Upcoming Caesars-UNLV ‘Black Fire’ complex to innovate and test new gaming, hospitality concepts

The casino floor will have all the trappings — glowing slots and felt-covered game tables. The sportsbook will have a tote board for posting odds and windows good enough to receive wagers. An esports arena will have game paraphernalia and video screens.

Though real enough for revelry, this technology complex — named Black Fire Innovation — will be built for testing, with the hope that it will forge partnerships and hatch lasting ideas that can revolutionize hospitality.

Announced in April and itself a partnership between Caesars Entertainment Corp. and UNLV, this learning hub will be a 43,000-square-foot complex for on-demand testing of new hospitality ideas and products, and showcasing industry innovations to casino and resort partners.

Expected to open by the end of 2019, it will be housed in a four-story, 111,000-square-foot building going up in the master-planned UNLV Harry Reid Research & Technology Park, a project developed by UNLV, the UNLV Research Foundation and the Gardner Co.

Described as a “multimillion-dollar project,” Black Fire Innovation was so named as a nod to Nevada’s state gemstone, the Virgin Valley black fire opal.


testing and a place for students to train to enter the workforce of the future. (Courtesy UNLV)” width=”300″ height=”169″> Artist’s concept rendering of the “Black Fire Innovation” space at UNLV. (Courtesy UNLV)

Work done at Black Fire Innovation will focus on emerging technologies, possibly including blockchain technology, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, and interdisciplinary collaborations involving architecture, psychology and fine arts. The complex will include a fully equipped commercial kitchen, casino floor, hotel rooms, esports arena, virtual reality lab and sportsbook. There will also be collaboration and coworking space, plus classrooms and presentation areas, as well as and private offices and conference rooms.

Black Fire Innovation will let students and professionals from UNLV’s Division of Research and Economic Development and Caesars Entertainment test technologies and stage scenarios. It will also let startups, researchers and businesspeople from the Las Vegas Valley and elsewhere see how hotel-casinos are applying new technologies to gambling, sports betting and social spaces to draw and keep audiences.

Although other dedicated innovation-collaboration spaces exist in Las Vegas, notably the Lied Library’s Makerspace and UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, Black Fire Innovation intends to fill its own niche.

Zach Miles, UNLV’s associate vice president for economic development, says the complex can be a safe space for resolving technological bugs without risking customer satisfaction or profits. For example, he said, pre-rollout trials could be run for virtual reality to serve hotel guests. A Las Vegas visitor hungry for lobster tails and French fries, for example, could take a virtual hotel-casino tour that could point them toward restaurants that might serve them.

“It’s almost like gamifying the experience,” Miles says. “You could have a virtual reality feature that pairs with someone’s phone and camera to give directions to something a hotel guest might want to see.”

Artificial intelligence could offer multiple innovations, says Les Ottolenghi, Caesars Entertainment’s executive vice president and chief information officer, in an email interview.  Among them: enabling real-time language translation, as well as “smart” marketing offers triggered by images, objects or emotion recognition, and automated conversations with guests to improve service.

Artist’s concept rendering of the “Black Fire Innovation” space at UNLV. (Courtesy UNLV)

As it stokes emerging technologies, Black Fire Innovation will refine existing ones. “These (new) technologies have the potential to spin off innovative and disruptive products,” Ottolenghi says. “The combination possesses the rare potential to create transformative platforms that will serve as the foundation for products that will improve guest experience, increase revenue and reduce operational costs.

“We will explore new modifications to legacy solutions and integrate new technology to create enhanced functionality,” he adds. “Embracing emerging technology such as ever-increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence will unlock capabilities within gaming and hospitality innovation that will continue to revolutionize the products and services we deliver to our guests.” 

Miles says that Black Fire Innovation could also move Las Vegas toward economic diversification by allowing biotechnology, engineering or medical companies to test technology. Virtual reality, he notes, is emerging as a technology doctors can use to simulate surgery. (Arizona State University has a program that lets students use virtual reality to simulate dissecting animals.)

“Allowing industries to work on products and including students to help nurture these ideas … can only benefit the wider community.”

Several models could dictate how community users pay to use Black Fire Innovation, Miles says, adding that most concept incubators or accelerators don’t run at a profit. Beyond straight fees, subscriptions or future profit-sharing could work. For example, the university might get a share of revenue from successful products conceived at Black Fire Innovation.

By creating a welcoming space to develop technologies at Black Fire Innovation, Miles says that UNLV and Caesars Entertainment hope companies may be encouraged to decide that technology, enhancements and products developed in Las Vegas should stay in Las Vegas. 

To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.

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by Matthew Crowley/Contributor to Las Vegas Newswire

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