Howard Community College offered its first casino management course last fall, and now it appears primed to keep pace with a local gambling scene that is moving as fast as a slot machine reel.
Launched as part of HCC's hospitality and culinary management degree program, the casino management program will soon unveil a casino lab in the school's science and technology building. Vinnie Rege, HCC hospitality and culinary management program director, said that the school has formed a program partnership with the University of Nevada,Las Vegas, which has an International Gaming Institute.
And the school has enlisted the efforts of Lincoln H. Marshall, co-author of the 1996 book "Introduction to Casino and Gaming Operations." Marshall developed the school's casino management curriculum and recently took a group of students on an overnight class project to Atlantic City's Hilton Casino Resort, where they got a first-hand look at the industry courtesy of a casino manager.
"We began our entire hospitality and culinary curriculum about two years ago, and while we were doing that Maryland passed legislation on slots," said Rege. "We believe in being more proactive than reactive, and we took the initiative in terms of developing the casino management program. We want to capitalize on the whole thing."
HCC offers casino courses on weekends, teaching marketing, management, surveillance and games. Rege said that the program is among a few of its kind in the area, and with the state's gambling industry set to expand considerably within the next few years, skills gained from such a program could prove valuable.
Consider the changes in gambling in Maryland since HCC launched its hospitality and culinary program: Hollywood Casino Perryville, the state's first slots parlor in decades, opened in September last year and generated more than $2 million in revenue during its first four days. The Casino at Ocean Downs near Ocean City opened in January and made more than $3 million in its first month.
In November, Anne Arundel County voters approved a bill that would allow for a slots venue to be built near Arundel Mills mall. State lawmakers have considered proposals that would allow table games at venues. And this week, state officials moved forward on plans that could bring a slots casino to a site near Camden Yards.
"One of the biggest slots parlors in Maryland is going to be less than 10 miles from here at Arundel Mills," said Rege, who added that it is expected to generate a sizable portion of the state's total casino revenues. "If that's the case, then we definitely jump on the bandwagon and make sure we are creating a qualified work force."
"It will have a positive impact just because of competition; everybody else has it," said Marshall, who is currently an adjunct associate professor at Virginia State University. "When we went to Atlantic City, one of the exercises I gave my students was to look and see the different license plates.
"To avoid the leakage [an industry term describing how money leaves a particular community] from one state to another, it would be prudent for Maryland to become involved in it," Marshall added. "And if it's properly regulated, it makes it even more beneficial to the community at large."
Marshall said that another exercise the students were given during the bus ride to Atlantic City was spotting when casino advertisements show up along the highways and what type of casino ads exist.
"Casinos aren't advertised like other products. You don't see, for example, in Baltimore big signs saying come down to casinos," said Marshall. "That's by regulation a tradeoff for all the people who don't agree with casinos."
He said that students also examined communities around casinos in Atlantic City to recognize their impact.
Often, Marshall said, "it's quite a contrast that you have one of the most expensive real estates in that state for square footage, and yet on the opposite side of the road you can have the most squalid environment.
"The reason why the casinos were legitimized in Atlantic City was to eradicate the poverty and improve the environment," said Marshall. "In a way, the state or somebody has reneged on the promise or desire to improve that situation."
Among the HCC students who took the Atlantic City trip was Daniel Shaw of Ellicott City, 61. He said he got involved in the casino management program after he retired about three years ago, adding, "I frequent casinos in Atlantic City, so I want to learn more about the casino business."
Shaw said he also hopes to find work locally, pointing out that there are scores of jobs created by the industry. "I've got my eye on the casino in Arundel Mills," he said. "It would give me something to do in my retirement."