Zachary Roselle has never gambled in a casino, but by late July he hopes to snag one of the better-paying jobs on the floor of the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore.
"I've been a card game player for a long time," said Roselle, a 22-year-old gas station cashier from Curtis Bay. "My dad always told me if I had to play cards all the time, I might as well get paid for it."
Roselle, one of 400 students in Horseshoe's dealer academy, says running games such as blackjack and roulette would come with other benefits.
"You get to inject your personality into your work, to make people smile and laugh," Roselle said Wednesday as he placed practice bets with chips at a roulette table where he and other students traded roles as croupier and players. "I feel like it's a good fit for me."
The 12-week course, taught among a cluster of table games in a warehouse-like setting in South Baltimore, near where the casino is nearing completion, is expected to generate the bulk of the casino's more than 600 dealers. Horseshoe is covering the cost of the classes. The students, mainly table game novices, must complete the course and pass background and drug tests to secure the fast-paced, customer-oriented jobs that can pay in the $41,000 range, including tips.
The casino will fill the rest of the positions with experienced dealers, said Alex Dixon, a vice president and Horseshoe's assistant general manager. Hiring is expected to be completed by late July, in time to staff a casino scheduled to open in August or September.
Casino managers say they can teach the rules, techniques and skills needed to run table games, but dealers need a flair for engaging customers and keeping them coming back. That's what they looked for in picking people for the five-day-a-week course, now in its fifth week.
"All they need is a great attitude to come on board — and basic math. We call that swagger," Dixon said. "At the heart of it, they're an entertainer. You're there to entertain your group of players."
At one roulette table, Chris Rothstein, a casino assistant shift manager, watched as the student croupier used techniques she'd been taught to pick up stacks of chips — palms down, pushing with the thumbs. With practiced moves, she spun the ball, swept away the losing bets and figured out payouts, depending upon the odds, then pushed chips in stacks toward the student "customers."
"We run the game as if we are live in a casino," said Rothstein, adding that over five weeks of teaching roulette, he has added new rules and techniques each week. "You want to be good at math — adding numbers fast."
For Kevin Mickey, a 51-year-old East Baltimore resident and father of five, getting into the academy answered a prayer after four years out of work. Mickey, a former telecommunications technician, said he came into the course with little knowledge of casino gambling. But after just five weeks, he feels immersed in the rules and language of the games and has bonded with the other student dealers.
"I have it down," Mickey said. "It's a blessing that Horseshoe came to Baltimore. It's an opportunity for employment."
Students and instructors alike agreed that craps is one of the most complex of the table games, and academy instructors devote eight to nine weeks to it.
That's where student Jennifer Beran, 41, a Mount Washington mother of two teenage boys, has spent her time so far.
"I was a little intimidated initially," said Beran, but now techniques such as paying customers with her outside hand are becoming second nature.
Her former jobs have included working as a manager and hostess in restaurants and most recently as a supervisor in a coffee shop at the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore. When her children were younger, she ran a consignment shop.
"I think this will be a great opportunity to learn something new," she said. "I really enjoy the fast pace. People are here to be entertained."
Talaya Wilson, 24, of East Baltimore, said her ability to relate to people makes her a good fit for a dealer job. After recently losing her job of more than five years as a pawnbroker, she was feeling lost, Wilson said. She's counting on a casino job to help her get back on her feet financially.
"I cannot wait" to complete the course and, hopefully, be offered a job, she said. "I will make sure ... I give it my all."