Going for Gold

March 17, 2023
By

Gaming America speaks to Brett Abarbanel as she prepares for the 18th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking.

Thanks for joining us for a Huddle video interview at ICE London. How was the show for you?

It was such a joy to be back in the hubbub of one of the hallmark events in the gambling world. There were signs as you walked in, congratulating you on being part of the biggest ICE London event ever, and you could feel that you were part of such a big celebration of industry, innovation and research. We academics are sometimes the odd folks out at global events, which have such a heavy emphasis on the industry, and Clarion always manages to find an impressive balance of education offerings, exhibit content and attendees. That means there is never a dull moment for me. I enjoy networking, meeting new people and, in particular, seeing what new concepts are coming to the gambling world. All this background helps ensure the theoretical and applied work we do at the International Gaming Institute (IGI) is grounded in the evolving reality of gambling.

Tell us all about the IGI's upcoming Gambling & Risk Taking Conference.

IGI’s upcoming 18th International Conference on Gambling & Risk Taking, will be held May 23rd-25th, 2023 at Park MGM in Las Vegas, NV. It is the biggest, oldest and in my totally unbiased opinion, best gambling research conference in the world. It’s an event that brings together a diverse array of researchers and industry professionals from across the globe to discuss wide-ranging topics in gambling studies. This conference was launched in 1974 by one of the most famous founding figures of the gambling research field, Dr. Bill Eadington, with the idea that gambling might be a subject worthy of academic study. At the first event, a small handful of participants gathered ‚Äčto discuss a topic that had received virtually no research attention. Today, this conference is recognized as the largest gathering of gambling intellectuals in the world, with more than 500 multi-disciplinary attendees from 30+ countries attending the 17th edition in 2019.

Today, this conference is recognized as the largest gathering of gambling intellectuals in the world, with more than 500 multi-disciplinary attendees from 30+ countries attending the 17th edition in 2019.

Held only every three years (plus an extra year for the usual delay reasons this time around), we host academics, researchers, industry representatives, professional gamblers, regulatory and government officials and treatment providers. We encourage new ways of thinking, drive innovation and change, and provide interdisciplinary access to the world’s brightest gambling minds. Subjects at the upcoming event include gambling economics, mathematics, history, social and community impacts, tribal casinos, criminology, payment systems, technology, problem and disordered gambling, and of course one of the biggest subjects in North America these past few years: sports!

What are your main aims for the conference and what can attendees expect?

Our main goal is for the conference to be a place where all perspectives and voices are welcome to join in discussion of this complex subject. Everyone, no matter their background, has a voice at this conference; it’s a place where people can disagree and still get along. We have one rule: no jerks. We encourage discussion, debate and disagreement with a common goal of moving our field forward.

Our content is largely driven by academic abstract submissions, with approximately 60% of the schedule populated by this vast space that is gambling and risk taking research. We have presentations on responsible and safer gambling, law and policy in gambling across the world, mathematics of new game innovations and more.

Alongside the academic presentations, you’ll find a variety of panels with subjects curated to topics in the gambling world that drive the most interesting questions. We’ll have panels on esports, artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity and more. Attendees can also expect keynotes that engage the broader subjects of gambling and risk taking in fun and interesting ways. In 2019, for example, Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller joined us to talk about risk taking in his profession. For example, he and Teller create illusions in which they shoot guns at each other on stage. Penn also talked about the presence of gambling in the casinos and city of Las Vegas that he calls home. This year, we’re excited to bring in an Olympic gold medalist to discuss the risk taking (or distinct lack thereof) in his approach to Olympic-level training, and the way different gambles came into his life along the way. We’re also teaming up with Gaming Society and their Bet on Women effort for a keynote panel on sports betting and women’s sports, which we’ve colloquially dubbed “Luck be a Parlay-dy”.

Sign up for our email list at igi.unlv.edu to catch all the updates.

How has the conference changed across its storied history since 1974?

It has grown like crazy. Even in just the past decade, we’ve nearly doubled in size. We started as a small group of folks gathering to discuss a subject that was highly stigmatized, and in some cases would result in ostracization from the Ivory Tower of academic discipline. Now, we’re a truly global event, and gambling is welcomed as an area of discussion and debate. Networking from this conference has spawned all sorts of different collaborations between stakeholders. We can’t wait to see what comes from this year’s event.

If you could pick one desired aim for the event above all others, what would it be?

I get joy out of the smallest things – if just one pair of participants has a meeting of the minds and mesh well together, I consider this to be a huge success. But while I have my “wish big” hat on, I hope that every person who attends gets an opportunity to view the world of gambling through the lens of another attendee. Academics benefit from seeing how the industry operates in real life situations; the industry can see what the latest and greatest research is to help inform how they do business; policymakers can see the research process and think through dynamic policy solutions that adapt to new research findings, and more.

Academics benefit from seeing how the industry operates in real life situations; the industry can see what the latest and greatest research is to help inform how they do business; policymakers can see the research process and think through dynamic policy solutions that adapt to new research findings, and more.

Beyond the conference, what else can we expect from the IGI, which we touched on during our interview at ICE London?

We’re excited to continue rebuilding to our pre-Covid levels of world-leading research, education and innovation, as well as continue evolving as the gambling world evolves. In particular, we’re excited to expand into the spaces that run peripheral to gambling, but are crucial to its sustainable success, such as gaming, payments, blockchain and how these also contribute to the fascinating world we all work and live in.

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