Caesars, UNLV develop technology innovation hub

LAS VEGAS—University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and Caesars Entertainment have partnered to deliver a technology hub designed to assist innovators with testing and showcasing new gaming and hospitality concepts.

“UNLV and Caesars have partnered in a number of areas over the years, with discussions on Black Fire Innovation occurring about a year ago as the university kicked off construction on the debut innovation building at the UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park,” said Zach Miles, associate VP of economic development for UNLV. “Both organizations have a shared interest in turning great ideas into reality, and this space will allow us to do just that.”

This isn’t the first time UNLV has done something to assist students with developing and patenting casino games; the school has created its own academic gaming and hospitality innovation program.

“We’re learning from the impact of that program, and we intend to create similar opportunities more broadly in this space. Partnerships like Black Fire Innovation are exactly what we need to be doing at the UNLV Tech Park,” he said.

Currently under development, the 43,000-sq.-ft. Black Fire Innovation space will be located in a four-story, 111,000-sq.-ft. innovation building at the UNLV Tech Park, located in Southwest Las Vegas.

“With Caesars’ tradition of industry leadership and UNLV’s preeminent gaming and hospitality research program, it’s a natural partnership and one that we’ve been working toward for more than a year,” said Les Ottolenghi, EVP and CIO at Caesars Entertainment. “Black Fire Innovation leverages our shared industry leadership to create a first-of-its-kind innovation center that will provide a unique new research environment to advance new concepts and, ultimately, shape the future of gaming and hospitality.”

Slated to open by year-end 2019, Black Fire Innovation is expected to recreate real-life conditions for product testing and other uses.

“The hub is intended to represent a mock integrated resort, with a casino floor with slots and table games, hotel rooms, a sports book and sports facilities,” Miles said. “It’s going to be a dynamic laboratory where staff, students and partners can move from co-located workspaces directly to the showcase space. To create the concepts, we’ll also have a software development center and a maker space with tools, like a metal press, an industrial sewing machine, etc., for prototype development.”

Designed to assist innovators with testing concepts, Black Fire Innovation is a way to provide a platform for those without the necessary means to develop products. “So many times, students, researchers, employees, etc., have great ideas but don’t have the resources necessary to take them to the next step—a critical step that determines marketability,” Miles said. “Black Fire provides this, giving people with great ideas the space to test their innovation in a simulated, integrated resort environment to really determine whether or not it’s commercially viable.”

“Ideas are more likely to thrive when they have a support/ecosystem to help transform them into life-changing products and services,” he said. “This partnership fills a gap, providing the necessary infrastructure, resources, location and tools to translate ideas generated from students, faculty and researchers into products and services. It also supports entrepreneurship, small businesses and start-ups that will continue to support our foundation industry as well as drive economic diversification.”

Black Fire Innovation will focus on several primary research areas, including blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and virtual reality. “We will also examine how e-sports, experiential entertainment and robotics are changing how resorts approach gaming, sports wagering and social spaces to appeal to new audiences,” Ottolenghi said.

“We will use these labs to evaluate ways to improve our casino floor experiences, create futuristic, fully digital hotel rooms, integrate e-sports and virtual reality, and use shared spaces to foster social connections,” he said. “Each of these will enhance our guests’ experiences and help us deliver best-in-class products.”

Even though students and professionals from UNLV’s Division of Research and Economic Development, and Caesars, will occupy the space primarily, private industry partners will also be able to use Black Fire Innovation to advance research and test concepts.

“Black Fire Innovation will be an inherently collaborative share space,” Ottolenghi said. “Though various concepts and technologies will be developed by different innovators, the environment is designed to create a collaborative context that fosters partnerships, commercialization and best-in-class solutions. In addition to partnering with researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups, we will also partner with the private sector, ranging from technology providers and vendors to software development, manufacturing partners and many others. If someone has an interest in creating the guest experience of the future, we want to figure out if there is an opportunity for them to do it here.”

With consumer demand evolving rapidly, many hospitality companies are struggling to keep up. In an effort to help with this, Black Fire Innovation intends to accelerate innovation for them and others.

“This is a particularly pivotal time for our industry as we have seen a profound shift in consumer behavior,” he said. “Our guests are increasingly seeking unique and collaborative curated experiences, so it’s important that we are constantly innovating new and exciting concepts with an eye toward the future. The gaming and hospitality industry has not traditionally had a coordinated mechanism to drive innovation, so this is a true industry first. An innovation center like Black Fire gives the industry an opportunity to massively increase its ability to bring solutions to market at speed, setting the standards that will define the future of guest experience for integrated resorts around the world.”

Even though Black Fire Innovation will primarily target the hospitality industry, there’s a bigger picture for the city at large.

“We hope Black Fire Innovation will invite the world to Las Vegas to help drive economic development and diversification, provide real-world opportunities for students, create start-ups, workforce development, and help to change the narrative to where we are being discussed as an entrepreneur-friendly, high-tech club,” Miles said. HB

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