Would-be dealers see Md. casino job as jackpot

Could win spot through skill, personality — and maybe luck

William Godwin practices his chip handling under the watchful eyes of his children. Shannon Dadds gets card tips from her son. When Claudia Harbourt has downtime during her nursing shift, she hones her blackjack skills with her patients.

It’s the third week of classes at the Maryland Live casino’s dealer school, and Mr. Godwin, Ms. Dadds and Ms. Harbourt are standing around one of 20 green felt gambling tables in what used to be a store at the Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie, Md.

Around them, 200 fellow students stand at their own tables, some dealing and some posing as gamblers — placing bets, groaning over a bust and fidgeting with their winnings. Men in pressed suits and name tags lean over, occasionally pointing out a mistake, or nodding approval when a thick deck of cards is correctly shuffled.

For the next nine weeks, these dealers-in-training will learn the rules of the games, the basics of card and chip handling, and the finer points of being a croupier.

“On this side of the table, all you have to do is remember 21,” Mr. Godwin, a 51-year-old Severna Park resident, said as he took a turn as a player. “It’s a very different game from that side of the table. There are so many rules, so many things you have to remember.”

“It’s like doing the backstroke when you’re used to doing the doggy paddle,” Ms. Harbourt, 51, chimed in.

The pair are two of the roughly 9,000 people to apply for the school. Casino officials interviewed more than 5,000 of the applicants, and about 840 of them were invited to attend the class.

Successful completion of the class doesn’t guarantee a spot on the casino floor this spring when table games debut in Maryland, but it does come with better odds of landing a live audition with casino officials.

Casino President Robert Norton explained that the school is step one in a long process. As a former dealer himself — he spent a few minutes dealing out cards to one table of awed students — Mr. Norton said the key to dealing is “all about customer service.”

That’s why, along with chip handling and math tests, students were also screened on their personalities.

“Most of us are extroverts,” Ms. Dadds said. “But you’re also using the analytical side of your brain.”

Table games were approved by voters in November, along with a bill that paved the way for another casino, Maryland’s sixth, to be built at National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Maryland approved the creation of five slots casinos in 2008, but only three are open.

Overseeing the flying dice and crowded craps tables was Albert Foschini. Wearing thick-rimmed black glasses and a checked sport coat, Mr. Foschini, 56, looked every inch the pit boss, which he will be when the table games start at Maryland Live.

In the meantime, he is lending his 20 years of dealing experience to the craps classroom.

“It takes time. It’s a tough game,” he said. “You have to be good with your hands. You have to be fast. You have to move. If you can’t walk and chew gum, you’ve got a problem.”

A longtime nurse, Ms. Harbourt, 51, of North Potomac said she has no plans to give up her nursing career but decided to give dealing a try after hearing about it on the radio.

Dressed in a bright red sweater dress, Ms. Harbourt dealt cards and collected chips for her blackjack games, while listening to constructive criticism from her fellow students.

The school is a good place to make mistakes — though the chips are real gambling chips, no money is actually exchanged during the classes.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking. It’s completely different from anything I’ve done before,” she said. “But confidence breeds confidence.”

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