Since he died on February 11, 2013, Bill Eadington has been the subject of dozens of columns and obituaries from around the world, including one in the New York Times. It is rare for a professor from the University of Nevada in Reno to be noticed by the New York Times, let alone a professor who devoted his academic career to the study of gambling. Bill’s passing was noted by many more publications and usually featured a quote by one or more gaming industry leader. Each of the people quoted told of Professor William R. Eadington’s impact on the gaming industry and on their individual life and career.
Bill Eadington touched many lives; thousands of people from around the world studied gaming under Eadington. They studied with Bill in Reno, participated in one of the many international conferences he organized or attended one of the annual executive development seminars Bill conducted for leading industry executives. If those courses, conferences and seminars were all Bill Eadington had done in his 44-year career, he would have been worthy of the notices and accolades that have been heaped upon him since he died. But, fortunately for the gaming industry and its employees, executives, owners, investors, bankers, regulators and pathological gamblers Bill did much more.
When Bill arrived in Reno, Nevada 44 years ago, at age 23 to teach at the University of Nevada, the gaming industry was just beginning to crawl out of its backroom questionable existence. However, it still had a very long way to go before it could or would become an industry and a popular, legal form of entertainment in all but two states. It is no exaggeration to say Bill was important to the expansion and maturation of the gaming industry. Bill studied gaming as a business, a commercial enterprise, much as any Harvard School of Business professor might study automobiles, the media or medical care. He studied its practices, its impact on the host communities and its relationship to its customers. Bill was among the first outsiders to suggest gaming needed to employ modern management techniques and practices and to be cognizant of all of the ways the commercial enterprise and the act of gambling impacts communities and individual gamblers.
The existence of “pathological gamblers” was not acknowledged by the industry or the individual casino operators before Bill’s time. In those days we had another term, “degenerate gambler” – it described, almost lovingly, a person who would bet on anything, was always betting and for whom nothing in life was more important than gambling. Of course, some people recognized that the behavior was unhealthy and destructive, but we who were working in the industry did not accept any responsibility for that; Bill forced us to see the connection and accept some responsibility.
And now, my version of “Bill changed my career, my life.” In 1989, just months after Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Bill Eadington under the egis of the University of Nevada and the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming held the North America Conference on the Status of Indian Gaming in Reno, Nevada. The conference lasted several days and covered all that was known at the time about the status of Indian gaming. It featured three distinct types of presenters, lawyers, academics and Indian tribal leaders, but no casino operators. I was one of two representatives of Northern Nevada casino operators in attendance. I learned a great deal from the conference and the lessons were career changing. I learned to see gaming in a broad, national perspective and not from my narrow, Reno-centric one. For the first time, I could see that gambling was on the verge of spreading far beyond the state of Nevada and that Reno was going to be very vulnerable. It was clear to me, that without changing my perspective, I would be as vulnerable as Reno.
That conference was important to me, but its importance to Indian gaming and the casino industry in general was much more significant. The conference helped to define Indian gaming, identify the major issues and set the stage for the national debate that has followed. Every two or three year throughout his career Professor Bill Eadington produced a conference like the one I attended in 1989, and nearly every one of those conferences did for others what that one did for me. The conferences demonstrate Bill Eadington’s long-term influence on the development of the modern gaming industry. Prior to Bill’s arrival, casino gaming was an individual, private and closely guarded industry of secret concepts and practices that almost amounted to superstitions. Bill brought everything out into the open, exposed gaming to the light of day and opened everything in the industry to debate and study. It is difficult to imagine a greater contribution to an industry; an industry present in all but two states, generating over $100 billion dollars in revenue annually and employing more than half a million people. Bill Eadington cast a long shadow and now we have to hope the University of Nevada will pick up his torch and carry it forth into gaming’s next era. There is still much work to be done and Bill left some very big shoes to be filled.