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International Gaming Institute: Shaping Gaming for 25 Years

Some of the major milestones of a driving force behind developments on the Las Vegas Strip and beyond.

UNLV History  |  Oct 25, 2018  |  By Nicole Schultz
The demolition of the Dunes casino

The 1993 demolition of The Dunes made way for construction of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino as the megaresort era boomed along the Las Vegas Strip that decade. 

Editor's Note: 

For more of the International Gaming Institute's accomplishments, read its 25 Milestones in 25 Years publication.


From 1946 to 1989, the Las Vegas Strip expanded to include 11 new hotel casinos. In the 1990s, the industry was booming, and the number of resorts on the Strip nearly doubled. 1993 alone saw the construction of Luxor, Treasure Island, MGM Grand, and the implosion of Dunes to make room for The Bellagio.

That same year, two UNLV Hotel College faculty members, David Christenson and Vince Eade, met with the Nevada Gaming Commission. The group decided that the industry’s rapid growth created a need for “an institute in Las Vegas that would serve as an educational conduit for the expanding gaming industry.”

The UNLV International Gaming Institute was launched by the end of 1993 to provide gaming research, innovation, executive education, and insights to leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Here’s a look at some of the institute’s milestones over the last quarter-century.


'Global Intellectual Capital of Gaming'

In his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Brian Sandoval praised UNLV for its work with the Governor's Office of Economic Development "to establish UNLV as the global intellectual hub for gaming, hospitality, and entertainment." The institute is helping realize Sandoval's vision of creating a robust, diversified, and prosperous economy in Nevada. Faculty members have attended trade missions with Sandoval, visiting places like Ghana, Sydney, and Warsaw to discuss globally impactful topics like government policy and skill-based casino games.

Innovation for a New Generation

The cornerstone of the institute’s Center for Gaming Innovation is its gaming innovation class. Launched in 2013, this course fosters innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit in inventors of all ages through the creation of commercially viable casino games. To date, the center has filed more than 45 patent applications, resulting in nine issued patents and eight commercialized games.

Building on the success of the gaming innovation class, IGI began offering a hospitality innovation class in early 2016. While working on innovations of their own, students learn from industry experts on the latest trends in hospitality, including esports, robotics, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, blockchain, and cryptocurrency. Hospitality innovation students have cumulatively filed more than 10 patent applications.

Esports Insights

The biggest buzzword in hospitality and gaming today is esports, and institute researchers have become leading experts in this field. The latest projects include:

  • Research on topics like the relationship between esports and gambling and the impacts of esports on the hospitality industry.
  • Working with Mountain West Conference to host the first-ever Mountain West Esports Showdown. Competitive video gamers from UNLV’s own 8-bit Esports club took home the winning trophy in 2018—defeating Boise State in games of Overwatch, League of Legends, and Rocket League.
  • Becoming founding members of the Nevada Esports Alliance — an organization that “provides information and resources to educate and promote the development of best practices at the intersection of the esports and regulated gambling industries.”

The Las Vegas Raiders

One example of the institute’s research impact is the influential report Professional Team Sports in Las Vegas: What the Research Says, evaluating the risks and benefits associated with bringing a professional sports team to Las Vegas. From the earliest stages of this process, the NFL Oakland Raiders’ owner Mark Davis asked institute to provide research insights to a skeptical league on the matter of relocating a team to the city. In March of 2017, Executive Director Bo Bernhard was present at the NFL meetings in Phoenix that launched the era of professional football in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas Stadium — future home to the Las Vegas Raiders and UNLV Rebels football — is scheduled to open in 2020.

The Importance of Diversity

Special projects coordinator and researcher Shekinah Hoffman and hospitality professor Toni Repetti focus their research on gender and diversity. Their most recently published research, Glass Ceilings & Leaky Pipelines: Gender Disparity in the Casino Industry, tackles the gender gap in leadership in the hospitality and gaming industry. Hoffman and Repetti hope to start a conversation about the importance of diversity the challenges of advancement barriers in the gaming and hospitality industry.

Inspired by the institute’s diversity and community outreach initiatives, the Young Executive Scholars Hospitality & Tourism program was launched in 2017. A partnership between the institute and Core, powered by The Rogers Foundation, the program provides high schoolers with the chance to discover the opportunities that the hospitality and tourism industry provides, and to learn how a university education creates pathways to executive-level careers in the industry.