When Horseshoe Casino Baltimore events manager Tijuana Plant did an advance walk-through of a planned job fair site at the Northern Community Action Center in Govans on March 13, the chosen meeting room at the small center was simply that: a bare-bones room.
But Plant told an aide to Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry, who helped organize the job fair, not to worry, because the room would be decorated.
On Saturday, Horseshoe Casino banners fluttered outside the building at 5225 York Road, the austere room was festooned with balloons, and cheerful casino employees milled about, chatting up job applicants and handing out random prizes.
Applicant Carl Cross, of Greenmount East, was pleased to win a rubber dice cube, but what the 39-year-old unemployed cook really wanted was a job for himself and others on line at the job fair.
""There are people that need to make money," said Cross, who wore a tie for the occasion.
Hundreds of people attended the job fair, but nobody immediately left with a job lined up. Instead, the fair was a preliminary process, so that casino officials could set people up with profiles as they applied for 1,700 available jobs at the casino that is expected to open in downtown Baltimore later this year.
Horseshoe Casino Baltimore officials having been holding job fairs in each of the city's 14 councilmanic districts as part of a larger outreach effort that also includes libraries and churches, to make sure that the casino does what Vice President of Marketing Noah Hirsch called "a comprehensive job search."
"It's an introduction and also a first step," Hirsch said.
The company is also holding a series of two-day "Horseshoe Legendary Academy" workshops, organized by the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, that include skills assessments and information on hiring requirements. Those who receive a certificate of completion will receive special consideration in the hiring process, officials say.
The most recent academy was held March 18 at the Roosevelt Park Recreation Center in Hampden, and another was scheduled for March 20, 5:30-8:30 p.m., also at the rec center at 1221 W. 36th St..
Also planned in April is a 12-week academy for those hired as dealers.
The goal, Hirsch said, is "finding Baltimore's best and brightest."
Horseshoe, founded in 1951, has seven casinos nationwide, including in Louisiana, Mississippi and two in Indiana, including one outside Chicago. Now, the company is building a $442 million, 122,000-square-foot casino at 1525 Russell St., in the shadow of Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor.
The casino is expected to include an upscale food court featuring three big-name chefs, and a 3,500-space parking garage that Hirsch said might be the biggest in the nation.
"I'm still trying to find a bigger one," he said.
Hirsch was interrupted by a Horseshoe representative blowing a whistle three times.
"Someone just won a prize," Hirsch explained.
Applicants showed up wearing everything from casual clothes to coats and ties and were ushered into the room one by one for interviews with volunteers, who sat at a long table.
"We're trying to make it as easy as possible," Hirsch said.
Casino officials are looking for certain types of people as employees.
"What we look for is attitude (and) a little bit of swagger," Hirsch said. "We can train for aptitude."
Leslie Wietscher, an aide to Henry, said the councilman's office was a little disappointed that Horseshoe Casino didn't pass out fliers around the neighborhood, as they thought the company had promised, to draw more people to the job fair. But Hirsch and Plant said the company has made automated robocalls and advertised to get the word out about its job fairs.
And Hirsch said he was pleased with the turnout at the fair, which was scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon.
"We opened 30 minutes early. We've been full since then," he said.
Cross said he was hoping for a personal interview, but was glad to at least be in the mix of job applicants and would now go online to continue the application process.
"This is the way of the world now," he said.
A well-dressed, 29-year-old Hampden woman, who would not give her name because she has a job in marketing, interviewed with a red flower in her hair, hoping to make a good first impression.
She said she wished she could have gotten a personal interview, but added, "It's still a chance to network."