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Colleges betting on casino operations classes

With the casino business growing in Maryland, Mary Ellen Mason is betting on Anne Arundel Community College to be a major player in gambling operations education.

Mary Ellen Mason, Director of Hotel, Culinary Arts, and Tourism Institute at the Anne Arundel Community College.

At AACC, students are given the chance to learn the ins and outs of the casino business from the professionals at Maryland Live, the newly-opened casino located just a few miles from campus in Hanover.

The community college offers three non-credit gaming operations courses and, upon completion, students receive a continuing education certificate. This fall will be the second session that AACC has offered the classes.

The courses, “Introduction to Gaming Industry,” “Introduction to Games of Chance” and “Cash Handling and Cage Operations” facilitate a further understanding of the industry, according to Mason, director of the Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute at AACC. Classes range from gaming regulations to the accounting side of the business.

“The courses are enabling us to interest people in what the options are and what opportunities are available,” said Mason. “They are not meant to prepare for any one specific job in a casino. They are for students to better understand the work environment,” she said.

So far, the courses are tailored to casino practices in the state, restricting students based on the current Maryland gaming laws.

But that may soon change.

In November, Marylanders will vote on the institution of table games in casinos, as well as whether to allow a sixth casino in Price George’s County. Mason said that if the referendum passes, AACC will “reanalyze” its curriculum, possibly adding courses to meet the demand for newly-created jobs.

Since course completion only provides certificate, AACC is also engaged in additional research to determine what qualifications employees need to be hired. Most establishments will have onsite training. However, AACC wants to “be prepared to address whatever training needs that come available for all casinos” in future courses, said Mason.

When Rob Norton, president and general manager at Maryland Live, isn’t performing his daily duties at his casino, he’s at AACC teaching gaming classes.

“[The classes] develop a wide selection of qualified candidates,” said Norton. “I hope to eventually get to a point with the community college that they expand their perspective on gaming and the career opportunities it has.”

The casino official said that there are no specific requirements for working in gaming. Regardless, Norton said he believes the curriculum at the school provides necessary knowledge about the industry, while strengthening the interest of those looking to work in it.

According to Norton, Maryland Live has already hired employees based on their training at AACC.

“We saw their interest, their intelligence and their willingness to learn on their own and we view that as a positive,” he said.

Maryland Live, which is only partially completed, already has more than 1,200 employees. That number should increase to about 1,500 employees by the time the casino fully opens this fall, and more would be hired if table games are approved by voters.

As Maryland’s growing gambling potential begins to take shape, some hotspots for casinos in other areas of the country are seeing less interest in the business from students.

“Our program started in Atlantic City,” said Nathan Levinson, director of the Rutgers University hospitality management program. “But, the economy is hard there right now.

“It’s tough to even get a dealer position,” he said.

Because of this, Levinson said students are heading down the restaurant and hotel tracks, shying away from the casino business.

In the future, Norton said he hopes the casino influence at AACC will resonate throughout the rest of the state, inspiring other institutions to start gaming programs of their own. Norton is a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, holding a bachelors degree in hotel administration.

A majority of state lawmakers apparently share Norton’s hope. Gambling legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley last month says the legislature intends for casino operators to partner with Maryland colleges and universities to create casino and hospitality industry job training programs. Morgan State University and Prince George’s Community College are singled out as institutions where those partnerships could be formed.

Morgan State offers one class in casino and hotel management as an elective, while Frostburg State University and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, both offer tracks involving hospitality, hotel and restaurant management and tourism.

AACC’s next session of casino courses will begin on Sept. 11, and classes will meet one night a week. The courses are $455 for Anne Arundel County residents, including tuition and fees. Students must be 21 years old to enroll.