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Rookie casino dealers practice to look sharp on opening day From left, Dan Sanders, Ruth Patterson, Barb Jones, and Mark Gruhlke practice roulette during training at Hollywood Casino Toledo. Dealers must record 16 hours of training a month at the casual sessions.
From left, Dan Sanders, Ruth Patterson, Barb Jones, and Mark Gruhlke practice roulette during training at Hollywood Casino Toledo. Dealers must record 16 hours of training a month at the casual sessions.
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Published: Sunday, 4/22/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Rookie casino dealers practice to look sharp on opening day

Toledo gaming spot gets ready to roll

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Saturday morning gambling is relaxed.

After all, any stress disappears when fake green $100 bills reminiscent of Monopoly money are on the table instead of real cash.

And for the rookie dealers, many of whom never worked a day in a casino in their lives, there aren't any actual customers, just their coworkers playing roulette, craps, and poker.

Many of the Hollywood Casino Toledo's employees finished their training several months ago as they learned how to deal blackjack and honed etiquette at the tables.

But as the casino's opening draws closer, the soon-to-be dealers regularly practice to keep their mental math sharp, their hands quick.

The $320 million East Toledo casino on the Maumee riverfront has a tentative grand opening date of May 29.

The unofficial training -- a time to take turns playing dealer and customer with the other employees -- is required.

Dealers must record 16 hours of training a month during the casual game sessions throughout the week.

The practices help the rookie dealers keep their mental math sharp and their hands quick. The practices help the rookie dealers keep their mental math sharp and their hands quick.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

They aren't paid for it. But for Ruth Patterson, the extra practice is a payoff because it wards off new-job jitters.

"If we'll be good, we'll be confident, and that will take away the nerves," said Mrs. Patterson of Waterville, who arrived at 9:30 a.m. Saturday for four hours of training. "You can never do enough practice. There's a lot of intricacies to all these games, much more than you ever notice as a player."

Poker games move so rapidly that Michael Prephan, Jr., lost weight during the training because he didn't have time to think about food, he said, laughing.

Mr. Prephan, a lawyer by day, was drawn to the allure of working a casino -- the kind of job the 54-year-old Toledoan never expected to get.

Maybe it was his love for mob movies or films such as Casino. Or maybe it was because he is such a terrible poker player during small-time games with his buddies.

"I might as well be on the side of the table that takes the money," he said as he practiced Saturday.

The majority of Hollywood Casino Toledo's 470 dealers are, like Mrs. Patterson and Mr. Prephan, working in the gambling industry for the first time.

Among the other dealers are a former stay-at-home mother, a retired Toledo math teacher, an athletic director looking for a fun part-time job in between golf games, and a recent college graduate who's disillusioned with his chemical engineering degree.

Of the poker and other table-game dealers, only about 50 have worked in the industry before -- including Gun Lake Casino in Wayland, Mich., or casinos in Atlantic City.

That makes these Saturday sessions more crucial, Neal Perry, the casino's director of table games, said as he stood back and watched the dealers, his "kids" as he called them, practice.

Occasionally, he critiqued the employees or threw different scenarios at them.

He can relate to how his employees felt as they waited for the much anticipated opening, a date that had been postponed several months.

He started out as a dealer at age 21 in Atlantic City, decades ago.

"Happy. Nervous. Stressed. Throw any adjective you want in there" Mr. Perry said. "They've just worked really hard. … It takes that much time to be good at this."

But being a dealer is a liberating feeling for Mrs. Patterson.

She can finally stand up after a career in insurance -- literally sitting down until she retired a year ago.

She logged 50,000 miles annually, wearing out too many company cars to keep track of in 30 years as she drove throughout her sales territory of Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia.

By the time the casino opens, 547 dealers, managers, and supervisors will work in the table games and poker unit, which is 40 percent of the casino's expected 1,357 employees, said John McNamara, the casino's marketing operations manager.

Starting Tuesday, casino supervisors and assistant shift managers will report to work.

The week afterward, the first batch of 93 dealers will begin their orientation with more waves of employees expected to start in early May.

For Eric Fritz, that means a steady paycheck.

For years, the Northwood resident ran Gavelle Building Co., which he named for his two children, Gavin, 13, and Ellie, 9.

But as the economy struggled, his once-booming business failed, with only one or two calls coming in for work every month in 2011.

"The economy killed me," said Mr. Fritz, 38.

The Fritz family cut out extras such as restaurant meals and vacations, and he found two part-time jobs at big-box retailers to support his wife and children in the meantime.

Landing a job as a casino dealer and supervisor was a blessing, he said.

Now, he stood over the craps table in the small employee training space, a simple room with white walls, fluorescent lights, and six gaming tables crammed in.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Fritz peeked into the ornate 125,000-square-foot gaming room for the first time.

"I can picture myself now behind the craps table," Mr. Fritz said. "I can picture everything."

Contact Gabrielle Russon at: grusson@theblade.com or 419-724-6026.



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