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Game On: Brett Abarbanel

This numbers gal bets on the future, both on and off campus.

People  |  Apr 3, 2018  |  By Matt Jacob
Brett Abarbanal

Brett Abarbanel, ’09 MS Hotel Administration, ’13 PhD Hospitality Administration (R. Marsh Starks/UNLV Creative Services)

Editor's Note: 

This story is part of a series highlighting 50 intriguing alumni as part of the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality’s 50th anniversary celebration.


Crunching numbers. Calculating odds. Predicting outcomes. This has been Brett Abarbanel’s life—both in and out of the office—for as long as she can remember.

It’s why she studied statistics at Brown University and developed an affinity for poker at the Ivy League school. It’s why she spent the bulk of her college summers at the horse track in her hometown of Del Mar, California. It’s why she moved to Las Vegas, took a job at the International Gaming Institute, furthered her education at the UNLV Harrah Hotel College (earning both a master’s and doctorate), and ultimately returned to the IGI to spearhead cutting-edge research for the world-renowned facility that one industry publication recently dubbed the “Harvard of Gaming.”

So, yeah, Abarbanel is a numbers gal through and through. But that doesn’t mean the knowledge she gained at the Hotel College stopped on the casino floor.

“One of the best things about getting my degree in hospitality here is that it allowed me to take some of that more theoretical perspective that I got from academe and put it into the perspective of that massive world we have out there with hotels and resorts,” she said. “I mean, I got to learn about food and beverage. So, yeah, my expertise is supposed to be in gambling, but every now and then I’ll be at a restaurant and think, ‘Wow, that guy is doing a good job waiting on that table!’ It’s the kind of thing I never thought that I would ever absorb.

“The Hotel College has helped me to connect with the applied world, the [gaming] industry, in a way that one doesn’t always get with an academic career.”

In her current role with the IGI since August 2016, Abarbanel’s life is now consumed with studying the ever-evolving global gaming world, in particular the recent phenomenon of esports wagering (she’s the co-founding director of the Nevada Esports Alliance). It’s work about which she is extremely passionate—although it has come at the expense of another passion: her poker game.

“I work too much to play enough, and [poker] is one of those things where being in practice makes a huge difference,” she said. “So right now, I’d say my game is average. And that’s what you should print so people invite me to their games!”