New podcast: Bill Eadington

This morning I had the great pleasure of having a nice conversation with a long-time friend, the University of Nevada Reno’s Dr. Bill Eadington. Luckily for all of us, I recorded it and released it a few hours later as the thirty-third UNLV Gaming Podcast:

33-November 2, 2011
William R. Eadington
In this November 2, 2011 interview following his induction into the Gaming Hall of Fame, Professor Eadington reflects on his career in gaming studies, starting with his youth in Orange County, California, continuing through his decision to pursue a career in economics and his subsequent emphasis on gambling and casinos, and finishing with his thoughts on the future of gaming studies. Among the topics Dr. Eadington discusses are the foundation and development of the International Conference on Gambling and Risk-Taking, the expansion of gambling in the past decades, and the changes he has seen in the study of gambling over his 40-year career.

Listen to the audio file (mp3)

Here’s a little bit of background for you: I’ve known Bill for about 14 years now. Back when I has a history grad student at UCLA doing research into gambling, I naturally stumbled across his work. Then I somehow learned that he was organizing an academic conference that focused on gambling issues. It was the 10th International Conference on Gambling and Risk-Taking, which was being held in Montreal.

At the time, I was in Eric Monkkonen’s (who was also my dissertation chair) seminar, and he’d issued a challenge: if any of us got our paper accepted for publication or presentation via an academic journal/conference, we’d automatically get an A for the class. As it happened I was doing fine with my coursework, but since Eric had offered such a generous prize, I figured that maybe I should give presenting a paper at an academic conference a shot. I applied to the conference and was accepted–I believe that Judy Cornelius waived my conference registration fee in light of my grad student without funding status. I scraped together the money for airfare and a hotel that was considerably less expensive than the conference hotel, wrote my paper, and headed off to Montreal.

I got off the plane pretty wide-eyed, and my eyes got even wider once the conference started. Sitting in on panels with people like Peter A. Griffin and David Spanier was quite a revelation. I also met one of the most idiosyncratic gentlemen and scholars I’ve met yet, Russell Barnhart (Bill talks about him in the interview), who spent a good chunk of one afternoon with me in a Montreal park talking gambling history while giving appreciative looks to the young women out for the spring weather. Quite a character.

Before that conference, gambling history had just been something I was going to write my dissertation on–I was still planning for a career teaching US history, probably with an urban and cultural focus, in a traditional academic department. The conference opened my eyes to the possibility of perhaps making gambling something to study in the long term.

Fast forward three years: it’s 2000 and the ICGRT is being held at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I’ve already got my dissertation and, not wanting to bum around LA scraping together adjunct jobs, have gone back to Atlantic City and a job in surveillance at the Trump Taj Mahal. I got a mailer for the ICGRT and convinced my higher-ups at the Taj to give me time off to attend the conference. I’d also printed off a copy of my dissertation on archival quality acid-free paper that I planned to give to UNLV Special Collections, just as a way of ensuring that someday someone might read what seemed like it might be the sole output of my academic career; there weren’t any teaching jobs waiting for me, and I wasn’t really looking for them anymore. This was going to be my scholarly swan song.

But a few things happened to me that week. I stopped by Special Collections to drop off my dissertation and learned that Susan Jarvis, the director of what was then called the Gaming Resource Center, had retired. The Director of Special Collections, Peter Michel, encouraged me to take the job announcement with me. I agreed, even though I didn’t think I was particularly well-suited for that kind of work.

I also introduced myself to and had a long talk with Shannon Bybee, who was then executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute. He was generous enough to give supremely thoughtful answers to a bunch of questions about working in and around the industry and working on the academic side.

Thanks to my experiences with Bill, Judy, Shannon, and everyone else I met at the conference, I decided to apply for the UNLV job.

Eleven years later, I’m sitting in my office as Director of the Center for Gaming Research, uploading my talk with Bill, and I realize that, without Professor Eadington’s pioneering work in gaming studies, it’s very, very unlikely that I’d be in that office.

So that’s why I’m both personally and professionally grateful to Bill Eadington. He’s truly one of the giants on whose shoulders the rest of us stand, trying to see just a bit over the horizon. I hope you enjoy listening to this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.