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UNLV’s importance to the future of the casino industry


8 Feb 2018

Head about 1.6 miles east of the Las Vegas Strip and you will find yourself on one of the campuses of UNLV – the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

It is the southern arm of the University of Nevada, with classes first held on campus in 1957. The Reno branch of the university has been in existence far longer, having been founded in 1874.

Yet, the Las Vegas location has still gained itself an impressive alumni list, including former world number one golfer Adam Scott, the creator of the CSI television series franchise Anthony E. Zuiker and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel.

Since 2013, there has been a visible focus within the university to support the casino industry.


Vegas has long had the reputation for being one of the landmark destinations to play casino games. Now, the intention is to make it the number-one destination for development in gaming.

The future of the industry has been a hot topic of conversation for many months, with present games perceived by many young adults to be boring, dull, shallow and lacking both interactivity and social reward.

We have already considered some steps casinos could take to enhance their appeal to those born in the late 1990s onwards, a group more widely known as Generation Z. And what better way to appeal to their wants and desires than by having their input in the creation of new games or modifying those currently in existence?

For the last five years, UNLV has offered a course called the Gaming Innovation Program within its Center for Gaming Innovation.

Its purpose is to assist both undergraduate and graduate students in all aspects of taking their game ideas from the classroom to the casino floor. This ranges from developing their games, to understanding the patent process, to presenting ideas to industry executives.

Early results

Mark Yoseloff, the Centre for Gaming Innovation’s executive director, is the driving force behind the course and his band of students have already begun to witness their ideas being played by the public.

The most noteworthy development to date has been student Hien Nguyen patenting a game and then selling it to Las Vegas-based Konami Gaming, which introduces itself as ‘leading innovators of slot machines and gaming enterprise management systems’.

Nguyen’s title is called Domino Dragon, combining recognisable features of slot machines with the popular Chinese game Pai Gow, which utilises domino tiles.

Players receive a payout if pairing symbols on the reels, with scatter symbols and multipliers helping to boost winnings further.

Dive in and out of casinos down the Vegas strip and other games to originate from UNLV are available to play inside certain establishments, after being approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

One is called ’40 Times Double Down’, which is a blackjack side bet a player can make. Not every hand allows a double down opportunity and in these instances the side bet is a loser. But, if a player can double down, they have the option to increase their side bet by up to 40 times.

Flip Card is another blackjack side bet that gives players the chance to make even more if they are dealt 21 with two cards. How much relates to the dealer’s up card. If the dealer flips a four, the player wins eight times their side bet stake. Whatever, the dealer flips, the player wins two times this value.

Then there is ‘Pai Wow Poker’, which is played much the same as traditional Pai Gow Poker, but includes an additional Wow wager that relates to a player’s high hand.

More consistent with the types of social games popular on mobile devices, in particular, today is ‘Line Em Up’. Players have to line up symbols in the same manner as a typical fruit machine, but they are able to swipe symbols into different positions like they would in games such as Candy Crush.

The eSports Lab

What should also assist in the creation of new casino games that appeal to the current younger generation is UNLV’s eSports Lab.

We have previous touched on the possibility of a partnership between eSports and the casino industry, with academic courses inside the Lab lasting 16 weeks and helping students in areas including understanding the games and the genre as a whole, analysing fan behaviour and support in how to design competitive events.

Robert Rippee is the director of the Hospitality Innovation Lab and eSports Lab at UNLV and has gone into greater depth about the purpose of the Lab.

The Las Vegas Sun reports that he explained: “It fits the International Gaming Institute’s model of innovation to support the gaming industry, while touching on something in popular culture that exploded.

“We’re not designing video games ­— that’s beyond the scope. (We are) learning how to create a business model that would integrate into the industry that we have here in Nevada.”