In the middle of the Mojave desert there’s a thirst for new gaming. And UNLV’s gaming innovation chief Mark Yoseloff and his band of students are starting to quench that thirst by changing how players game in Las Vegas and around the world.
Nearly two years after launching the Harrah Hotel College’s Center for Gaming Innovation, Yoseloff’s students are seeing their game inventions on casino floors.
“We are starting to see the fruits of our labor,” said Yoseloff, a gaming pioneer, industry leader and former head of SHFL Entertainment, Inc. “This is more than an academic exercise. It has real world implications for Las Vegas and the state of Nevada.”
Students in the program have filed applications for 25 gaming patents, doubling the applications from the first year. Six new gaming products are in or on their way to the field and three companies have been founded.
The centerpiece of the program is a course each semester that teaches undergraduate, graduate and non-university students how to design technically advanced casino games for casinos and the Internet. Students are also guided through the patent process, develop business strategies and receive mentorship from top industry experts.
Faculty in the Hotel College and its International Gaming Institute, along with Yoseloff, teach the course through the college’s gaming management concentration. Local industry and legal experts participate as guest speakers.
"We are extremely proud of the successes we have seen from the program," said UNLV President Len Jessup. "This program cements UNLV's reputation as a world leader in gaming education and further positions Las Vegas as the intellectual capital of global gaming."
From Theory to Practice
“I can’t teach someone to be creative,” said Yoseloff recently while standing on the gaming floor of Palace Station. “I can teach a creative person how to channel their idea into a commercial product used by a casino.”
Amidst the whirling and ringing of slot machines and clacking of chips on the gaming tables were two games created by UNLV students and given a test run at the casino located just west of the Las Vegas Strip.
“Here it is in flesh and blood,” Yoseloff said proudly of the two games - 40 Times Double Down and Pai Wow Poker - created by gaming innovation students Taylor Ross and Charlie Bao Wang. Both men work in the gaming industry. Wang works for Palace Station and Ross for the Venetian.
The games have been approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission, a 17-step process that Yoseloff helps guide his students through. Ross, 24, who is studying gaming management and is expecting to graduate next May, said the experience seemed unimaginable.
“It’s pretty incredible. One day you’re spitting out an idea in class. The next it’s being unveiled on a casino floor,” Ross said.
Ross created 40 Times Double Down, which allows gaming enthusiasts the opportunity to increase their double down bet up to 40 times a portion of their wager while playing black jack.
For Wang, who created Pai Wow Poker - a variation of the card game Pai Gow that allows players the opportunity to consider unique strategies - taking Yoseloff’s class not only netted him the game but a job.
UNLV Hotel College Alum and now director of table games for Palace Station Scott Morrow hired Wang after speaking with Yoseloff about the gaming innovation center’s talented students.
Although not all new games become successes, getting a new game onto a casino floor can be a daunting task. This is where UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation program can smooth the way. Currently, Pai Wow Poker remains up and running and Yoseloff expects another student developed game, Super 3 Card, to be approved for use in Nevada by the end of the month.
The ideas stretch beyond just table games.
There is an enormously successful and growing industry of online gaming, through mobile applications.
“Our reach now is getting greater and greater. Students are looking at creating social gaming and millennial gaming,” Yoseloff explained.
State leaders have taken notice. What started out as a class quickly flourished and Governor Sandoval’s Office of Economic Development’s Knowledge Fund, which gives grants to the state’s universities to promote research and commercialization in targeted economic growth areas, funded the center with a $500,000 grant.
“Industry leaders and government officials recognize the importance of the work being done by our students,” Yoseloff said. “Because the intellectual property comes from Nevada, no matter where the games are played in the world, a portion of the revenue comes back to Nevada.”
Yoseloff said it was an important moment for the center. “This was very competitive to get these grants,” he said.