Las Vegas backs casino careers

May 3, 1996

A PhD in roulette? Master of blackjack? The study of gambling is spreading rapidly at United States colleges and universities on the back of a booming industry.

"I always tell my students,'We are going to teach you something that your parents always told you never to do'," says Jim Kilby, Boyd Professor of Gaming at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he teaches casino management.

Five years ago there were only a handful of institutions that offered courses on "gaming", the preferred name in the industry. But last year 51 instructors from 21 colleges turned up for the first annual conference for educators at the university's International Gaming Institute.

Professor Kilby, who started out as a dealer in 1969 and dealt to the likes of Frank Sinatra, extols the virtues of the gambling life - in the business, not as a customer. You work with interesting clients in resort cities, he said.

He jokes with his classes that if they want to learn how to roll dice, they should borrow $1,000 from their parents and lose it. More seriously, he notes that his first PhD student is preparing her doctorate on casino layout and design. There are obvious career opportunities in a business that has grown exponentially in the 1990s, as one state after another has legalised casinos and slot machines.

While dealers are paid close to the minimum wage, with tips they can make $50-60,000 annually, it is claimed. Senior management take home generous salaries. The gaming industry in Nevada rakes in $7 billion a year.

Most colleges nationwide - and there are said to be over 100 involved - still only offer introductory courses or teach the sociology and psychology of gaming, often within their hotel management courses. Nevada is one of only two that offer a wide range.

The university opened the institute two years ago after being inundated by requests for training and expertise, said director Vincent Eade. It is largely funded by gambling firms, mostly staffed by old hands from the casinos, and offers 13 undergraduate and four masters' courses.

They run from the mathematics of gaming, how to vary percentages to keep profits high, to security - which means learning to recognise old scams like "scooting", sliding the dice instead of throwing them, or "past-posting", where players will try to sneak some money on to a number after it has already been called. The institute draws foreign students from as far apart as Sweden and Nigeria, some from the United Kingdom, and many from Pacific Rim countries, which have also been sending a lot of high-rolling players to Las Vegas lately.

William Galston, chief inspector for Britain's Gaming Board, was a recent guest speaker in a course on casino regulation. The institute has occasionally struggled to find staff as there are limited numbers of people ready to forsake a lucrative career for academia.

Like most of his colleagues Shannon Bybee started his working life in a casino - washing dishes as a teenager in Reno, Nevada - but rose to the top levels of casino management and is now an associate professor. "I'm not teaching gambling," he said. "I'm teaching a business.

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