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October 23, 2014

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Global gaming conference could help Vegas build its ‘intellectual capital,’ experts say

For Bo Bernhard, bringing one of the world's most important gaming conferences to Las Vegas is an important step toward preserving the city's future as an international headquarters for gambling.

As casinos, and their revenue, spread across the world, Las Vegas has found itself taking a second row to other destinations, including Singapore and Macau.

But Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, has maintained that Vegas can keep from losing its foothold in an industry it practically invented the same way Houston has done in the oil industry.

"Even though most of the oil is produced overseas, most of the decisions in how the oil industry is run actually are made in Houston," Berhnard says. "Las Vegas could reinvent itself the same way and become the intellectual capital of the gaming industry."

The next step in that evolution could be the return of the International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking, coming to Caesars Palace in May 2013, which Bernhard and Bill Eadington of the University of Nevada-Reno announced Monday morning. The 15th conference, held every three years since the 1970s, would come back to Vegas for the first time since 2000 in the first-ever collaboration between UNR and UNLV.

"This is really historic," Bernhard said Monday during a news conference at the gaming institute's Stan Fulton Building.

Conference organizers hope to draw 300 to 500 participants from researchers to policy makers, manufacturers and executives in the gaming industry internationally. The focus will be to develop research to solve problems before they occur, as gaming spreads to areas where it never has been before.

"Gambling is not going to become an industry that matures quietly, like the insurance industry," Eadington said.

Research and studying of gambling were rare when Eadington started the first such conference in 1974. But by the end of the decade, attendees had become an eclectic group ranging from old-school card counters to mathematicians and behavioral scientists.

"One reason gaming doesn't develop like the insurance or furniture industries is because it requires government approval to come into a community," Berhnard said.

It also has different ways it affects the community, Bernhard said: what happens inside the casino and its operations, and also what happens outside with both economic and social effects.

Next year's conference is expected to target research on the growing online gaming industry and how it effects casinos, in addition to growing research on problem gambling that has emerged in Canada and Europe in recent years, Eadington said.

Cost cuts at UNR kept the conference from going forward.

Organizers had hoped to put on the conference this year in Nevada, but cost cuts at UNR got in the way. By partnering with UNLV, Eadington said the two schools could combine resources. Plus, he said, putting the conference on the Las Vegas Strip just makes sense.

The conference is scheduled for May 27-31, 2013.

Eadington said learning about the research that now has been in the works for years could help communities and nations new to gambling head off potential problems before they happen.

As Bernhard and Eadington travel, they say they see other places watching the riches of gambling with no thought as to potential pitfalls that await them. Las Vegas acted much the same way, until reality hit with the crash of the economy in 2008 and the billion-dollar casino losses of 2010.

"When problems start emerging," he said, "the hope is you have a basis of research to address them, so you're not just shooting from the hip."

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