BANGOR, Maine — Two months after Penobscot County voters approved adding table games at a Bangor casino, Eastern Maine Community College announced that it will add games-related training classes as part of its new hospitality program.
The classes — which will offer training for blackjack and poker dealers, pit bosses, security and other table games-related jobs — will begin Jan. 9 with an initial projected enrollment of 100 students.
“Their vision for creating a hospitality institute with an emphasis in casino gaming is exciting,” John Osborne, general manager of Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway, said during a press conference Monday morning at EMCC’s Rangeley Hall. “Outside of Nevada and Texas, there really are no other formalized hospitality programs for gaming.”
The overall program, which debuted about two months ago with a culinary arts curriculum, is called the Maine Hospitality Institute. It will train students in specific hospitality fields such as the culinary arts, hospitality and tourism management, as well as education and professional development.
Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway is partnering with the college on the initiative.
“A formalized agreement came about pretty quickly, but this has been something we’ve discussed since January of last year, but we didn’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” said EMCC President Lawrence Barrett. “We did a lot of research over the last year to facilitate this.”
Barrett said the classes — which will be held at Bass Park’s Bangor Historic Track grandstand, the former site of Bangor Raceway’s off-track betting parlor — will cost $600 and feature rigorous and intensive training.
“We figure 100 will start and probably 80 will finish,” Barrett said. “It’s a 40-hour intro course with seven sessions and 15 to 20 in each class. At 40 hours over a two-week period of time, it’ll be intensive. After that, they’ll be trained in three games: poker, roulette and blackjack. And that’s another 80 hours.”
Hollywood Slots is adding 14 poker, blackjack, roulette and other table games in March.
“One thing in our mission statement since we became a community college is to fill the short-term, customized needs of employers to create new jobs, and this is no different than what we’ve done with the Verso initiative, the Bangor Daily News with leadership training, and Jackson Labs,” Barrett said. “I know casinos can be controversial, but I’m taking the moral value out of that and just going at it as an industry that needs trained workers.”
Barrett said the average table games dealer in the U.S. is paid about $48,000 a year plus benefits.
“These are good jobs for the Bangor region,” said Barrett. “It raises our business as a hospitality player, but I always talk about the three E’s: Economic development and education equals employment.
“We’re serving a need and meeting our mission. If any business or industry wants to come in, we’ll try to design a program with them. We’re fluid and adaptable.”
Osborne said 89 jobs — 40 to 45 of them as actual dealers — will be created with the introduction of table games.
“We have a number of employees who have expressed an interest in becoming a dealer and we already have a tuition reimbursement program for employees who have been here more than a year who take work-related classes,” Osborne said.
The program’s classes and training should be beneficial as its graduates will come from one of only two such programs offered on the East Coast and have the training to work at other casinos besides Bangor, such as the new one being constructed in Oxford.
Concerns about whether there was a need to introduce new legislation or amend existing laws because the training sessions would use actual gaming tables have been allayed.
“As a school, there’s no gambling and no actual money involved, so there are no conflicts or concerns from the Legislature or gaming board,” Osborne said.
The biggest stumbling block in the effort was finding qualified instructors.
“The hardest part was finding trainers, but we reached out to similar programs in West Virginia and Atlantic City and we’ll bring in people from there,” said Barrett.
Hollywood Slots will host a table games job fair in EMCC’s Rangeley Hall at 268 Sylvan Road from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16-17. The fair is the first step in hiring employees at the facility and will feature information about the new positions created and give attendees a chance to meet with Hollywood Slots officials.