Interview with Dr. Mike Ahlgren

Intellectual Capital & the 15th ICGRT

Casino Action

The Interview

Heather: Dr. Ahlgren, thank you very much for being on the show. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Ahlgren: My pleasure.

Heather: Now, you are a professor at Penn State. You have a PHD in Gaming and Hospitality. You have worked at the American Gaming Association and you were the Manager of Operations at Harrah’s Research Center.

Dr. Ahlgren: Correct.

Heather: Now, you recently have presented at the 15th International Conference for Gaming and Risk Taking. You gave several presentations during this conference; can you summarize what you talked about during the conference?

Dr. Ahlgren: I can try. It’s a long and winding road. My first presentation had a secondary author on a paper. A colleague of mine that I went through the PhD program, she actually did it a little bit before me, and it’s really, that paper’s on superstitions. Comparing Asian gamers, and when I say Asian; Japanese gamers, to Korean gamers, to Chinese gamers to North American gamers, so to speak. In comparing their different superstitions and their motivations, for when they play.

      My other two presentations, are more things that I’m directly involved in. One of them is a paper that I worked on with Dr. Bo Bernhard, again, the Director of the International Gaming Institute. And we've done a couple papers on Intellectual Capital in the gaming industry. And the basis for that paper is asking the question, as the world wide gaming market changes, you know, you have proliferation of gaming in both domestic, particularly in the US, and internationally.

      What’s going to happen to Las Vegas? Sort of the first step that we took, that was really Bo’s position, was; let’s take a look to Huston because Huston is an interesting case study, in that Huston was the center of the domestic oil industry and then in the 70’s, that oil industry essentially dried up in Texas. But rather than turning it into the North Nevada ghost town for mining, Huston was able to transform itself from this domestic center of gaming. It’s really the intellectual capital that is coming out of Huston that’s informing these decisions. Sort of, our premise was, well, what can Las Vegas learn from Huston? So how can Las Vegas transform itself from the center of the domestic gaming industry, to sort, of the center of intellectual capital for the world wide gaming industry? And, we’re really in the early stages; we’ve sort of identified that as the premise.

      Now we’re trying to determine how we can measure intellectual capital. So if we want to improve ourselves, we’ve got to figure out how to measure it. And part of that is defining what do we mean when we say intellectual capital. So there was a panel presentation and Bo and Jonathon Gallevits spoke about Huston’s scenario, you know, the degree to which Las Vegas already does inform the actions of both Macau and Singapore. John Gallevits spoke to that and then I came in and I spoke about, well if we’re going to push ahead with this and we’re going to start to measure it, how are we going to do it? What do we really mean when we say, is it just a fancy term to say “Intellectual Capital”… Wow… But what does that mean? You know? And that’s what we’re trying to tackle right now.

Heather: What does “Intellectual Capital” mean then?

Dr. Ahlgren: Well, it has a number of different components. Part of it is, you know, your human talents. So, you know, how educated your work force is. If you’re talking about, for example, well, let’s be critical for a second. If you’re talking about Las Vegas, how many brilliant people are out there, that are available to the industry here in Las Vegas?

      And part of that is driven by, if you’re a young executive, or a young graduate, coming out of an MBA program, from Wharton or from Harvard, or from one of the top schools. One thing that they’re going to ask themselves is, ‘do I want to move my, maybe, young family to Las Vegas?’ And to be critical for a second, well, one of the things they’re going to ask is, ‘how good is the school system?’ And I think everyone would agree that that’s something that needs to be improved around here. You know, Huston has spent a lot of time worrying about that. How to make the city attractive to outsiders that are coming in. And I mean, we have a number of executives here in Las Vegas that don’t live here. They essentially commute in for their work week. And really, you hope that these are the executives that out to be investing in making Vegas a better place and making sure that the schools are good enough for their kids and what have you. So there is some work to be done, no question.

      So there’s that human, education element, other elements are, you know, access to capital. Las Vegas tends to be pretty good at that. Probably too good for its own good. As is evident by City Center. I think they got more money than they really knew what to do with, at that point, and they probably over-invested because there was so much capital available to some of these companies in the mid-2000’s.

      So that’s an element of it. How wired you are, that’s another one. There’s a number of different components. How much money is being spent on R&D for example. In a community, that would be an aspect of when you’re starting to measure intellectual capital, you measure that. How many patents are being issued. Now, you know, in the gaming industry that’s not appropriate. So that’s just it. We’re still at that stage trying to figure it out, what exactly do we measure? And it’s a little bit subjective, a little bit qualitative; it’s not just cut and dry.

Heather: Right.

Dr. Ahlgren: Otherwise, I could figure it out in an afternoon. But it’s going to take some, you know, discussion and there’s a bunch of people weighing in on it. And hopefully, you know, I mean that’s where we’re headed. Part of it is due to the fact that it’s kind of a new concept, even though it started in the 70’s, you know, academia moves very slowly, so you know. Now we’re talking about what we’re proposing is that we do it not for our country or a single company, we’re talking about doing it for, sort of for the Las Vegas Gaming Industry. Both the technology side of it and the operators side of it. And so it’s kind of new. So that’s part of the challenge.