Andre Wilsenach knew very little about the casino industry when, in the 1990s, he was named to a commission examining whether South Africa should legalize gambling.
Now, he’s an expert in the laws and rules that govern gambling, and he’s bringing his knowledge to UNLV.
The South African commission recommended the legalization of nearly all forms of gambling, and Wilsenach was one of the first regulators of the industry in his native country. Later, he led the gambling control commission of the English Channel island of Alderney for 14 years, helping it chart a new course in the regulation of online gaming.
And earlier this year, Wilsenach was appointed to be the inaugural director of UNLV’s new international Center for Gaming Regulation, where he will help establish a program aimed at being an educational and training resource for regulators, lawyers, industry leaders and others with an interest in the regulation of gambling. The center, a partnership between UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and the William S. Boyd School of Law, also will be a hub for research and information about the field.
Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state Legislature jump-started the center last year with a $500,000 annual allocation, and it also received support from such private sponsors as Wynn Resorts Ltd., Gaming Laboratories International and the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers.
With Wilsenach now appointed to his leadership position, VEGAS INC recently spoke with him about his outlook and related issues such as daily fantasy sports and skill-based gaming. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What would you say is your vision for the Center for Gaming Regulation over the next couple of years?
I’m hoping that the center will in two or three years be known as a center of knowledge and information in an area of best regulatory practices — through research, obviously, and using research as a basis for teaching and training regulators throughout the world, disseminating information and data to regulators and, in doing so, promoting best practices. Although regulators have got associations around the world, those associations are not ideally suited to provide training and information, and so on, to their various members, and I think that’s where we could work with those associations and play a role in providing information and working in partnership with regulators and lawyers.
Is it gaming regulators who are going to be the primary beneficiaries of the center, or who will be using it most?
I would say gaming regulators and gaming lawyers.
What sort of opportunities does the center create for UNLV students, then?
The center will promote research, and we hope very soon to come with an invitation for fellowships, whereby students who have an interest in the area of gaming regulation would be able to make proposals to the center, and through the center funding will be made available for those research fellows. That will be an annual thing. We’re also in the process of appointing an academic council of academic (leaders) and researchers around the world to assist us in reviewing research papers. We want to promote the publication of white papers, which is another opportunity, and we have students already at the center working on specific topics that have been identified by regulators that are of interest to them.
Do you have any sense yet of some of the potential areas that the center may research?
I suspect, in order to get the most out of gaming, we’re going to see pressure coming from states to increase the benefit. And I think you’re going to see states increasingly looking critically at the side of regulation, the approach to regulation. We hope we’ll be able to provide advice to states — and I’m not necessarily saying just states in the U.S., but states around the world — on best regulatory practices. It’s well known that there’s a lot of duplication in the area of regulation, and I hope we can play a role in minimizing duplication and promoting regulatory efficiencies. Those are the sort of things that I think will probably come our way.
One of the hottest topics in this area right now, when we’re talking about gambling regulation, is daily fantasy sports. Is that something that you see your center weighing in on at any point?
Yeah, I think if we would be approached. That’s something that I certainly have taken great interest in. And not only DFS — I think it goes beyond DFS. I think it goes to various new trends and tendencies and products that we’re seeing on the horizon now.
You’re seeing various different approaches to regulating (daily fantasy sports). And I think there are lessons to be learned from what other jurisdictions have done. Fantasy sports have been regulated in the UK for a long time. But I also think there are other interesting developments: the whole concept of e-sports is an interesting one, and something that I think is becoming an issue, specifically around the interest of millennials and the whole way in which the men and the women in the 21st century (are) behaving.
Skill-based games is another interesting one. The relationship between skill-based games and things such as DFS and e-sports is interesting. There’s a particular person who’s attracted to the skill-based games, which still have an element of randomness and a certain percentage return to player, which is not attractive to other segments of the population. The younger generation, I suspect, is much more interested in games of skill where speed and strategy and those sort of things are much more important than the typical casino game. And it’s those sort of things that I think are going to bubble up to the surface and I think are going to become quite interesting and topical when we do research.
So all of that gets back to this issue of technology and gambling. Do you see any tension right now between the current sets of gaming regulations in places like Nevada and the need to develop innovative gambling technology? Is the current regulatory framework too onerous for technological innovations?
It’s a really tricky question. I generally think that — and I’m not necessarily referring to Nevada — I generally think that the regulatory approach, specifically with regard to the terrestrial industry, has set the barriers very high. And there was a time when it was needed. The question is, just to what an extent in the day and age we live in now is it useful, or is it stifling innovation? I don’t know the answer to that. But I certainly think it’s worth looking at. Are there other things that one could do, for example, to improve the speed of new products to the market? Are there some of those barriers that can come down? Those are all interesting questions.