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UNLV's High Roller

David Schwartz, director of the UNLV Center for Gaming Research, was recently named among the top 40 emerging gaming leaders by Global Gaming Business Magazine.

People  |  Nov 25, 2013  |  By Afsha Bawany

UNLV's David Schwartz was recently named among the top 40 emerging gaming leaders by Global Gaming Business Magazine. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

David Schwartz is the ultimate Vegas insider. On any given moment, he can talk about gaming trends locally and nationally, casino security, the history of Vegas mobs, the tourism industry and places to take your kids when you're visiting Vegas (yes, there are places to take the kids). After all, Schwartz is a researcher so he's bound to have good tips.

It’s no wonder why Schwartz was recently named among the top 40 emerging gaming leaders by Global Gaming Business Magazine.

As a historian, which era of Las Vegas fascinates you the most and why?

Surprisingly, it's right now. We've seen tremendous changes in the city and the casino business many times, but I think that what's happening now — the diversification of downtown, the migration of gambling to mobile and online, and the challenges of international growth — make this an incredibly interesting time to be in Las Vegas. Runner-up is the early 1950s, when the "Old Vegas" model really coalesced.

The local, national, and international gaming industries are all interconnected as these industries continue to grow worldwide. Why is it important to educate the general public about trends in the gaming industry?

I think that people, particularly in Las Vegas, should be informed about what's happening with gambling internationally because, ultimately, it affects them. Much of the state's economy is geared around gambling and tourism, and it's important to stay current so that we can continue to be attractive to visitors. I'm from Atlantic City, N.J., which didn't do such a good job of staying current. That city's problem, in a nutshell, was that everyone saw the competition as the people on the other end of the Boardwalk, and no one cared about Las Vegas, or Delaware and Pennsylvania. We need to avoid that in Las Vegas, and I think that so far we've done a good job.

Stories keep popping up about Las Vegas losing its edge to places like Macau. Is that really true? Will Las Vegas always be the center of the gaming world?

I don't think the global gaming industry is a zero sum game. If Macau prospers, that doesn't take away from the wealth of Las Vegas. Unlike many other destinations, Las Vegas found a way to thrive even after people were able to gamble in other places. The key is to continue to innovate with gambling but also to give people what they want. That may be value-oriented travel, but it's also celebrity chef restaurants, high-end entertainment, and nightclubs. 

Looking ahead, what will bring the visitors to town and what are you looking forward to in the next era of Las Vegas entertainment and hospitality? The Container Park downtown, Zappos’ many projects downtown, the SLS boutique casino, or The High Roller?

While I think that diversification into tech is a very good thing for the city, there is something to be said for complementary diversification — doing things that are different from our core, gambling and tourism, but that play to our existing strengths. One local success story, I think, has been the UFC, which has become a brand heavily associated with Las Vegas no matter where its events are held. Along with championship boxing, it is Las Vegas's real major league.

You can also see tech companies that have developed applications or are hiring people who have concentrated on different aspects of tourism, ranging from event management to convention and exhibition services.

As competition for travel time and money gets fiercer, it will be increasingly important for us to offer as many things to as many people as we can. This includes venues with large nightlife and food and beverage components, like SLS, as well as attractions like the High Roller. It will be important to give people who haven't been coming to Las Vegas a good reason to come here, and to give them value for the travel dollar.

In your blog, you offer tips for parents on where to take their kids in Las Vegas. Las Vegas' marketing definitely does not promote “family friendly” themes. What was the impetus to start such a blog?

I started the blog because I was frustrated hearing the constant refrain "Kids don't belong in Vegas" while seeing plenty of people bringing their kids to Las Vegas. Basically, the blog is a fun side project I started that helps parents insulate their young children from Las Vegas and insulate Las Vegas from their young children. For parents coming to Las Vegas, I'd suggest staying at a nongaming hotel and focusing on destinations like the Springs Preserve and Discovery Children's Museum.

What’s your favorite place in Southern Nevada and why?

I really enjoy getting out into the city's parks — Sunset Park and Discovery Park are two of my favorites. They are a good counterbalance to the energy of the Strip, and a good place to spend quality family time.