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Q&A with Bo Bernhard

Executive Director, International Gaming Institute, University of Nevada-Las Vegas Harrah's Hotel College

Q&A with Bo Bernhard

Bo Bernhard recently was named executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Harrah Hotel College. The non-profit IGI offers research and educational programs for the global gaming industry. In 2010, Bernhard was named executive editor of the UNLV Gaming Research Journal and a Lincy Fellow at UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West. In 2009, he received the Spanos Award, one of the university’s top teaching awards. And in 2008 he was named the UNLV Harrah Hotel College’s Boyd Distinguished University of Nevada-Las Vegas Professorship for Research as the top researcher in the college. Bernhard’s research career began at Harvard University, where his undergraduate thesis was on the community impacts of the gaming and tourism industries in Nevada. He earned a Ph.D. at UNLV.


GGB: More than 10 years ago, the late Shannon Bybee and Stan Fulton had the vision of a great academic institution doing research and teaching about the gaming industry. Do you think they’d be proud today of what it’s become?

Bo Bernhard: I think they’d be thrilled. With, for example, the fact that the International Gaming Institute exists not only here, but in South Africa. We just got back from presenting the first Pan-African gaming regulator symposium to people from all over the continent. And that was the vision, after all, wasn’t it.

I think the goal was twofold: to spread Las Vegas’ unique take and unique expertise on the global gaming industry to the globe, but also bringing the globe here. Just today, we have the entire Swedish gaming control board here because this is where you have to come to study. The vision was a beautiful thing. And as somebody who works in these offices every day, I get to learn a lot about the global gaming industry because it does come to our doorstep.

What plans do you have to change anything or upgrade some of the offerings that IGI has for the university, the students, and for the industry itself?

We have a number of exciting developments. This is about to become, we hope, the centerpiece of a new hospitality campus. Our facilities in the hotel school, in the heart of campus, are quite old and beaten up. So we’re looking to move out sometime soon, where this really then becomes the heartbeat of the entire hospitality community.

We’re also looking at two primary initiatives for the global gaming industry. One would focus on the internationalization of the bricks-and-mortar industry. The other one is the internet-ization of this product. As Bill Eadington, my colleague and mentor at UNR, has put it, it will be interesting to see if we follow the path of theaters, where these 2,000-seat theaters where we used to consume the movie product have faded away. One wonders whether the cathedrals of gambling consumption might face a similar challenge, moving forward, as gambling is consumed in different spaces.

Non-gaming revenue is becoming such an important part of the industry. The IGI is part of the hotel school, so will there be an increased emphasis on the linkage of the gaming and non-gaming areas?

One of the nice things is that we can offer courses on, for example, integrating the convention business or food and beverage, entertainment, or retail along with the casino business. This is where the term “integrated resort” has come to be used so extensively. That’s one of the things that we’ve done well in the past, and I think we can do even better, as we expand.

Certainly UNLV is very famous for its research. What is your personal agenda for research, now that you’re head of IGI?

The casino operations research, for which we’re very well-known, will continue, certainly. We have some of world’s best researchers in the field on staff here. The gaming industry is not like the furniture industry, where you can sort of open up shop anywhere you like. It’s one of those rare industries where the government gets to decide how, where and when you open up shop. As a result of policy research, all the things that are associated with, again, what I would call “walls outward” considerations in the gaming industry will still be important. That was Shannon’s passion. Shannon really was sort of a policy guy.

The sociology of gaming is getting a lot of attention recently. Is that a passion of yours?

I teach a course on the sociology of gaming, which examines what is increasingly a global gaming industry. This semester, we covered no less than 77 unique jurisdictions in that global tour. Sociologists have a lot of tools to examine all sorts of things. Things like culture, the challenges associated with exporting our Las Vegas product to new shores, and the sort of cultural understanding that’s necessary to do those sorts of things. That’s all sociology.

You’ve been involved with the National Center for Responsible Gaming. Is it possible to be an advocate for problem gambling treatment as well as the industry?

I think so. I think that clearly, this is a product—like many products—that hurts some of its customers some of the time. So the question becomes, for modern businesses, how do you handle the social costs? How do you deal with this? And in many ways, when you look back at the gaming industry, and compare it to the alcohol industry and the cigarette industry, I think the American gaming industry has done quite well.