Bill Eadington’s Lasting Legacy

Bill Eadington, probably best known for his time as the director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), passed away this February, and his death sent shockwaves around the industry. Eadington was highly respected for his years of work and dedication to study of both gambling and economics, and had a great character to boot—he was one of those people whom no one could say anything negative about.

CEM had been planning to do a big feature story on Eadington in this issue before his passing to focus on his contributions to the industry (which are many), and we weren’t going to let his not being with us anymore (at least in body—his spirit will continue!) stop those plans. So since we couldn’t speak to him about his life, we turned to another scholar who was quite close to him, Bo Bernhard, executive director at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, to find out more about Eadington and the legacy he leaves behind.

Bernhard refers to Eadington as “the ultimate gentleman scholar,” and says he was truly a gentle man. Even being in a wide variety of challenging settings all over the world, he always kept his calm, but Bernhard notes that underneath the calm surface, he was quite strong. Bernhard even refers to him as “Hemingway-esque” during his international travels to faraway gaming locales, which he was fortunate enough to join on several occasions.

It was when Bernhard was doing an undergraduate honors thesis on the impacts of the gaming industry on Las Vegas in the mid-1990s that he came across Eadington’s work. When Bernhard met his idol shortly after that, he said he couldn’t believe that someone so accomplished could be so generous. “In my line of work, smart happens frequently, but it is often accompanied by a ‘smartest-person-in-the-room’ arrogance,” he commented. “Bill was the rare academic who was as kind as he was smart—and as smart as he was kind.”

“Put simply, the world of gaming turned to Bill for sober, reasoned, academic perspectives on this rapidly evolving industry,” Bernhard said. “Before Bill came along, people scoffed at the notion that commercial gaming could be studied through research. Today, of course, CEOs like Caesars’ Gary Loveman bring an academic perspective to everyday decision-making at the highest levels.”Photo courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno.
Photo courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno.

Eadington’s own start in the industry began with a precocious flair for math as a child. Like many young people who find math fascinating, Eadington was intrigued by its application to gambling. This led to his hiring as a professor at UNR in 1969 at the young age of just 23.

Bernhard says that Eadington was fascinated by the industry then that was headquartered in Nevada (at the time, Nevada was the only U.S. state with legalized gambling), and so he decided to dedicate his career to its study. From there, he essentially started an entire field from scratch. “I doubt there is another professor at any university in the entire Mountain West Conference who can say that,” Bernhard said.

With such a seasoned history, Eadington of course has many accomplishments to his name, but Bernhard recounts two in particular. The first is his starting the first International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking in 1974, which brought together the leading thinkers in the world to debate the gaming issues of that particular time. “Since then, every major academic who does work in this field has come to ‘the Eadington Conference,’ and all engage in a thoughtful and friendly debate in the spirit of Bill’s approach,” he said.

Second, “In the early 1990s, Bill recognized a need to bring this level of rigor to executive education in the gaming industry, to train the leaders of a complex and demanding tomorrow,” Bernhard explained. “To do this, he created a sort of ‘gaming executive boot camp’ in the mountains of Lake Tahoe, in which roughly 60 attendees engage in a grueling but tremendously rewarding weeklong program, taught by leading faculty from all over the world.” Graduates of this program include former Nevada Gaming Control Board chairman Mark Lipparelli and the Senior VP and Chief Casino Officer of Marina Bay Sands, Andrew MacDonald.

Bill Eadington and Bo Bernhard (courtesy of Bernhard).
Bill Eadington and Bo Bernhard (courtesy of Bernhard).
“These are two legacies that are worth protecting, and we are proud to say that thanks to support throughout our University of Nevada system, both will live on in the spirit that Bill intended,” Bernhard reflected.

One other major accomplishment was Eadington’s being inducted into the American Gaming Association (AGA) Gaming Hall of Fame in 2011. His induction also included a Special Achievement Award for Gaming Education. Induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame is a high honor, and Eadington joined the likes of Phil Satre, Steve Wynn, William Harrah and Bill Pennington.

“We owe Dr. Eadington much of the credit for our current understanding of the economic and social impacts of commercial gaming,” Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., president and CEO of the AGA, was reported to have said. “His deep knowledge of the industry’s economics and his insights on the legalization and regulation of commercial gaming have been invaluable. Indeed, his work has not only served our industry; it also has served the countless communities that have benefited from commercial gaming.”

Additionally in 2012, Eadington was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the National Council on Problem Gambling, an organization in which he also served as a board member.

