The current and future leaders of the global gaming industry descended upon Lake Tahoe last week for the Executive Development Program, a leadership training conference designed to help directors, executives, and government regulators keep pace with today’s fast-changing gambling world.

Gaming EDP 2017

Jim McClenahan, director of corporate relations and outreach at the University of Nevada, Reno, was one of nearly a dozen featured speakers and faculty members at the gaming industry’s 2017 Executive Development Program in Lake Tahoe. (Image: Twitter/@UNLVigi)

Held this year from Nov. 11-19 at Harveys Lake Tahoe Casino and Resort, the annual Executive Development Program (EDP) welcomed more than 50 students for an intensive series of seminars and presentations that takes industry movers and shakers and invites them to participate in study teams and analysis. Since it began in 1990, more than 1,300 gaming company executives have graduated from the program.

These are the people who presumably will be making decisions at their casinos that will shape the gaming experience of customers, and possibly setting standards for gaming venues around the world to follow.

Over the course of nine days, participants at the EDP gained expertise on topics ranging from casino marketing and strategic planning to crisis management and the social impacts of gambling. Recent events such as the Las Vegas mass shooting and the current state of the industry all played into the 2017 curriculum.

Esports and Crisis Response

Front and center this year were discussions about the growth of esports, and the difficulties casinos have found in efforts to connect with Millennials, who are showing a notable lack of interest in playing slot machines unlike generations that preceded them.

“Gamers will gamble if games are designed with them in mind,” Seth Schorr, CEO of the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas, said during a presentation on esports.

There also was particular interest this year in how casino staffs can prepare for and respond better to crises and tragedy in the future, with the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, forcing casino companies to rethink their approaches to security, high rollers, and crisis communications.

Alan Feldman, who as executive vice president of MGM Resorts has been closely involved in these matters on a daily basis, spoke about the importance of being open with the public as part of a thoughtfully managed response.

“Transparency is key, through high quality and honest communication,” Feldman said.

It wasn’t all serious business, however, for spudent at the special Lake Tahoe boot camp. There were fun and games as only the gaming industry could provide, including a poker tournament and an awards banquet to wrap up the conference.

Expert Faculty

Attendance at the EDP is determined by an application system, and is not something that anyone can just pay to attend. The cost is nearly $8,000 per student, and like applying to college or grad school, applicants must show their experience and potential in gaming and how they have something to add to the class discussions.

The program is co-sponsored by the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business and Extended Studies and UNLV’s International Gaming Institute. Bo Bernhard, executive director of the IGI at UNLV and the Philip G. Satre Chair in Gaming Studies at UNR leads the gaming faculty at both schools, heads this crash course for executives.

Bernhard is also the protégé of Bill Eadington, the economist who pioneered the field of commercial gaming studies and founded this event in 1990 and died in 2013.

Along with Bernhard, former Nevada state senator and Gaming Control Board chairman Mark Lipparelli served as a leader of a faculty that included academics and industry experts from numerous universities and casinos around the world. This year’s presenters and faculty included eight CEOs of gaming industry companies.