“I think it’s good to meet smart people and talk”—Ron Silver
It was in 2013 at the closing banquet for the 15th International Conference on Gambling and Risk-Taking when I met Brett Abarbanel.
The conference was being held at Caesars Palace Hotel & Casino. It was a sad evening for me for I had taken to the stage to address those attending with a few reflections about my friend and teacher, Bill Eadington. The International Conference of Gambling and Risk-Taking was Bill’s conference, an effort he launched in 1974. This 15th edition was the first conference gathering following his death.
I also attended Bill’s first conference in 1974 held at the Sahara Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. I was a graduate student taking a class from Bill and working in a casino at night. During this time, Bill had invited me to go to Las Vegas to present a paper I wrote as a class assignment for him in 1973 on why the US should legalize sports betting.
I was amazed to be invited for all of the other speakers were known for something, but not me. I was just a graduate student who dealt cards at night to pay for my education.
Two years later, I had moved to another university to continue my graduate studies. One day I received a book in the mail from Bill, and it was a collection of the papers presented at the first conference. I was blown away when I opened the book and it included my paper. This was a huge deal in the life of a young graduate student. I never dreamed I would one day be holding a book and looking at an article with my name on it. It taught me the most important lesson I ever learned about education and that was the power that teachers and mentors can have.
Getting back to 2013 and the 15th Conference, as the banquet ended several folks were milling about the room. A young woman approached me and introduced herself. She said her name was Brett Abarbanel and that she was a graduate student pursuing her Ph.D. from UNLV. She noted she was currently working and doing research at UCLA and her core interest was gambling studies.
Brett told me a bit more about herself, and I listened politely. I then asked her my favorite question for academics who study gaming—I asked her if she gambled. She said she played poker. I asked what she considered her game. She responded her cash game was seven stud. That caught my attention for that was my cash game. Brett was becoming more interesting.
We talked a bit longer and then I turned to her and told her I was impressed. I told her the last thing this planet needed was another academic who had little idea about the reality of gambling, and I made her a proposition—I volunteered to make myself available to help to expand her contacts within the gaming community.
Brett took the deal, and I was soon introducing her to a number of leaders within the gaming, regulatory, and operating worlds of California, Nevada, and beyond. Since she was working out of UCLA, I organized tours and discussions with a Southern California cardroom and a tribal casino operator.
Brett also flew up to Sacramento several times and met with a cardroom owner, the legislative assistants who worked on gaming bills for the state of California (she even got them to buy her lunch), and she met with the governor’s aide on gaming. She met and visited with the commission chair and its members, attended a commission meeting, and talked with and learned from the commission staff.
Brett was also able to meet with the folks at the Bureau of Gambling Control for California and the Department of Justice lawyers who addressed all matters of gaming law for the state.
This convinced me there was something incredible about this person. First of all, she was a very smart and insightful learner. Moreover, graduate students who are working about 27 hours a day do not look for extra projects. She was impressing everyone she met, and she was also spending her own money to make some of these trips (aside from her ability to hustle lunches from the legislative staff folks). Trust me, I spent many years in graduate school; normal people do not do this. I was amazed.
Fast forward 10 years to the start of this year. One recent morning I was reading through my clips and saw an announcement about Brett being appointed to be the executive director of the International Institute of Gaming at some school in the southern part of Nevada…OK, it was at UNLV (I am a proud alumnus of UNR). Having known Brett since that night at Caesars in 2013, I was convinced there was no better person on the planet for the position. Nobody. It was a perfect selection.
In 2013, at the 15th International Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking, I was speaking in a crowded room recalling stories about my friend and teacher Bill Eadington, a universally accepted giant in gaming research and education.
On that same evening, I met another.