Many look to cash in on expanding Maryland casinos

From aspiring dealers to licensed healers, Marylanders poised for new era

November 24, 2012|By Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Dorsey Nicola was shaking the dice and staring down the green felt, where chips were stacked like miniature skyscrapers and multiplying. The craps table was hot last week as a half-dozen students lined the perimeter and Nicola kept throwing sixes.

The winnings went ignored in this windowless room tucked into a back corner of an Anne Arundel Community College satellite campus. Students glued their attention instead to the dealer's clever tricks to coax tips from players and calculate payouts, crucial skills for someone hoping to secure a job in the state's newly expanded gambling industry.

Nicola enrolled in the college's courses in September, hoping to leave behind his career in heating and air conditioning for a dealer's seat at a blackjack table.

"It'd make my wife happy," said Nicola, a 44-year-old from Gambrills. "She'd rather have me there working than playing."

From aspiring dealers to licensed healers, many Marylanders are, like Nicola, poised for a new era in the state's gambling scene. Long before the voter-approved expansion takes effect early next year — adding another casino and allowing table games at all of them — businesses, job seekers, unions, educators, regulators and psychologists have laid the groundwork get ready, or to cash in.

"It's like a whole village exists within the casinos," said Mary Ellen Mason, director of the Hotel, Culinary Arts, and Tourism Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. "It's a very exciting time for the colleges to be responding to the needs that are going to come in gangbusters."

The gambling expansion has also flooded the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, which treats gambling addicts and advocates for clinician training. Its directors expected increased interest from clinicians but not the threefold enrollment in their training courses.

In the weeks before and after voters approved table games and a casino in Prince George's County, each free session on treating gambling addiction was expanded to standing room only. Dozens of clinicians were put on a wait list for future sessions.

"That was a bit of a surprise," said Joanna Franklin, who expected the measure to pass. "I booked a room for 100, expecting 60 people. We finally cut it off at 160. Next time, I'll book a bigger hotel."

Her center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore lacks the resources to treat even a third of the estimated 150,000 Maryland residents with gambling problems, Franklin said. Though the center explicitly says a casino doesn't create gamblers "any more than a liquor store would create an alcoholic," addiction therapists who do not specialize in such problems anticipated that they would soon need to be qualified to treat gambling addiction, too.

"People have multiple addictions, it's usually not just one thing," said Paul H. Kelner, a sex addiction therapist from Rockville who attended one of Franklin's training sessions. "Clinicians fear that this is going to increase. … The expansion of gambling in Maryland will encourage people to try it. Most people don't become addicts overnight."

Meanwhile, the nation's largest union representing gambling workers is eyeing the thousands of new workers in Maryland's gambling industry.

Even before the vote to expand gaming, the union negotiated an agreement with the prospective developer of a sixth casino in Prince George's County, Unite Here Local 7 president Roxie Herbekian said. If MGM builds a casino at National Harbor, the company has agreed in advance to a process to set up a union there, she said.

MGM spokesman Gordon Absher confirmed the talks, but would not confirm whether an agreement had been signed.

Unite Here already represents workers at the Ocean Downs casino in Berlin, where contract negotiations are under way. The casino has not publicly announced whether it will add table games to its 800 slot machines.

Companies that sell high-tech card shufflers and roulette tables that cost as much as $20,000 apiece have already edged into the Maryland market by supplying the electronic table games in casinos today, industry experts said.

Maryland Live, the state's largest casino, plans to remove about 10 percent of its nearly 5,000 slot machines to make room for 150 table games. SHFL entertainment has installed electronic versions of table games at the Anne Arundel casino and is angling for new business.

"We've worked hand in hand with casinos in Pennsylvania and Delaware who, like Maryland, went through a dramatic market transition like this," said Julia Boguslawski, a vice president with SHFL.

Maryland Live's general manager, Robert J. Norton, said the company was ready the day after the vote to operate 24 hours a day and begin to double its workforce. By Wednesday, 2,900 people had signed up for the 1,000 spots in a free, 12-week dealer school the casino is offering in conjunction with Anne Arundel Community College.

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