In Dicey Economy, Casino Dealers In Demand

Tyler Baltz practices his table dealing skills at Northamption Community College i i

Tyler Baltz practices his table-dealing skills at Northamption Community College in Bethlehem, Pa. Baltz is one of 180 students enrolled in a training program that is helping meet growing demands for qualified dealers at casinos on the East Coast. Joel Rose for NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Joel Rose for NPR
Tyler Baltz practices his table dealing skills at Northamption Community College

Tyler Baltz practices his table-dealing skills at Northamption Community College in Bethlehem, Pa. Baltz is one of 180 students enrolled in a training program that is helping meet growing demands for qualified dealers at casinos on the East Coast.

Joel Rose for NPR

When the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia opens Thursday, it will join a growing list of places to play blackjack and poker on the East Coast.

To help meet increasing demands for qualified dealers, Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa., is offering a casino dealer training program for students.

Instructor David Cleavely teaches in a classroom that resembles a casino pit, with felt-covered tables for poker, roulette and blackjack.

He starts with the basics: how to handle the chips, and how to shuffle the cards correctly. According to Cleavely, most casual gamblers shuffle the wrong way, showing the bottom card to other players. He says that shuffling should sound like a nice gentle riffle, not too loud.

"If I hear this, then I know you're not doing it correctly. … That means you're bending them too much. You gently let them fall into each other. Very gently, push in the corners," Cleavely advises his students.

Student Kevin Ashner is looking to change careers. He spent 35 years in manufacturing, until the sheet metal factory where he worked shut down nine months ago.

"I'm really bad at gambling. So I thought, 'Well, if I can't win the money, maybe I'll deal the cards,' " he says.

But for some students, casino dealing may not be as easy as it looks.

"Like anything else, you've gotta practice, practice, practice," Ashner adds.

Ashner is one of 180 students enrolled in the program. And he is a bit of an exception. Many of the students are still looking for a first career, and most already feel at home in casinos, having spent many hours on the customer's side of the table.

"I feel like I've always had a passion for this," says Tyler Baltz, a bartender from Nazareth, Pa., "I've gone to many casinos, seen how it all goes down. And now I'm here, and hopefully I can get a job getting out of these classes, and start what I want to do."

Baltz and his classmates are expecting to earn about $40,000 a year plus benefits. The overall unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is a little over 9 percent. But for these students, the odds look pretty good.

"As long as they take these classes seriously [and] they get the skills, I think they'll see employment. Because the jobs are there," says David Schweiger, who directs the hospitality program at Northampton Community College.

Schweiger works closely with Mount Airy Casino Resort and Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, both in eastern Pennsylvania. Schweiger says casinos statewide have been scrambling to hire enough dealers since table games were legalized in Pennsylvania over the summer.

In Philadelphia, workers at the SugarHouse Casino are applying the final touches before the scheduled opening. With so many casinos on the East Coast now offering table games, some industry observers predict a shortage of gamblers. But SugarHouse's general manager Wendy Hamilton says she's not worried.

"A good 50 or more percent of the business in Atlantic City has for 30 years come from the Delaware Valley. So I don't think that the Philadelphia region is anywhere near saturation," Hamilton says.

According to Hamilton, SugarHouse has trained and hired 160 dealers — enough to staff 40 games. Though she's going to wait and see how things go before adding any more.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.