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Learning the Game

David Schwartz, Director, Center for Gaming Research, UNLV

Learning the Game

David Schwartz has gaming in his blood. His first job was at the ice cream parlor at Bally’s in Atlantic City when he was in high school. He later went on to work in security and surveillance and other departments at several Boardwalk casinos. But education was Schwartz’s first love, and after graduating college, he applied to become director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and never looked back.

Unlike most academics, Schwartz’s experience in gaming brings a realistic view of the world not always shared in the ivy-covered towers. Schwartz’s mentors include the late Shannon Bybee, a former casino executive and founder of the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, and the late Bill Eadington, the founder of the Center for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno. Schwartz combines Bybee’s real-life approach to education with Eadington’s love of research, and is truly the spiritual academic heir to their gaming education tradition.

“As an academic studying gambling, it is very important to me to have worked in the industry first,” he explains. “I think it gives me a base of knowledge that helps me understand the industry in its own terms. Coming from Atlantic City, I’ve seen firsthand the power of the industry to change lives, and I don’t forget about that when I’m researching or writing about it. This isn’t just numbers on a spreadsheet; it’s real people we’re talking about.”

Schwartz has parlayed his experience and knowledge into several books, along with his teaching assignments at UNLV. His Suburban Xanadu is the most important and comprehensive book on casino design in Las Vegas, while his Cutting the Wire: Gaming Prohibition and the Internet is considered to be the most authoritative book on the infamous Wire Act and its application to internet gaming. But his Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling is the most comprehensive look at how gambling has ebbed and flowed from the Stone Age to the 21st century.

Most recently, Schwartz has published Grandissimo: The First Emperor of Las Vegas, a biography of the creator of modern Las Vegas, Jay Sarno, who built the first themed properties, Caesars Palace and Circus Circus.

But it’s spreading the facts about gaming that really interests Schwartz. A frequent source for the mainstream media, he’s not happy when a reporter comes to him armed with an angle that bears no relation to reality.

“I want to continue to improve what we do at the Center, including strengthening the data we provide on our website, gaming.unlv.edu. This is a resource that many in the industry use, and I’d like to see that increase. I’d like to continue to bring top-flight researchers to UNLV through the Eadington Fellows Program and in general do more to get accurate information about gambling in the public domain.”

While he’s a sought-after consultant to many gaming companies, books will remain a passion, as well, for Schwartz. “I have eight ideas for my next one,” he laughs.

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