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Casino hiring push in full swing in advance of fall opening

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Casino hiring push in full swing in advance of fall opening

SPRINGFIELD — Shannon Sutherland said she loves gambling — especially blackjack.

And with the $960 million MGM Springfield resort casino opening in Springfield this year, Sutherland, 36, of Chicopee, plans to be a dealer and has enrolled in the new Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute, a collaborating workforce development organization by the state’s 15 community colleges to train workers for employment at each of the three regional casinos in the state.

“People should wear many hats,” said Sutherland, who also works as a medical assistant and a bartender.

A career as a dealer opens doors, she said, like if she wanted to move to Las Vegas or if she decides to work for a cruise line for a season.

MGM expects to hire 3,000 people, which includes 450 table games dealers. Some 200 people are already on board, and about 2,000 people are working in construction-related jobs for the resort casino, which is expected to open in September, spokesman Saverio Mancini said.

The average total compensation will be about $45,000, including tips and benefits, according to MGM.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission estimates 7,000 to 12,000 or more people will apply for jobs at each of the three regional resort casinos coming to the Bay State, and that 60 to 70 percent of those jobs will require a maximum of a high school or GED level of education.

MGM’s vice president of talent and workforce development Wanda Gispert said she’s been reaching out to colleges and high schools for the past two years for recruitment.

“We have a lot of positions people might not be aware of,” Gispert said. “Any profession except for medical, we have it here.”

MGM needs barbers, hairstylists and massage therapists for the spa, as well as servers and staff for the luxury movie theater, Gispert said. Specialized positions like a pastry chef or butcher are harder to find.

When it comes to getting a job at MGM, Gispert said a lot of it is about your personality.

“Friendliness goes a long way,” she said.

Gaming School

In 2012, Holyoke Community College, along with more than a dozen other community colleges across the state, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to work collaboratively to provide training for casino jobs in each of the state’s three defined casino regions: greater Boston, southeastern Massachusetts and western Massachusetts.

HCC and Springfield Technical Community College partnered with MGM to open the Massachusetts Casino Career Training Institute in downtown Springfield, which holds its first class Monday.

The institute is offering courses in blackjack, roulette, craps, poker, carnival games and mini baccarat.

Orlando Marrero, 46, was a dealer for over a decade at Mohegan Sun and MGM Foxwoods, but has been on a hiatus from the job for about seven years. He enrolled in the gaming school to “refresh” himself.

“I wake up everyday happy,” Marrero said.

The two things Marrero said dealers must be good at: Math and customer service.

“You can’t be frustrated,” Marrero said.

Students who complete two or more courses at the gaming school are eligible for tuition reimbursement if they work at MGM for a year.

Gispert said now is the time to start training, and everyone who completes training for at least two different table games will be guaranteed an interview with MGM.

Sinai Li, 28, an instructor at the gaming school who started as a dealer at MGM Foxwoods in 2007, said courses start with fundamentals of the games and then move into terminology.

“Everybody starts at ground zero,” Li said.

Career path 

Robert Westerfield, MGM Springfield’s vice president of table games, started off as a craps dealer in 1979 in Atlantic City.

“I went to school just like these guys,” Westerfield said, referring to the students at the institute. “I didn’t know a kitchen table from a craps table.”

Westerfield said he worked as a dealer for about a year and a half before moving up to supervisory roles.

“All positions have a career path,” Gispert said.

One path starts as a dealer by attending a training course. After two to five years, a dealer can move up to floor supervisor monitoring the game. The next step is pit manager, or back-up assistant shift manager, monitoring several casino pits at a time. The next two promotions are assistant shift manager, and then shift manager, which involves supervising an entire table games employees.

Colleges’ casino programs

Along with the gaming school, HCC has partnered with MGM to expand its culinary program, constructing a $6.43 million, 20,000-square-foot facility in downtown Holyoke.

HCC MGM Culinary Institute, which opened last month, has five European-style kitchens.

Meanwhile, the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst offers a casino management certificate program.

Economics and statistics professor Albert Assaf said he has been teaching a course in casino management at the university for nine years. He has 62 people taking the course this semester, but said with MGM opening, he’s considering adding a second course.

The course goes over casino operations, and Assaf said he brings in experts from the field to talk to students.

Through the program, Assaf said students gain an understanding about which games are just luck, which involve skill and which earn the casino the most money.

“The big chunk of money is coming from the slot machines,” Assaf said, adding that casinos often use the tactic of placing the machines near the entrance.

Career Center

MGM says the “hub of all hiring activity” happens at its Career Center at 1259 East Columbus Ave., which it set up to educate people about jobs and facilitate hiring.

“This is an incredible facility,” said Marikate Murren, vice president of human resources at MGM Springfield.

Computers are available on-site for people to explore career options and submit applications, as well as professionals who can answer questions. MGM uses the SkillSmart platform to help applicants identify what positions are available.

A call center is set to open at the site as well, as is on-site drug testing. As a company, MGM doesn’t test for marijuana.

Services at the center are bilingual.

“All one-stop shopping,” said Murren.

The career center is currently open six days a week, and will go to seven days a week about three months prior to the casino’s opening.

Overseeing the operation is Jennifer Russell, MGM Springfield’s manager of talent acquisition. Russell is a 26-year-old University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate who interned with MGM when she was in college, before going to work for the company after graduation.

“I knew that I could join this company as a career and not just for a job,” she said.

As of early February, about 600 people had used the career center’s services, about 150 of which ended up leaving with jobs.

“They’ve interviewed and they’ve left with a job offer,” Murren said.

“Everybody’s super excited,” said Russell.

The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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