BANGOR, Maine — It only took about 20 minutes for even a full-time, dedicated news reporter who loves his career to at least consider taking a gamble and go from dealing with council meetings and police logs to dealing cards for a living.
So it was easy to see why 200 people took time out from weekend relaxation, Christmas shopping, or even work in some cases to check out the Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway table games jobs fair. The event was hosted by Eastern Maine Community College at its Rangeley Hall on Friday and Saturday.
From the moment table games supervisor Randy Ripple and other current Hollywood Slots employees began greeting attendees and answering their questions, it was easy to see why the racino, hotel and banquet center has been named one of the Best Places to Work in Maine for 2011.
“It’s a lot like a Disney work model and a lot of it is based on public presentation and being an entertainer,” said Melissa Harvey, an employee since 2006 who was on hand to interview prospective hires as Hollywood Slots starts filling 89 job openings created with the addition of 14 table games such as blackjack, poker and roulette.
So why a job fair when Hollywood Slots already has plenty of name recognition and exposure? Why not just hang a side out front that says “Now hiring”?
“One, it’s because of the number of people we need to hire, but also as we partner with EMCC, we wanted people to come in here personally to go through a screening process,” said Scott Welch, Hollywood Slots director of human resources. “And with a relatively short timeline involved, we wanted to get face to face with people as quickly as possible.”
Time is indeed of the essence, since Penobscot County voters approved table games Nov. 8, Hollywood Slots officials have been busy and plan to begin table games play in the third week of March.
Attendees filled out application forms and then talked to Hollywood Slots representatives before attending an overview session conducted by Welch and Mike Ballesteros, EMCC’s dean of development and business services. They then took a two-part math test — this reporter’s class was the first in which everyone passed with flying colors (and he aced all the questions).
From there, it was on to the 15-minute interview session in which each potential applicant answered a series of questions gauging their personality and people skills.
“We’re looking for entertainers, especially with dealers,” said Welch.
Attendees will be notified by phone between Monday and Friday if they have been chosen to enroll in an introductory course offered at EMCC between Jan. 9 and Jan. 22. Classes are four hours a day, five days a week and — at least initially — take place from 1 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m. Attendees will pay $200 for the two-week class.
“It’s very intensive. You cannot miss a class,” Welch emphasized.
“What if you’re sick?” someone asked.
“You cannot miss a day,” Welch answered.
After that, certain graduates of the two-week program who have passed background, criminal and credit checks will be invited to enroll in an even more intensive class to train them to be proficient dealers for at least two different games.
The relatively rapid development of Hollywood Slots since it opened at the former Miller’s Restaurant location on Main Street six years ago has astonished even business-savvy people like Ballesteros.
“I’m not a big gambler, but I voted for it because for Maine, being a very rural state, there are limited opportunities and anything that will drive more people through Bangor is a great thing for us,” said Ballesteros. “I expected it to be good for Bangor, but I never expected this kind of a far-reaching economic impact.”
Ballesteros, who incorporates Hollywood Slots as a business model in some of his lessons, is particularly excited about potential benefits for his school.
“Hollywood Slots has several different areas needing the expertise that we provide in many of our programs,” said Ballesteros. “This fills another need in an industry that’s viable and growing, so as we grow, I’m sure we’ll hire some new people for the new program.”
That growth wouldn’t rely only on Hollywood Slots, or even table games skills, with the ongoing construction of a new casino in Oxford as well as the four casinos that have been approved for construction in Massachusetts. Whether it’s slots, table games or both, these facilities will also need players’ service representatives, food and beverage personnel, security, management and other related positions filled.
“We’d love to be able to offer the training within our associate degree to prepare people to work at those properties,” he said. “This could position us very well to be a go-to source for trained people on the East Coast.”