Casino sees colleges as worker incubator

July 3, 2011

Where do you turn to quickly train up to 2,000 people in such jobs as blackjack dealer andslot-machine technician?

Penn National Gaming, which plans to open the Hollywood Casino Columbus by the end of 2012,hopes local colleges will be the answer.

The company says it has had discussions with at least three central Ohio schools, includingColumbus State Community College, to create several programs to train workers for the $400 millioncasino.

A growing number of colleges nationwide have added casino-related training in the past severalyears as more states legalize table-game gambling.

“The nearest gaming operation to the area is in Cincinnati, so we don’t really have an existingwork force that we can draw on,” said Karen Bailey, spokeswoman for the Wyomissing, Pa.-basedcompany.

Bailey said Penn National has met with officials at Columbus State, Franklin University andCentral Ohio Technical College in Newark. But the company is waiting for its new general manager,company veteran Ameet Patel, to create a human-resources plan once he begins his duties on Aug.1.

Bailey said the casino will need people in areas such as accounting, food service, humanresources, information technology, maintenance, marketing and security. But she said the largestneed for training likely will be for table-game dealers and slot-machine technicians.

“They’ll represent a large proportion of our work force, and they’re labor-intensive jobs thatrequire very specific skills,” she said.

Representatives of the local colleges said it is too early to tell if they can help PennNational, but they are excited about the opportunity.

“We stand ready to help customize a specific program for the company or help it tap into one orall of our credit and noncredit work-force-development courses,” said Ann Signet, Columbus State’ssupervisor of continuing and professional education.

Signet said she could see the school helping Penn National with its slot-machine maintenance,customer-service and hospitality needs, but she wasn’t sure about the dealer training.

“Until we see what exactly they want, it is hard to say, ‘Yes, we can,’ or ‘No, we can’t,’”Columbus State spokesman David Wayne said.

Garry McDaniel, an associate dean and professor in Franklin’s MBA program, thinks the campuscould provide business-management and leadership training to Penn National.

To get ahead of other schools, the Knox County Career Center in Mount Vernon offered classes inblackjack and baccarat dealing last fall, but it had to cancel the courses because not enoughstudents signed up.

The center hopes to offer the individual courses again next year, along with a full nine-monthcasino program that includes classes in customer service, hospitality and surveillance, said JaneMarlow, the adult-education director.

“Our training is all about jobs,” Marlow said. “We’ve had some manufacturing jobs go away, andthis is a great new industry for Ohio and our students.”

Blue Ridge Community and Technical College in Martinsburg, W.Va., has helped train Penn Nationalworkers in leadership, computer and English-as-a-second-language skills for the Hollywood Casino innearby Charles Town for about six years, said Pat Hubbard, director of customized training andwork-force development.

But it recently became one of three state colleges mandated by the West Virginia lotterycommission to train dealers.

The school hired seasoned dealers to teach blackjack, poker and craps. And it set up a school atthe casino to teach the trainees, supported by funding from the state.

“We trained over 400 people to start up the operation, and now we’re down to training about 40people every six weeks,” Hubbard said.

Students typically can be trained for less than $1,000 in 10 weeks or fewer, she said.

“The students usually end up getting a good job at a relatively inexpensive price,” Hubbardsaid. Dealer salaries vary by state, but they typically range from $20,000 to $50,000 a year.

Bailey said Penn National likely will start hosting recruitment and job fairs six months beforethe Columbus casino opens. Workers who need to go through training likely will be hired threemonths before the doors open.

The company has promised to hire at least 90 percent of its workers from central Ohio, shesaid.

Casino sees colleges as worker incubator

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