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Expert gets students in game

RENO — The class is Economics 411. The subject is gambling. The instructor is gambling expert Bill Eadington, director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno.

A wide variety of subjects are covered in Eadington’s lecture.

One part deals with “whales,” the biggest of the world’s big spenders who must be treated with care when visiting gambling feeding grounds in Las Vegas or Macau.

Another part deals with the care and respect gambling executives must show to the gambler who is about to lose millions.

He reminds his class about the egos, perhaps well-deserved, of gambling’s hierarchy. If Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn seems like he’s got a big head, well, there’s good reason for that.

He outlines the old Las Vegas system of juice.

He mentions, oh by the way, that stars like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have earned $100,000 a pop in “show up” money at nightclubs on the Strip.

That’s $100,000 just to show up.

Other lectures can be just as fascinating, from falling gambling stocks to the rise of Macau.

The movie “Casino,” is mentioned. Eadington remembers how Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman played a bit part as a mob lawyer in the Robert De Niro flick that chronicled the waning days of mob rule in Las Vegas.

The movie was a reflection of real life. Goodman indeed represented mobsters, Eadington said.

“He came out of the (mob) era with enough absence of dirt upon him to be able to be elected mayor.”

Eadington operates without a text book. He does, however, require students to read an assortment of books related to gambling, such as “Whale Hunt in the Desert” and “Winner Take All.”

“Dr. Eadington does not shy away from reading material,” said Russ Cox, a former undergraduate student of Eadington’s who is taking a master’s course from him.

Cox is International Game Technology’s slot operations manager at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

There’s so much to gambling. So much to Eadington’s Economics 411, a class he has taught since the early 1970s.

It is one of seven gambling-related classes offered at the College of Business.

Students can earn a minor in gambling management at UNR.

A gambling-management major used to be offered, but it is being phased out because it was considered to have too narrow a focus.

“Plus, we just did not have the enrollment to justify the allocation of faculty,” Eadington said.

Students in Economics 411 listen intently. In a tight job market, some hope for work in the gambling industry.

That hope is fueled by Eadington’s disciples who are successful gambling industry executives.

“The opportunities right now in casinos are endless,” said Alisa Mirabal, 30, a 2000 UNR graduate who is a gambling consultant and director of marketing for Marketing Research in Las Vegas.

“Almost every single state has a form of gaming now, from card rooms to casinos to legal gaming facilities. So you can technically pick a state and find something, an opportunity, because casinos are being built everywhere.”

Eadington’s program has a solid reputation for placing students in management positions. Yet Economics 411 is the fun stuff. Classes get relatively more difficult as students advance.

The gambling-management course of study culminates with “Quantitative Methods and Applications of Casino Gaming.” Some students said that class is the best example to show that the study of gambling management at UNR is not for slackers.

Eadington has no use for slackers.

“When you get out of here, it is a very competitive market and, in general, Nevada students are a bit too complacent,” Eadington said. “I’ve taught at Harvard and other schools where you see a lot of lean and hungry students, and the world needs people who are going to pay attention to what is important.

“If I were an employer and not an instructor, I would be very demanding,” Eadington said. “I want to see your best work; and if you are not interested in doing that, I’m not terribly interested in giving you a good grade.”

Students look across the world for opportunity. Gambling is big in Macau, much of it run by Las Vegas corporations.

Some see a future for themselves in the expansion of gambling in other Asian nations. Students also are well-aware of opportunities in the United States, where 48 states have some sort of gambling.

“As a student, I am looking at Macau, at the Bahamas, at Asia, Europe, South Africa and Las Vegas,” said Mikel Alvarez, 29, the final gambling-management major on campus.

The future looks bright in gambling, but not in Reno, Alvarez and other students said.

Reno may find it difficult to keep the most talented students, gambling executives said. The Reno market “is an older-style gaming location that some graduates may not want to be part of in the first place,” Mirabel said.

“It is not the up-and-coming place to be. Northern California is so close and is an up-and-coming place. There, they (graduates) can be part of the project from the beginning. It is more of a mega resort, per se, as it directly compares to Reno.”

Eadington does not agree with the irony that his school is developing executives for tribal casinos that could further weaken Reno’s struggling gambling market.

Washoe County casinos have shown negative gambling win growth for more than 12 consecutive months compared with the same months from the previous year.

“If you draw a parallel argument, it might be that universities should not be training students in engineering because they might move to California and build better factories and industries that would take jobs away from Nevada,” Eadington said.

“One of the realities is that management work in California tribal casinos are usually people who have had extensive experience in Nevada. The ability of a program like ours to have any influence whatsoever on the direction of the gaming industry in Nevada or anywhere else is very limited.”

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