At a recent economic development forum, panelists discussing the gaming industry reminded the audience that it’s important to “water the green grass in the garden.”
They meant that even as Nevada works to diversify its economy through healthcare, technology and manufacturing, the state should also recognize the continued importance and growth potential of gaming and tourism.
Bo Bernhard, executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, and Marcus Prater, executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, argue that Nevada should take advantage of its experience and expertise and become even more of a leader in supplying people, products, and ideas to the world’s gaming industry.
Successes already include the integrated casino resort concept, which was developed on the Las Vegas Strip and has been exported to gaming jurisdictions around the globe.
“That’s become Nevada’s most lucrative export,” Bernhard told KNPR's State of Nevada.
Just like 3M in Minneapolis-St. Paul created Scotch tape and exported it to the world, Nevada has exported the modern hotel-casino.
“We’ve done that too in Nevada but we’ve done it with what we now call the integrated casino resort,” Bernhard said.
Bernhard said Nevada needs to continue to be the global intellectual capital of gaming.
For example, Houston is the capital of the energy sector even though energy production has expanded around the world. The top engineers, geologists, legal and financial advisors for the industry are based in the Texas city.
By contrast, Berhard pointed to Pittsburgh and Detroit as two cities that fumbled their transition from national leaders in the steel and car industries respectively to the global capitals of those industries.
“We want Las Vegas to follow that Houston path rather than the Pittsburgh and Detroit path,” he said.
Bernhard said Houston kept its status but investing in its universities and building partnerships between those schools and the industry.
Many gaming properties around the world are run by executives trained at UNLV or UNR, and they are filled with gaming machines manufactured in Nevada.
“Our members don’t just make machines they make chips, dice, tables, chairs, signs, bill validators, ATM kiosks,” said Marcus Prater, executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers.
Prater said when you look around any casino in any gaming market around the world from Monte Carlo to Johannesburg you'll see products made in Nevada.
He also said those casinos are filled with products you don't see like the systems technology that connects the gaming floor with the restaurants, bars, spas, pools and retail outlets throughout the property.
“It is a high-tech industry that gaming suppliers have created,” Prater said.
Bernhard said much of the gaming industry manufacturing that happens in Nevada is often "undervalued."
"These sprawling buildings that are sort of south of the 215 that are less sexy and certainly less distracting than the really shiny business on Las Vegas Boulevard are nevertheless perhaps more important to the state's economy," he said.
Nurturing that high-tech industry growing along the Southern Beltway is what both Bernhard and Prater are advocating.
“I think we are firmly established as the intellectual capital of gaming but we have to protect that," Prater said, "We have to be focused on what’s coming in the future.”
Bernhard said that future, of course, is really anyone's guess but having the educated people for that future is what is vital.
“Anybody who tells you exactly what slot machine or what gambling game is going to super powerful and super interesting 20 years from now is making stuff up,” he said, “But I do know that if we have the smart minds here we’re much more likely to be able to handle those changes.”
Bernhard doesn't believe the state should end its efforts to diversify its economy he thinks state leaders need to cultivate both the legacy industries that has brought so much to the valley and the startups that will help secure the city's future.
Bo Bernhard, executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute; Marcus Prater, executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers
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