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Maryland Live's dealer school was job training without a paycheck, suit alleges

Paul Sheppard, class instructor, instructs students in the art of the deal.
Paul Sheppard, class instructor, instructs students in the art of the deal. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Three students at the dealer school run by Maryland Live last year say it was a scheme to avoid paying wages while training employees. Now they are suing the casino in federal court.

They say the casino told them the free training was a good deal, but their lawyers say they should have been paid to attend.

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Maryland Live "disguised its employee-training course as a school for the purpose of not paying plaintiffs," the lawyers at the firm of Peter T. Nicholl wrote in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Two of the plaintiffs started the school but did not finish. A third was hired by Maryland Live and worked at the casino.

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They say the Arundel Mills casino broke federal and state laws, and they want back pay and damages.

Their lawyers are asking that the suit go forward on behalf of all 831 people who participated in the training.

Carmen Gonzales, a spokeswoman for Maryland Live, called the allegations "wholly without merit."

"We intend to fight against these baseless claims vigorously," she said.

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Maryland Live was authorized to start running table games in a referendum approved by voters in November 2012.

The casino began advertising the school almost immediately after the referendum passed, the plaintiffs say, and received 9,000 applications. But it offered spots at the dealer school to only 831 applicants, the plaintiffs say — almost the exact number it intended on hiring.

In a news release at the time, the casino said acceptance into the course did not guarantee employment. But Benjamin L. Davis III, an attorney for the attendees, said being accepted into the school itself amounted to being hired.

The school was held for 12 weeks from January through April 2013 at Marley Station Mall. Students were taught how to run blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat and other games.

The school was purportedly set up with Anne Arundel Community College, the plaintiffs say, but the lawyers allege that no professors or college staff were involved. The college is not named as a party in the case.

The plaintiffs say certificates of completion handed out to students were mere "props" to help further the ruse.

Daniel Baum, a spokesman for Anne Arundel Community College, said the school had not reviewed the suit and could not comment. He said the college values its partnership with the casino.

The college runs a dealer school that starts at $5,630, but Maryland Live does not pay the tuition of prospective employees. The casino offered tuition reimbursement to students who were hired by Sept. 1 of this year.

Dealers typically start at a base salary of $18,000 a year and can make $50,000 with tips, according to the college.

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