Gaming Group Honors UNLV's Director

19 September 2002

by Liz Benston

LAS VEGAS --Long before problem gambling became a household word in the close-knit casino industry, one man made a commitment to explore the issue and help push a somewhat reluctant group of casino chiefs into action.

Shannon Bybee, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' International Gaming Institute and a professor at the UNLV Hotel College and Boyd School of Law, began his career in the industry as a regulator with Nevada's state Gaming Control Board in 1975 and then went to work for casino mogul Steve Wynn as a regulatory advisor in 1976. Bybee relocated to New Jersey in 1981 to run the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City for Wynn.

A few years later, Bybee attended a meeting of the National Council on Problem Gambling, then a fledgling group with virtually no budget or organizational structure.

Though Bybee began attending functions in the early 1980s hosted by a New Jersey group for compulsive gamblers, it was that meeting, in 1985, that triggered a lifelong interest in gambling addiction issues.

Wednesday evening, in conjunction with this week's Global Gaming Expo trade conference, Bybee received a special achievement award from the American Gaming Association for his efforts to tackle the thorny subject.

For Bybee, the first individual to receive an annual award that has previously gone to casino companies, the recognition was a humbling experience.

"It's an honor. And it's an important topic," Bybee said.

It also comes at a difficult time for the former casino boss and regulator.

Bybee, 64, has been diagnosed with advanced liver disease, a condition that has sapped his energy and forced him to take a leave of absence from UNLV.

It hasn't kept him off the podium entirely. He still teaches various seminars, and will lead an upcoming training session in Las Vegas for tribal gaming commissioners under the direction of the National Judicial College in Reno.

"I'm sorry that I'm not able to continue at the pace I was but, as they say in the industry, 'you have to play the hand you're dealt.' "

In 1991 Bybee was named to the board of directors for the National Council on Problem Gambling. It was the first time a casino executive had stepped on the board alongside researchers and other groups. In 1995 he became the first official president for the council, which had previously had a loose organizational structure.

Bybee was "instrumental in igniting the first discussions of problem gambling regulations in Nevada," AGA Chief Executive Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. said.

Bybee is more humble about his accomplishments, preferring to credit the casino executives who eventually joined the council as board members, financial supporters or advocates.

"These people not only signed checks ... they gave us their time to come and participate in the business of the organization," Bybee said.

Most major casino companies are now represented on the council's advisory board. That board doesn't have a vote on the board of directors, which is aimed at striking a balance between casino and other interests and is neutral toward casino expansion, but it has a voice at the national level, Bybee said.

It's a far cry from the early days, when casino chiefs shied away from the issue and didn't understand the depth of the disease, he said.

"There wasn't an awareness among the casino owners. There also was a concern that if there was a problem people would expect us to pay for it and solve it."

Now, most companies have problem gambling programs, including training for employees. And Nevada law requires casinos to have available hotline information for addicted gamblers.

Bybee, who has been teaching at UNLV since 1994, discussed problem gambling in all of his courses and influenced the university's decision to incorporate the topic in coursework for all introductory hospitality students.

Some companies still might not be giving the problem the attention it deserves, Bybee said. They do so at their peril.

Companies have a social and financial responsibility to train their employees and be concerned for their customers, he said.

"The industry would prefer people to (gamble) in moderation, so they can continue to enjoy what the industry has to offer."

The industry should look beyond the much-publicized threat of lawsuits by people with gambling problems, he said.

The best way to approach the issue is to support further independent research on the subject, which is ongoing, he added.

"The biggest point is that the industry has become aware of the numbers of people ... who suffer from the problem. There's an awareness of people who have a problem and that they can solve the problem with help."

Related Links
American Gaming Association (AGA) 2nd Annual Gaming Industry Communications Awards - 2002