DraftKings’ partnership with UNLV a ‘win-win proposition’


Steve Marcus

Kyle Morris, left, DraftKings lead game designer, Dan Sahl, director of the DraftKings Gaming Innovation Studio at UNLV, and Jason March, DraftKings vice president of gaming, pose by the studio on UNLV campus Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.

Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020 | 2 a.m.

While its daily fantasy sports betting offerings aren’t allowed in Nevada, DraftKings has continued to establish itself in Las Vegas.

The latest example is a $100,000 multiyear sponsorship agreement the Boston-based company recently inked with UNLV’s Center for Gaming Innovation.

Daniel Sahl, director of the center, said the agreement, which will lead to a new research and development studio at UNLV’s Stan Fulton Building, is a winwin proposition.

DraftKings reached out to the university about seven months ago to find out more about the center, Sahl said.

“We were happy to meet with them and talk about our great students and some of the cool ideas that come out of (the center),” Sahl said. “As we were discussing some of the (intellectual property) that might be available to them, they offered to partner with us more closely, which is where the idea for the studio came about.”

Known more for its daily fantasy sports betting offerings, DraftKings also offers smartphone and desktop computer-based casino games. Its games are not allowed in Nevada because the company doesn’t have a gaming license here.

DraftKings wants to start plucking UNLV graduate talent in the area of casino game research and development.

“Both DraftKings and UNLV are on the leading edge of developing the next wave of technology within the international gaming industry,” Paul Liberman, DraftKings co-founder, said in a statement.

“Through this agreement, DraftKings not only has access to the latest ideas coming out of the Gaming Innovation studio, but it also allows us to deepen our relationship with the Las Vegas community,” Liberman said.

In 2018, DraftKings opened a small office in Las Vegas. The company has just under 200 employees here and has room to grow at its WeWork office space at Town Square mall.

The Las Vegas employees primarily handle customer service issues, sports book trading, fraud protection and other technical tasks.

“We only had a handful of employees in January, so we’ve already seen a huge growth in numbers, and we continue to hire rapidly, despite COVID-19,” said DraftKings spokeswoman Kayla Schmalz. “We’re hoping this partnership brings us closer to local talent as we continue to expand.”

The sponsorship will allow DraftKings signage to be placed in different areas of UNLV’s Fulton Building.

“Now more than ever, we are delighted to collaborate with a company that is well-known for embracing innovation in gaming,” Sahl said. “This collaboration will help ensure that Nevada remains the global leader in gaming development and manufacturing, both now and in the future.”

Born in 2013 out of a grant from then-Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Office for Economic Development, students who have passed through the center have been responsible for eight product patents, seven of which have turned into commercial casino products.

The foundation of the center is a class called Gaming Innovation, which Sahl teaches each semester. The courses are open to anyone, not just UNLV students.

Ultimately, the new studio will likely be used as an incubator for students who come from the course with ideas, Sahl said.

“If students have a good idea, we’re going to work with them, and they could eventually get a patent,” Sahl said. “That, I think, attracts really bright and motivated students. I hope and I think that some of my students might be great employees for DraftKings in the future.”

Some student ideas have ended up as casino games that can be found in Las Vegas and all over the country, Sahl said.

One student sold her idea to Komani Gaming Inc., a locally based slot machine and casino games manufacturer.

“DraftKings coming to Las Vegas is great for our city,” Sahl said. “UNLV is turning out students who are ready to go to work for any number of these companies in the gaming space, and they’re ready to have an impact.”

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