Brett Abarbanel has been named executive director for the UNLV International Gaming Institute (IGI). IGI is a nonprofit academic center that offers research and educational programs for the global gaming industry.
The appointment, effective January 1, 2023, marks the latest chapter in an award-winning catalog of research, advisory, and leadership work for Abarbanel, who has worked at IGI since 2016 as the director of research. Abarbanel’s expertise includes the intersection of gambling with esports, video games and traditional sports. She also has extensive experience in gaming operations and technology, responsible gambling and community relations, and gaming history. To date, she has presented her work in more than 20 countries and dozens of U.S. states.
Abarbanel succeeds Bo Bernhard, who will transition to serve full-time as UNLV vice president of economic development but maintain his affiliation with IGI as special advisor to the executive director.
“It is an honor to step into the role of executive director at International Gaming Institute, a world-renowned research, education, and innovation hub for the study of gambling with a brilliant staff,” Abarbanel said.
“As the gaming world continues to evolve and expand,” she said, “I am eager to collaborate with our many stakeholders in higher education, government, non-profit, and industry and build on IGI’s established momentum to improve industry learning, create workforce pipelines, and diversify the scope of knowledge in this field.”
Abarbanel—who is also an associate professor with UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality and has an affiliate research position at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre—brings almost two decades of experience to the position.
She earned bachelor’s degrees in statistics and architectural studies at Brown University and completed her master’s and doctoral degrees at UNLV, where she also worked at IGI as a UNLV graduate student. Abarbanel received the Best Thesis and Best Dissertation awards for her work on sportsbook patronage and online gambling user experiences, respectively.
After completing her Ph.D., Abarbanel served as the head of social and recreational gambling research at the UCLA Gambling Studies Program before returning to UNLV in her current role.
Abarbanel is the executive editor of the UNLV Gaming Research & Review Journal, an editorial board member at International Gambling Studies, and Harvard University’s Brief Addiction Science Information Source. She is a founding director of the Nevada Esports Alliance, which promotes the development of best practices at the intersection of the esports and regulated gambling industries. In 2021, she was among seven industry expert professionals named to the Nevada Gaming Control Board’s first-ever Esports Technical Advisory Committee, which is responsible for making recommendations to the board on guidelines for maintaining integrity in esports when betting is involved.
The Innovation Group honored Abarbanel with the 2015 Emerging Leader Award and she was named to the 2016 Global Gaming Business 40 Under 40 list. She has been interviewed as a gambling expert in local, national, and international media outlets, and served as a consultant for multiple industry, non-profit, and government entities.
IGI is part of UNLV’s Division of Research. For more than 25 years, IGI has provided research-based solutions, insights, and executive education to the gaming industry. IGI houses several entities and initiatives focused on key needs in the global gambling world, including responsible gaming initiatives, the Center for Gaming Innovation, the International Center for Gaming Regulation, and the Expanding the Leaderverse initiative.
“The Division of Research is looking forward to working with Brett Abarbanel and thanks Bo Bernhard for his tremendous leadership at IGI and his continued service to the institute and to UNLV,” said David Hatchett, UNLV interim vice president for research. “I am confident in Brett’s leadership of this very important program. I am also looking forward to having her join our executive leadership and the perspective she brings to the team.”