In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting worldwide shut-down of the gaming industry, graduates of the Executive Development Program (EDP) have been reconvened for the first time in the program’s 30-year history to share ideas and discuss plans to reopen the industry.
The Executive Development Program is produced jointly by the University of Nevada, Reno’s College of Business and Extended Studies and the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The leadership program brings together top gaming executives from around the world for a nine-day professional development workshop in Lake Tahoe every fall. EDP has helped executives sharpen management skills, discuss current topics in the gaming industry and hear from industry experts. In all, EDP has produced more than 1,500 alumni, including hundreds of senior executives who lead companies on all six continents.
Now, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EDP has “reconvened” with regular virtual meetings, allowing program graduates to discuss topics and ideas relative to the pandemic and its direct impacts on gaming.
“This unprecedented event has created a tipping point where EDP transforms from a once-a-year event to an on-going, year-round experience,” Bo Bernhard, Philip G. Satre Chair in Gaming Studies at the University of Nevada, Reno and Executive Director of the International Gaming Institute at UNLV, said. “This is certainly a time when each of us need the views, insights and perspective of each other, given our many areas of expertise and with the many challenges we all face around the world.”
“As scary as these times are, they also can serve to inspire in us great creativity and innovation,” Mark Lipparelli, EDP co-moderator, former Nevada Senator and former chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, said. “Though some of these ideas may spring to life out of necessity, they nonetheless become indispensable in everyday life. We should be willing to grasp this moment and be unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom.”
In the first group meetings, held the week of April 13, 100 gaming professionals heard from Alan Feldman, one of the industry’s most respected communicators. Feldman is a Distinguished Fellow in Responsible Gaming at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and, along with Bernhard and Lipparelli, serves as a co-moderator of EDP. He spent nearly 30 years in the gaming industry with MGM Resorts, often in crisis management roles.
“Market to market, even allowing for local and regulatory differences, we’re all dealing with this in exactly the same way on a human level,” Feldman said. “We’re going to see this impact for years. And, while I think the gaming industry has done a great job at transparency through all this, it is going to be critically important to maintain that transparency by being as honest and open with your respective audiences as you possibly can be.”
Sandy Thefs, an EDP graduate and program manager at The Star Entertainment Group in Sydney, Australia said, “The new face of customer service is going to be in keeping guests safe.”
Much of the discussion focused on guest and employee safety. Talks also included how best to go about social distancing on property, employee relations and communications, the economic implications of COVID-19 and timing – when gaming might expect to see a “new normal.”
“There are so many commonalities across the world,” Bernhard said, “The benefit to this program is the relationships attendees build, allowing them to share and learn over the course of their careers, not just in the time spent at the conference.”
Bernhard and Lipparelli both learned under the mentorship of the late Bill Eadington, the founder of EDP and the first to hold the Satre Chair appointment until his death in 2013.
Since the program’s inception in 1990, more than 1,500 gaming professionals have graduated from the program from Africa, Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America and South America. The only program of its kind, it is designed for gaming professionals in positions of substantial responsibility, and delivers state-of-the-art, industry-specific knowledge in an intensive week of seminars, presentations and interactions utilizing case-study analysis.