Real Professor, Economist Brought Gaming into Academic Realm

by , Feb 21, 2013 | 7:00 pm

Photo: Theresa Danna-Douglas /University of Nevada, Reno

Photo: Theresa Danna-Douglas /University of Nevada, Reno

Bill Eadington never built a billion-dollar Strip resort. He never managed a riverboat casino or a gambling hall of any size. Eadington never created a new table game. He never developed an innovative slot machine.

Yet, the influence Eadington carried inside and outside gaming circles during his 44-year academic career as an economics professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, went beyond measure. He founded the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at UNR.

Dozens of gaming industry professionals owe their careers to Eadington. Emerging gaming markets sought out Eadington’s research and advice as a consultant on issues related to regulation and law, public policy, and legalization.

He paved the road for academics in other disciplines, such as sociology and history, to study gaming.

For the media, Eadington was a trusted resource on gaming issues, such as the proliferation of casinos and problem gambling.

“He cut right to the facts,” said American Gaming Association CEO Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. “He didn’t go into hyperbole. He laid everything out in a matter-of-fact way. That’s why he was so respected.”

Eadington, 67, died Monday at his Lake Tahoe-area home following an 18-month bout with cancer. His passing was noted in similar tones by many gaming leaders as a loss not only for the industry but for Nevada as well.

“We have lost someone who would look at both the positives and downsides of our industry from a forceful academic approach,” said International Game Technology Chairman Phil Satre, who became acquainted with Eadington during his tenure as chairman and CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment.

Eadington, Satre said, was a key adviser in the task force that created the company’s program that addressed problem gambling, an issue adopted by the American Gaming Association.

“Bill was a gaming research pioneer,” Fahrenkopf said. “He was the first academic to explore responsible gaming and tie it to the economics of the industry.”

In 1974, Eadington created the International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking, an event held every three years. Last year, a partnership was struck with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to host the 2013 conference.

Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, said Eadington was mocked by academic peers back in 1969 when he arrived at UNR. They thought the study of gaming, at the time, was a joke.

“He single-handedly created a multidisciplinary field for gaming,” said Bernhard, whose background is in sociology. “That’s the good thing about the spirit of the conference. He wanted gaming to be looked at through the quantitative language of math and artistic language of science.”

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV, credited Eadington with exposing him to the idea of studying gaming. Schwartz, a graduate student in history at the University of California, Los Angeles, encouraged him to explore gaming research.

“In many ways, Bill put a lot of people on the path toward a career in gaming,” Schwartz said.

One person who ended up in gaming thanks to Eadington is Mark Lipparelli. The former Gaming Control Board chairman, who has held executive positions with such companies as Bally Technologies and Shuffle Master, was headed toward law school until he took several economics courses at UNR from Eadington.

Instead, Lipparelli attended graduate school at UNR and earned a master’s degree in economics.

“Few contributed more over the span of time in enhancing the credibility of our industry,” Lipparelli said. “I don’t think anybody realizes how significant Bill’s influence and reach was in the gaming industry. He brought so many people through his executive development program.”

Lipparelli spent time in Eadington’s classroom as both an undergraduate and graduate student.

“He was a tough professor, but he was very balanced,” Lipparelli said.

Jeffrey Compton, who publishes, said he wouldn’t have discovered gaming without Eadington, who had invited him to a conference in London. Later, Compton attended Eadington’s executive gaming program.

“I owe a great debt to Dr. Eadington,” Compton said.

Eadington published several books on gaming, including “The Downside: Problem and Pathological Gambling” and “Gambling: Public Policies and the Social Sciences.”

In 2011, the American Gaming Association inducted Eadington into the Gaming Hall of Fame, in the same class as Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, chef Charlie Palmer and the Blue Man Group.

Fahrenkopf said Eadington had the largest and loudest cheering section at the induction dinner.

Eadington may have belonged to the gaming industry, but to Reno, he helped put UNR on the academic map.

“One of the coolest things about him was he had a global perspective of what we can do out of UNR for the gaming industry worldwide,” Greg Mosier, dean of the UNR College of Business told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “He made that whole thing take off. He had a grand vision and he pulled it off. He was a good friend to the community. It’s a great loss.”

Howard Stutz’s Inside Gaming column appears Sundays. He can be reached at [email protected] or 702-477-3871. He blogs at Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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