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Las Vegas is Smart: Here's Why

UNLV professor Bo Bernhard — a keynote speaker for UNLV Research Week Oct. 12-16 — explains how the science of intelligence bends in the direction of UNLV.

Research  |  Oct 7, 2015  |  By UNLV News Center

Las Vegas is home to decisions that drive the tourism industry. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

Bo Bernhard, a professor in both sociology and hotel administration, is the keynote speaker at the kickoff event for Research Week at UNLV. His speech, “Why Las Vegas is Smart” will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 12. Other events during the week include an undergraduate research forum, a technology transfer expo, tours of several research facilities, a panel discussion with graduate students, and an annual presentation by Tom Piechota, vice president for research and economic development, will present on the status of campus research. Details on Research Week activities are available on the Research and Economic Development website.

Here, Bernhard shares four key takeaways from his talk.

1. An evolving science

Las Vegas is not often thought of as a “smart” place — and certainly, the rankings on conventional metrics such as education attainment support this belief.  However, the “science of smart” is evolving, and one could even say that it is bending in the direction of UNLV.  For instance, our scientific understanding of what it actually means to be “smart” is starting to incorporate subtler measures like “social intelligence,” which seems to be more important than IQ in many life and work situations. 

2. Work the muscle

Through research, we are also learning that the brain is much like a muscle — it can continue to grow, change, and get stronger through life. This means that engaging in certain activities repeatedly can make our brain fire faster and more efficiently.

Given these new understandings of intelligence and the brain, Las Vegans, who constantly “exercise” their social intelligence by virtue of welcoming (and interacting with) more than 40 million visitors per year, end up looking smarter than you might think! While conventional metrics of intelligence are no doubt important, newer ways of measuring “smarts” supports the notion of a smart, socially intelligent Las Vegas.

3. Global reach

This is even true at the macro level.  Today, Las Vegas is the Houston of the gaming industry – meaning that the city is the center of thought leadership for its chief industry in much the same way that Houston remains the intellectual capital of the global energy industry long after energy “moved abroad.” Decisions are made in Houston’s executive boardrooms and Las Vegas’ skyscrapers — decisions that drive global industries in energy or tourism. Now that tourism is upwards of 10 percent of the world’s economy, Las Vegas’ “visitor business” is nothing to scoff at worldwide.

4. Educational epicenter

Best of all, UNLV is conducting fascinating research on these topics at multiple levels of analysis — from the way the tiniest particles in our brains react to the most global and macroeconomic machinations of the industry.  When it comes to gaming and hospitality research, the world turns to UNLV — and our research lessons are then taught not only to our students, but also to government, industry, and community audiences around the world. 

For instance, did you know that UNLV hosts the world’s largest, oldest, and most prestigious international research conference dedicated to gambling (alongside researchers from Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and dozens of other universities), and our 16th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking will take place once again this coming June.  Meanwhile, the International Gaming Institute offers many classes grounded in its cutting-edge research to audiences on six continents, further growing our student base to encompass a whole wide world of Rebels.