studies that incestuously cite other non-credible studies to continue to over-emphasize the level of problem gambling that has been established again and again by credible and peer-reviewed research in Europe and the U.S. But it serves the purposes of these universities to make the problem seem more dramatic and simple than it actually is. Throw enough money at the “research” by these institutions and they’ll come up with another study to justify the false conclusions that they made in earlier studies.
It will take a collaborative effort, like the one we’re seeing developed between UNR and UNLV, to make sure these bogus studies are recognized for what they are. As we make inroads into the academic world, we need to make sure that the study of the industry is fair and objective, that the courses taught reflect what really happens in the industry, and that research being conducted by these universities is reviewed by colleges and universities that truly want to provide their students and clients with the best information available.
No, I’m not asking academia to ignore the problems the industry has. I’m just asking that when taking up gaming as a course study or a research subject, professors and investigators come to the issue with no agenda or preconceived notions. The interest of the colleges and universities is gratifying after all those years in the wilderness, but let’s make sure they provide the best available information so we can improve the industry, as the interest of academia has improved almost every other business that it has studied.