Updated April 9, 2021 - 9:47 pm
There’s a wall at the Crescent School of Gaming and Bartending covered with success stories.
The collage of portraits shows dozens of former students, each a smiling face below the name of a casino where they found work as a dealer.
Owner Ricky Richard says enrollment rates at the school are nearly back to pre-pandemic levels despite Las Vegas still facing headwinds under the pandemic. Even more surprising: Nearly every graduating student has been able to find work immediately.
It’s a trend seen at dealer schools across the valley.
“Right now, almost anybody who wants to work, we can get them to work,” Richard said. “We’re graduating a handful of people every week, but we’re able to place them. … In moments of catastrophe, there’s always opportunity. And that’s certainly been the case here.”
Successful job placements
The pandemic and business shutdowns led to the loss of thousands of dealer jobs in Nevada. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14,110 gambling dealers were working in the state in May 2020, down 38 percent from 22,580 the same period the year prior.
Jesse Lauer, the owner and an instructor at PCI Dealer School Inc. at 4575 W. Flamingo Road, said enrollment rates picked up soon after the school was able to reopen its doors in June. Forty-four students enrolled in February and 37 in March, whereas the average enrollment sizes were in the 40s and 50s before the pandemic.
Lauer said the school is nearly 100 percent successful at finding these students work.
“Now that the casinos are getting busy again, the casinos are in need” of dealers, he said, “especially dice dealers.”
Lauer has been able to place students across the valley, including casinos in Summerlin, downtown Las Vegas, local neighborhoods and even the Strip. There have even been some out-of-state placements as well, including a Minnesota casino that had representatives visit drop by to recruit dealers.
David Noll, managing director of the CEG Dealer School at 2605 S. Decatur Blvd., said the business has found jobs for more than 140 dealers during the pandemic.
“Most of those are break-ins, it’s their very first job,” he said.
Crescent School’s two locations in Las Vegas have also been successful at placing students in Clark County casinos.
“This is probably — definitely actually — the most fast and furious recovery I’ve ever seen,” Richard said. “There is a strong demand right now (for dealers). … Everyone’s itching to get back to the party.”
Lucrative career move
The types of students enrolling come from a mix of backgrounds, Noll said.
Many are former back-of-house hotel-casino employees, such as dishwashers or housekeepers, who were laid off after the casino shutdowns. Others are recent transplants to Las Vegas or people already working at casinos looking to expand their repertoire of skills.
“There are people who have had to add games, so we’re seeing a lot of that,” Noll said. “People who were just blackjack dealers are now recognizing that to be competitive, you have to add more games.”
Henry Domzalski, a 34-year-old Strip casino dealer, enrolled at PCI about a month ago to learn how to deal baccarat. The Strip casino dealer had been thinking about returning to dealer school for a while but decided to make the plunge after the pandemic hit to better prepare for any career advancement opportunities.
“I wanted to make sure my resume is as strong as possible when an opportunity for advancement arises,” he said. “I don’t want to have any holes in my resume or reasons to choose someone else over me.”
He added that “a good amount” of his co-workers are also returning to school to expand their dealing skills.
Costs range across schools and programs but generally vary from $500 to nearly $12,000 — not including grants and other financial aid. It can take anywhere from six weeks to six months to complete a program, depending on how many games and skills are taught.
The education costs can be well worth the return on investment, according to the heads of CEG.
Noll said salaries for dealers, including tips, typically range between the mid-$30,000s at off-Strip casinos to well over $50,000 on the Strip.
Lauren Goldberg, general manager at CEG and a dealer at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, said she has been having a “great year” so far, even with the weekslong casino shutdown.
Her tips have gone up since the Strip property reopened in June. She estimated earnings of about $75,000 in 2020 despite the monthslong shutdown and is on track to make even more this year.
“Our people seem to be much more generous now,” she said. “Maybe they feel bad for us because we’re front-line employees. I don’t know what it is, but we’ve made more money after we reopened than before we shut down. … It’s close to a $100,000-a-year job if you get into the right property.”
Picking up steam
Enrollment at CEG has been so high, Noll has had to turn away applicants to comply with Nevada’s 50 percent occupancy restrictions.
He only expects interest to increase from here. Business has been good enough that CEG is in talks to add two more school locations.
“We took two steps back (with the pandemic) to take five steps forward,” he said. “There’s not a single casino boss I’ve talked to … who isn’t very optimistic that casino gaming as a whole, the action on the floor, is going to expand.”
Virginia Valentine, president of the Nevada Resorts Association, said strong enrollment rates are just one sign of Las Vegas’ recovery.
“We know there is pent-up demand for the entertainment and hospitality Las Vegas offers, and we’re optimistic higher levels of business will continue to build,” she said. “As visitation increases and capacity restrictions are eased, we’ll see more employees return, which is what our members have been looking forward to since last March.”