One more thing that Eadington was personally quite proud of was holding the Philip G. Satre Chair of Gaming Studies at UNR.

Eadington inspired so many that numerous current industry execs and up and comers will carry on his legacy. Proof of that is in many places, but one obvious place in particular is in the most recent issue of the UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal. Here, more than 30 academics and industry leaders shared their heartfelt thoughts on what Eadington did and meant to the field and to all of their careers. “Each had a personal story about how Eadington had once reached out, and I learned very quickly that I was not alone—in fact, Bill had built a sort of ‘invisible college’ in which the rest of us convened,” Bernhard commented about the work.

Bill Eadington with his wife Margaret in Hawaii in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Lynni Weibezahl.)
Bill Eadington with his wife Margaret in Hawaii in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Lynni Weibezahl.)
One who contributed to this was Dean Hestermann, director of issues management and strategic communications at Caesars Entertainment, who also spoke with us. He shares that when he joined his company, it would be an understatement to say that he had a steep learning curve. “I didn’t know my EBITDA from my pro forma or my 10-K from my 8-Q, and to me, a million dollars was the same as 10 million was the same as 100 million … Truth be told, so was my company when it came to understanding the implications of the nascent expansion of casino gambling around the country.”

So they began compiling materials to help them prepare, which he says was near impossible to do without coming across, time and time again, Eadington’s name. “It didn’t matter where you looked,” he said. “If any aspect of the commercial gaming had been studied, it had been studied by Bill Eadington.”

Hestermann recalls Eadington having answers to most every question and being a consummate professional. “Bill Eadington has built, and continues to build, the foundation for rational, dispassionate public policies affecting virtually every aspect of the commercial gaming industry around the globe,” he said. “He has shed supernovas of light on debates that, absent his influence, were generating only heat. He has been a model of grace, thoughtfulness and erudition. The levels of legitimacy and acceptance that the industry has reached, and beyond which the industry yet aspires, would not be imaginable without Bill’s influence. And yes, without his occasional prodding and well-placed criticism. It’s obvious … that Bill has inspired and guided a generation of researchers, policy makers and industry professionals worldwide.”

Another highly regarded gaming-economist, Eugene Christiansen, founder of Christiansen Capital Advisors, weighed in, stating: “Fear of the unknown seems to be human nature. When Bill began his conferences, public attitudes toward gambling, like public attitudes towards alcohol in the years leading up to Prohibition, were conditioned by fear. Fear is a bad counselor, but as America embarked on the greatest expansion of gambling in its history fear was about the only counselor policymakers had. Bill’s conferences changed that. They filled in the blank space on the map with academic papers on the mathematics in games, the mathematical analysis of betting markets and their efficiency or lack thereof, compulsive gamblers and their treatment, the economic consequences of gambling for individuals and governments and society in general, the theory and practice of gambling taxation, gambling law, regulation and control, how to issue gambling licenses and how not to issue gambling licenses and why, casino marketing and management, lotteries, sports betting, gambling through the Internet, risk-taking of kinds other than gambling, gambling in various cultures, gambling in relation to various societies, and gambling and the humanities. … Bill’s conferences created knowledge where there had been ignorance. That is their greatest achievement.”1

Connie Jones, director of responsible gaming at IGT, also had kind words to share in her memories of Eadington: “I had the great priviledge of knowing and working with Bill Eadington for more than 15 years. He had one of the most remarkable minds I have ever encountered in or out of the gaming industry. I felt he was somewhat of an idealist, and we had many animated discussions about the need for a ‘safer’ gaming machine. I don’t believe that we ever came to full agreement on the subject, but I always came away with greater insight.”

“Bill knew more about gaming programs and the people involved than just about anyone,” Jones continued. “He was my ‘go-to’ guy when I needed information about gaming in Russia, Iceland, South Africa or anywhere else. In addition to his remarkable bank of gaming knowledge, Bill was a mezmerizing communucator, which may seem odd coming from the fact-based world of an economist. He was truly one of a kind, and his passing has left a huge void in our industry.”

For Bernhard, he says the biggest lesson he takes away from Eadington is that “For any academic, your obligation is to provide thoughtful, balanced, reasoned, and rigorous scholarship. After all, if you can’t turn to universities for that, where can you turn?”

“They say of teaching that you never know where your influence ends, as teachers teach students who go on to teach others, who go on to teach others and on and on,” Bernhard continues. “It is the very best thing about our line of work, and nobody epitomized this exponential mathematical spirit quite like the man who first fell in love with math, and then fell in love with gambling.”

Leave a Comment