While she was an undergraduate majoring in statistics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, Brett Abarbanel was bankrolled in a poker game by a friend. She’d never played poker before, but the idea of applying ideas she’d learned in classes was intriguing.
“You sit in the classroom and you do these homework assignments and answer questions on probability, but this was it in real life,” says Abarbanel, recently named executive director of the University of Nevada Las Vegas International Gaming Institute (IGI). “That was the kickoff of a true passion for studying how (statistics) exist in a gambling setting.”
Abarbanel, who has played in World Series of Poker events (and cashed in a few), succeeds Bo Bernhard, who will serve full-time as UNLV vice president of economic development and as a special advisor to Abarbanel.
“I am confident in Brett’s leadership of this very important program. I also look forward to having her join our executive leadership and the perspective she brings to the team,” said UNLV Interim Vice President for Research David Hatchett in a statement.
Abarbanel has focused on research throughout her career, having served as co-executive director of the UNLV Gaming Research and Review Journal, director of research at IGI, and UCLA’s Head, Social & Recreational Gambling Research. Abarbanel is also an associate professor at UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hospitality and has an affiliate research position at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre.
Abarbanel plans to continue to develop programs and initiatives at IGI, which was launched in 1993.
“One of the things that’s really wonderful about IGI is that it grows and evolves in areas of interest as the gambling world grows and evolves,” she says, noting as an example the institute’s focus on sports betting since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned in 2018. “Our regulatory center has really increased its educational offerings of programming in sports betting as gambling has continued to intersect so much more with the digital world, especially over the last decade.”
Abarbanel plans to continue ongoing IGI programs, including a responsible-gambling initiative and a cashless-payments collaborative. She’s also keen on tracking the research done by UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation, now in its 10th year, as the center focuses on game development and “how games continue to evolve in new technologies.”
Constantly evolving regulatory processes will also be an area of emphasis, as IGI keeps abreast of issues that concern the gaming industry.
“All of these different ways in which new subjects become particularly important to the gaming world, similarly that’s where we go,” Abarbanel says. “We want to be thought leaders and a home for these discussions, whether it’s through research, education or our innovation arm, to be able to be the place that people can go and ask these questions and get academic objective answers.”