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Hollywood Casino all-in on dealer training

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Table games supervisor Brian Virgilio, left, works with dealer trainee Holly Hunter at the poker table in the table games training room at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County.
Table games supervisor Brian Virgilio, left, works with dealer trainee Holly Hunter at the poker table in the table games training room at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County. - (Photo / )

You can go to college to learn how to be a table games casino dealer, but if you want to work for Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course in East Hanover Township, you don't have to.

The casino conducts free, in-house training to potential dealers, allowing them to be trained the way casino owner Penn National Gaming wants so they could work at any of its 20-plus casinos.

Casino supervisors handle the training, in which dealers are taught how to shuffle in the company-specific style, customer service policies, how to watch out for cheating and even how to perform CPR.

"We wanted to have hands on our whole operation," John Newman, vice president of casino operations, said of the decision to conduct in-house training rather than have local colleges handle it, as some other casinos have done. "We wanted more hands on the whole culture of how we service our customers."

Dealers are enrolled in the training program based on an initial job interview. Entry into the training program, however, does not guarantee employment. The potential hire must complete the training course, pass a basic math test, pass an audition at the end of the training course and obtain a dealer license from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Once those requirements are met, the person is hired by the casino. Newman said no one who has met all requirements has been turned down for a job since the casino started the training program in 2010 — the year table games came to Pennsylvania casinos.

"We only bring people into the training program based on need," Newman said.

The casino now has 132 full-time dealers and 101 part-timers, said Gloria Ballentine, the casino's director of table games. Adding to that total will be the half-dozen dealers it is training now, who spend 20 hours a week for multiple weeks learning how to be a game-specific casino dealer. Training courses run anywhere from 80 hours for games like roulette and Pai Gow poker to 160 hours for craps. Blackjack is 120 hours.

The number of hours needed for game certification is set by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Ballentine said.

Dealers must be 18 years old. Penn National Gaming requires a high school diploma or equivalent and a passing grade on a basic math test during the interview process. The casino looks for those who have had previous customer service experience and a "positive and professional demeanor," Newman said.

He said the dealers come from all walks of life, from retired school teachers to recent college graduates or those even without college degrees. There are also former law enforcement and government workers, he said.

Keeping the training in-house allows dealers to learn the company's specific customer service policies instead of having to attend an additional orientation when they are hired. Trainees who complete the course are equipped immediately to go on the floor of the casino and start dealing, company officials said.

Also, it allows dealers to continue their training past their initial course. Dealers are welcome to attend the courses for any additional games they want to be trained in.

Even if they're not officially taking a course, dealers are invited to the training sessions just to get some practice if they think they need it, Rowena Bilodeau, senior games manager at the casino, said.

Bryan Murphy, 24, of Juniata County, had been working at the casino for only three months as a poker host, but he already is taking the blackjack training course.

"It works out for me well that they have this here," he said. "There are a lot of advancement opportunities if you're trained."

Once the training is complete and the dealers are on the floor, they can expect to make between $14 and $15 per hour, including tips, Ballentine said. The company provides the dealer uniform.

Newman said there has been a heavy emphasis on hiring and training locals. He said about 100 dealer promotions to higher company positions since 2010 have come from dealers trained by the casino.

"We hired virtually no one with experience," Newman said. "Having experience wasn't a disqualifier, but we wanted them to be trained our way."

Casino dealer training moving out of the colleges

While Pennsylvania has had as many as five community colleges with certification courses in casino table games dealing, it’s now down to three.

Bucks County Community College and Montgomery County Community College no longer offer training courses for table games dealing, leaving the Community College of Beaver County, Luzerne County Community College and Northampton Community College as the state’s only traditional schools with training programs.

Barbara Miller, vice president of continuing education, workforce development and public safety at the Bucks County school, said the school dropped its program in 2011 because the local casinos — there are four in the Philadelphia area — wanted to start training their own dealers.

“They felt like they dealt with things in a very unique way,” Miller said of the casinos’ training methods. “When students finished our program, they’d still have to get more specialized training at the casino. So they decided to use their own training.”

At the Montgomery County school, the courses were a one-time offering in 2012 to help train the workforce needed at the Valley Forge Casino Resort outside Philadelphia. The casino opened in 2012.

“Once the casino opened, (it) no longer required us to provide a formal training program,” said Alana Mauger, the school’s director of communications. “It was more of a workforce training partnership than a regular program, as (the casino) provided the facilities.”

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board still recognizes certification from those schools for students who completed the programs. Bucks County certifications are recognized as long as they were obtained before June 30, 2011, and Montgomery County certifications are recognized through July 31, 2012.

There are also online and out-of-state teaching schools recognized by the state.

The Northampton college handles the dealer training for Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, and the Beaver County school is affiliated with The Meadows Racetrack & Casino.

Luzerne County Community College has no casino affiliation but is near Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs and about 45 minutes from Mount Airy Casino Resort in the Poconos.

Michael Sadowski

Michael Sadowski

Mike Sadowski covers Lebanon County, banking and finance, law and the legal community, and technology. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at michaels@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @MikeCPBJ. Circle Michael Sadowski on .

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