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Inside Gaming: Caesars and UNLV Partner to Create Black Fire Innovation

Inside Gaming: Caesars and UNLV Partner to Create Black Fire Innovation 0001
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  • UNLV and Caesars partner to create Black Fire Innovation, a technology hub to help study industry.

  • Illinois lawmakers consider sports betting and expanded gambling; closed Lucky Dragon gets new owner.

UNLV and Caesars Announce New Technology Hub to Study and Advance Industry

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Caesars Entertainment this week announced a partnership to create a new technology hub designed to create and test new gaming and hospitality concepts.

As UNLV explains, the hub, called Black Fire Innovation, will involve "a 43,000-square-foot space that will include elements of mock hotel rooms, a casino floor and sportsbook, an esports arena and virtual reality facilities." The complex is expected to open by the end of this year.

The mock hotel rooms and casino floor (complete with slots and table games), along with the sports book, esports arena, and other facilities will enable "on-demand testing of new ideas and products and provide a venue to showcase innovations to current and potential industry partners."

"This collaboration with Caesars Entertainment will strengthen UNLV's role as a research and innovation leader and further elevate Las Vegas as the global intellectual capital for gaming and hospitality," said UNLV President Marta Meana.

"We intend to accelerate innovation in a way that is truly unprecedented within the gaming and hospitality space, bringing together top researchers and industry experts in a unique collaborative environment," added Les Ottolenghi, Executive VP and CIO for Caesars.

Black Fire Innovation will be created within a four-story, 110,000-square-foot building currently under development in the UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park (portrayed above).

The space will also allow for the testing of new technologies, "which may include blockchain, artificial intelligence and virtual reality," with the additional ability to foster interdisciplinary collaborations across different departments at UNLV. Caesars will collaborate with students and members of UNLV's Division of Research and Economic Development.

Illinois Lawmakers Consider Sports Betting and Gambling Expansion

Last week in this space we were reporting on several more states making progress toward legalizing sports betting, with Indiana, Iowa, Montana, and Tennessee all currently at different stages along that path.

Illinois is yet another state where lawmakers have taken up the subject in earnest, and with the current legislative session nearing its end talk has turned toward considering not just adding sports betting, but even wider gambling expansion that could introduce new casinos and increased betting at the state's horse tracks, The Chicago Tribune reports.

There are currently 10 casinos operating in the state, none of which are too enthused about increased competition. But representatives of several cities and towns — including Chicago, Rockford, and a number of central and southern communities — want casinos, too, and many of the state's horse tracks are also desirous to add slots and table games.

Lawmakers have already been considering a sports betting bill, an idea supported by Governor J.B. Pritzker who believes introducing sports betting could add an additional $200 million in revenue for the state during the next fiscal year.

With almost a month left in the session, two House Democrats in the state are currently pursuing legislation. Rep. Mike Zalewski is working on a new sports betting bill he plans to file next week, while Rep. Bob Rita is leading discussions regarding gambling expansion. Among the topics discussed in current debates regarding both is whether or not to combine those twin efforts into a single bill.

For example, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel — who will be succeeded later this month by Lori Lightfoot — has stated he would back sports betting if the city were to get a casino. Lightfoot also supports the city getting a casino, something city officials have been trying to do for two decades, but former governor Pat Quinn thwarted those earlier efforts with a couple of vetos.

While some oppose gambling expansion, many acknowledge Illinois is losing out on revenue to neighboring states. Many also recognize a similar phenonema happening with sports betting, although there, too, lawmakers differ on many particulars regarding how legal and regulated sports betting should look.

New Owner for Lucky Dragon to Reopen Hotel, No Casino

It hasn't been such a lucky year for the Lucky Dragon Hotel & Casino, located west of the Las Vegas Strip near the Stratospheresoon to be renamed The STRAT Hotel, Casino and SkyPod — on Sahara Avenue.

Early last year the Asian-themed boutique hotel and casino abruptly closed barely a year after it had first opened in December 2016. The hotel reopened shortly thereafter while the casino remained closed, and amid bankruptcy hearings remained open for several months before finally closing as well.

Primary lender Snow Covered Capital assumed ownership of the Lucky Dragon last fall, and several buyers subsequently showed interest though few emerged as serious.

That remained the case until last week when it was announced Don Ahern of the Ahern Rentals construction equipment firm has purchased the foreclosed property for a price tag of $36 million, the Associated Press reports.

Ahern expressed an intention to rename the property and reopen it "as a nongaming hotel and conference space."

Image: UNLV.

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