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Unemployed place their bets on casino jobs

  • Story Highlights
  • Colorado will allow higher bets, expanded hours at state's casinos
  • Casinos to operate 24 hours a day, must hire more workers to fill positions
  • Unemployed would-be dealer says that "quitting is just not an option"
  • Dealers will make $40,000 to $80,000 a year, depending on tips
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By Jim Spellman
CNN
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GOLDEN, Colorado (CNN) -- Sometimes the best way to roll with the punches is to roll the dice.

Jef Bauer says dealers need to have personality, intelligence and the ability to entertain.

Jerry Goldsmith was one of hundreds of people who turned out this week to apply for a casino job.

That's Jerry Goldsmith's attitude. The Colorado man lost his engineering job of 29 years -- and the six-figure salary that went with it -- and is now applying for a casino job dealing craps, blackjack, roulette and poker.

"I was angry. I think everyone gets angry," says Goldsmith, 60, recalling his New Year's Day firing. "It's 'Why me?' But after a while I just learned: One door closed, but many more just opened.

"I just need to find the right one to go into."

Goldsmith was one of 750 people who showed up Wednesday to apply for casino dealer jobs near Denver. Another 550 applied on Thursday.

The applicants were going after 90 spots in dealer school.

Earlier on Wednesday, Goldsmith had interviewed for a job as a cable TV installer. They were his first job interviews since losing his job.

He says that, at first, he spent a lot of time on the Internet looking for work. He also contacted executive headhunters but was unable to find any leads in the engineering field. So he decided to expand his search into other areas.

Goldsmith says he nailed the casino job interview and thinks he would make a great dealer.

"When you've been working hard all your life, quitting is just not an option, so I'll take on any opportunity I can," he says, adding with a laugh: "Hopefully there will be some exchange of gratuity in the business so I make something."

In a November referendum, Colorado voters approved a measure to expand betting limits at casinos in Colorado from $5 to $100 and to add the games of roulette and craps. The new rules will also allow the casinos to stay open 24 hours a day. They currently close at 2 a.m. and open at 8 a.m.

The state hopes to benefit from the increased tax dollars, a portion of which will help fund community colleges, but before the first new tax dollar goes into state coffers, the casinos need to staff up.

"Twenty-four-hour gaming adds a whole extra shift every day, seven days a week. You're adding an extra shift in every department of the casino," says Jef Bauer, who runs three casinos in Black Hawk, Colorado, for Golden Gaming: the Golden Mardi Gras, Golden Gates and Golden Gulch.

"We're looking to hire initially about 90 people into our dealer school, which we're offering free to learn how to deal craps, roulette and blackjack."

Golden Gaming currently employs about 400 people in Black Hawk and anticipates adding another 100 by July 2, when the new rules go into effect.

Black Hawk is a former mining town tucked into the Rocky Mountains about 35 miles from Denver. Black Hawk and its next-door neighbor, Central City, became casino towns in the 1990s.

For years the towns flourished, but Bauer says times are tough now.

"We have just been through 12 months of declines in gaming revenues and head counts," he says, adding that he hopes the increased bet limits, new games and extended hours will bring the gamblers back to the tables.

Before the hiring event even started, more than 100 people were lined up, waiting for an interview outside of a bar in Golden, Colorado. The would-be croupiers filed in, filled out applications and were assigned a number. They were photographed and then sat down for a 3-minute job interview.

No experience was necessary for the casino jobs. Applicants who make the grade will attend a casino-run, part-time dealer school for three months, where they will learn the complicated games and qualify for a Colorado gaming license.

The jobs pay between $40,000 and $80,000 a year, depending on tips.

So who would make a good dealer?

"Mainly what we're looking at is personality and an ability to entertain, and intelligence that can be proven in dealer school," says Bauer. "Most will probably never have dealt cards before."

That seems like just the ticket to Andrea Pitts, whose only casino experience has been on the other side of the table.

"I'm a high roller," she says with a laugh. "I've never dealt cards before, but I love to play blackjack and I'm pretty good at it."

Pitts, 41, spent 12 years working in the trucking industry. But the bad economy has taken its toll, and now she has been forced to look for any kind of work.

Like most of the other casino applicants, she never pictured herself dealing cards. But she says she is ready for the change of pace.

"You have to keep yourself motivated. It would be easy to sit at home and feel sorry for yourself, but that's not going to get you anywhere," she says.

"I'm not afraid to take challenges -- that's what life is all about."

Casinos are big business. According to the American Gaming Association, some 360,000 people work in 467 commercial casinos across the country, accounting for $13.8 billion in wages including benefits and tips.

The industry paid $5.78 billion in gaming taxes in 2007.

Alan Meister, an economist and the author of "Indian Gaming Industry Report," says there were 346,000 people directly employed by 423 Indian gaming casinos in 2007.

State governments often look to casinos as a quick source of tax income in difficult economic times. According to Spectrum Gaming Group, a consulting firm that monitors the gaming industry, at least 15 states have recently expanded or are currently considering expanding gambling. See a map of states looking to expand gaming »

It all sounds good to Craig Taylor. He spent 13 years in the real estate business, buying and selling investment properties. He says that when the industry was booming he was making a salary in the "low six figures," drove a new BMW and lived in a house in the tony Cherry Creek section of Denver.

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But since the market tanked, he has been making adjustments. He sold the BMW and bought a used 2001 Jeep. He sold the house in Cherry Creek and bought a smaller house on the outskirts of Denver. Now all he needs is a job, and he thinks being a casino dealer might be a good fit.

"Real estate was a great job, great income," he says. "But you have to do what you have to do in this economy and make the adjustments to where the job you have pays the bills."

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