I have met a lot of very smart people in my three and a half decades in the gaming industry, but none are any smarter than Dr. Bill Eadington

Bill is an economics professor at the University of Nevada in Reno and the director of the university’s Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming. In his latter role he puts on a gathering every few years called the International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking. There have been 14 such gatherings over the past 30-plus years in locations all over the world.

Dr. Eadington started studying the “gambling” industry before it was respectable and before anyone could see anything worth studying in it. Had he not been at a Nevada university, in a state where commercial gaming was the main industry, I doubt if his area of academic interest would have been financially supported. In fact, he might have been dismissed as eccentric and irrelevant at most universities in most states as someone who wanted to study something in which society saw little value.

But Dr. Bill saw something in this “morally suspect” industry. He saw an activity that has been popular with mankind throughout history, whether legal or not. He understood the booming nature of the gambling industry in Nevada, especially in Las Vegas, and he wondered where else in the United States, and the world, it might spread. He learned about the colorful characters of the early days, the mobsters who flocked to Nevada from numerous cities in the United States. He noticed the changing face of the modern-day casino, no longer just a bunch of table games and a few slot machines, but increasingly a resort experience with hotel rooms, restaurants and shows.

Bill grappled with numerous dilemmas in his evolving area of study. Are casinos good for society? Is problem gambling an unavoidable plague or a manageable consequence of legalization? Could the industry become a “normal” one, where industry executives have college degrees and follow accepted business principles, and not just one where table game execs and “juice” rule the world? Was there room for technology in such an old-school business?

Early on (and, to be honest, even now). Dr. Eadington was looked at with some suspicion, even with a little fear, by many veteran executives in the industry. They saw academics as being out of touch. They wondered where their allegiances lie. They thought the study of problem gambling was especially crazy and viewed problem gamblers as people who just loved gambling (OK, maybe they have a few character flaws) and were fair game for casinos.

Yet, as our industry exploded, Bill Eadington persisted with an honest and penetrating academic inquiry into what makes our business tick. And ever so slowly, perhaps even as a defensive position, the industry warmed up to the wisdom and the scrutiny of the “gaming professor from Reno”. Phil Satre. Glenn Schaeffer. Terry Lanni. Numerous other respected worldwide business builders began to see the value of Dr. Eadington and increasingly sought his opinions and supported his programs.

This recognition and support, not just from gaming operators, but from governments, social service providers and a variety of other interest groups, have helped propel Bill to uncommon success, in an uncommon way, in an uncommon industry. His powerful Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking is the most diverse gathering of smart people in our industry. His annual Executive Development Program at Lake Tahoe has trained hundreds of senior gaming executives from around the world with a rigor that could pass muster at Harvard. His institute has published important studies and allowed for the honest public discussion the gaming industry needs and otherwise would not have had.

But it occurs to me that we have not adequately thanked Dr. William Eadington for his massive contribution to the gambling industry. Sure, he’s now widely acknowledged as the guru of gaming, the man who knows more about the gambling biz than anyone in the world. Sure, he’s a sought-after speaker and probably the single most in-demand consultant around. But it’s time someone said thanks to my friend, my mentor and my straight-talking, clear-thinking “policy advisor”.

So I guess it will be me.

Thanks, Bill, for persevering in our industry in the face of resistance, even scorn. Thanks for a rigorous and honest inquiry into our industry and for calling out the academic charlatans who had an agenda to peddle. Thanks for acknowledging candidly the benefits our industry brings to society as well as the damage it can cause if not run and regulated properly. Thanks for understanding the many years of seat-of-the-pants operating while we grew and became more professional, in large part because of you and your programs.

And, thanks Bill, for being quick to laugh, quick to help and quick to speak truth to power. Some might not expect all that from the smartest guy in the gaming industry.

But I do. It’s who you are. And we wouldn’t be the same without you.