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Gambling Industry’s Hard Bargain with Academics
by Sudhir H. Kale*

Gambling Industry’s Hard Bargain with Academics
Sudhir H. Kale*

When I was young, I thought money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old, I know that it is.

--Oscar Wilde

I admit it. I have been feeling very peevish lately. My pet peeve has to do with the way in which the gaming industry deals with academics. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to last week.

It started with an e-mail from one of the biggest conference organizers in the industry. The lady who wrote this e-mail wants me to participate in their forthcoming gaming convention. “You have been selectively approached to represent your faction of the gaming industry due to your unique perspective, your leadership in the industry and your credibility. For your audience members, you are one of the reasons why they are investing their money and time to hear the relevant issues that you are being asked to discuss.” After such a terrific acknowledgement of my greatness, I was naturally interested to read what the organizers were offering to pay for my participation. You guessed it. Not only am I not being not compensated for sharing my “unique perspective, leadership in the industry and credibility,” I am expected to pay my own way across three continents to speak at this high profile event. Ayn Rand must be turning in her grave. Wasn’t it she who said something to the effect that anyone who works without wages is a slave, and slavery, regardless of motives, can never be condoned?

Ever since I started writing for Urbino at the behest of Andrew MacDonald, my mailbox has been flooded with fan mail from casino executives. (Okay, I exaggerate a bit; there has been a persistent trickle.) While it is gratifying to note that experienced and well-respected professionals read what I have written, and that they take the time out to convey their appreciation, there is, almost always, some self-interest in the flattery. A majority want free advice on some pressing marketing issue that haunts them. These professionals are, no doubt, brought up with the “Flattery will take you anywhere” dictum. Heck, if it works with the vainglorious high rollers, it should work with academics. Right?

Now let’s go back to all the invitations to speak at various gaming expos and conventions that the industry organizes. The organizers of these events charge a bundle to those desirous of attending -- the participants hoping to learn the latest in gaming products and gaming management. The speakers are usually drawn from consulting shops, casino vendors, casinos, and universities. While attendees pay a small fortune for the experience, I have yet to receive an invitation where the organizer has offered to pay for my expenses such as travel and accommodation to participate in the event. I keep asking myself, “How can these people continue to get first-rate speakers if they don’t compensate the speakers in any way?” For those from the industry participating, there may be an answer. Participation in such high-profile events results in increased business or it might generate lucrative consulting or job offers. But what about academics such as myself? If I go overboard in hustling my consulting services at such events, I will have little time for systematic study or research, the very activities that have made me an expert in the first place. How then can the gaming industry hope to continue attracting bright (and, I concede, sometimes not to bright) minds from academia if the poor professors have to pay their own way to get to these events and bear all expenses such as food and lodging that are necessary to participate in the events? If the industry thinks that the employing institution, i.e., the university foots the bill, then it is time to set things straight.

Most academic institutions hold the gaming industry in very low regard. Participation of faculty in gaming expos and conferences, therefore, is perceived as adding little to the stature of the university or the faculty. Research in gaming-related issues is typically viewed as low-level applied research, and therefore provides no reward for researchers in terms of merit raises or promotions. If at all a few professors participate in activities such as gaming-related research or speaking on gaming issues, they are doing it out of personal interest. The time spent on writing a research paper or preparing a presentation is time taken away from research that could be more extrinsically rewarding both in terms of money and status.

If the gaming industry persists in its view of academics as essentially free labor, university faculty will be forced to withdraw from the industry-academia interface. This will be to the disadvantage of the industry.

Professors bring comprehensive perspectives to the matters at hand, be they CRM, the ideal online gaming environment, or risk management. Their training enables them to view issues at a higher level of abstraction, a capability that most executives do not have. Academics have the luxury of spending an enormous amount of time reading about the various issues, something that industry executives cannot or will not do. Thinking at length about a particular issue and precision with regard to definition are two other important attributes that separate the work of professors from that of practitioners. Finally, academics’ knowledge regarding various operational issues is often interdisciplinary, and thus provides gaming professionals with “out of the box” viewpoints.

Obviously, the gaming industry stands a lot to gain from an ongoing and mutually beneficial association with the academic community. If the gaming industry can find sponsors for cocktail receptions that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, surely it can scrape together two or three thousand dollars to fund the trip of an academic speaker. For the life of me, I cannot understand how conference organizers can say to an academic, “Sorry, we don’t have the budget to pay your expenses.” Don’t you think the speaker deserves some small share of the fees charged to the audience?

So, my readers from the gaming industry, on behalf of the academic community, I am beseeching you to compensate the scholars for the time and energy they spend on issues of interest to you. Continued miserliness toward scholars will impoverish the industry, initially in terms of ideas and perspectives, and eventually in terms of revenues and profits.

At a time when the world is making an unabashed foray into a “knowledge economy,” the gaming industry seems intent on excluding knowledge producers and disseminators from its corridors. Unless the tightfisted orientation toward academics changes, the industry may find, to its chagrin, that the fist has a lot less loot than it should.

Now that I’ve got it out of my system, I’m feeling somewhat less peevish. Keep sending me the adulatory e-mails. And if you want free advice, Andrew MacDonald’s e-mail address figures prominently on this Website.

Date Posted: 25-May-2003

*Sudhir H. Kale, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Marketing at Bond University in Australia. Besides writing gaming-related articles for free, Sudhir publishes scholarly work in international marketing, marketing strategy, and spirituality in top academic journals. To reach Sudhir, send an e-mail to Sudhir_Kale@Bond.edu.au.

 
 
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