By KIMBERLEY McGEE

As you walk across a casino floor, you may not notice the group of people standing and smiling behind the felt-lined gaming tables. They are the front lines of a serious, service-oriented industry. They are also highly trained and motivated people, often the best of the best who have decided to rise above difficult circumstances or simply move to a position that can secure them a place in an industry that seems to continue to hire as news of unemployment continues to make headlines.

A good table game dealer is a desired after commodity, but getting to that point can take years. Many dealers begin at small properties and work their way to the larger hotels as they gain experience and recommendations, moving often to three or four properties before making the serious money, around $60,000 at major resorts.

The M Resort has taken a different approach to how it promotes and trains its dealers with a unique program.

Each new hire is put through a detailed screening process that ensures the resort is hiring the right person for the right job. Once hired, there are many opportunities to move up in the company, one of which is the in-house dealer school.

David Torres, director of table games at M Resort, was the originator of the casino’s in-house dealer school. Torres began his career downtown at the El Cortez in 1990 and worked his way through the casino industry at the Stardust and Rio and finally to M Resort, realizing his dream of pulling the best of the best from within the resort’s many departments to create dealers that excel at customer service as well as the job at hand.

“It’s a testament to Anthony (Marnell III),” Torres said of the president of M Resort. “I don’t know anyone else who wants to invest in their people as much as he does from the lowest to highest position. He basically said, ‘I’m going to give you an avenue to get it together and it’s up to you.’ ”

Torres researched local dealer schools.

“It was my experience that in the dealing schools, with the exception of one or two, it is really a mill,” he said. “The teacher-student ratio is really high, and some of the other students are asked to help train and they have been there only a month and they don’t know enough yet.”

He knew they could do better. Through M Resort’s intense screening process, he knew he had impressive employees in-house, but would they want to learn to deal table games?

“We are looking for a specific individual,” he said.

Torres noticed applicants came in for jobs wearing tennis shoes and jeans and an attitude to match.

“If that’s their best to apply for the job, then I wondered what their attitude was going to be on the floor,” he said. “But I knew I had five-star people in other departments that could be great dealers if they had the training.”

He and colleague Gerry Newell, training manager at the M Resort, began to put the dealer school together in 2010 based on the high level of quality they were seeing in other departments.

“Each employee first goes through an online selection process when they apply because we want to make sure we hire the right people for all positions,” Newell said. “Then we find it’s better to select within the business.”

That process includes an online application, a group interview and finally a one-on-one meeting with hotel executives, said Cheryl Lane, human resources generalist for the M Resort.

“All of our posted positions have an online assessment built into them, and that provides us an initial screening just from the online process,” she said. “After we have determined they meet the minimum qualifications, we work with department managers, who let us know who we want in a group interview.

“We are looking for people who meet our culture sense, core values; we are looking for integrity,” she said. “We look for people who are self-confident, humbled and kind and treat our customers well. The group dynamic screens people out. The final interview is with our vice president of human resources or our director of human resources. There is quite a process when you get hired here. It really has done well for the company to put the time and effort into this recruitment process; we are getting the best people.”

“What we were looking to achieve is that we are looking for an opportunity for a person to come into this property and continue to grow in all levels,” Torres said. “You can do your whole career with one company.”

Torres had worked with the Marnell family over the years and left his job at Coldwell Banker to return to the casino industry when Anthony Marnell III opened the M Resort in 2009.

“I really enjoy working with this family so I came back into the business especially to work with this family,” Torres said.

Torres understood the business and realized there was an opportunity to do something different within M Resort’s business dynamic.

“We wanted to attract the best people and cultivate them and retain them,” Torres said. “You can have very good people in the back of the house and they may leave for a better opportunity elsewhere or for career changes. As part of the Forbes culture here, we pride ourselves on service. It’s like a chess board. We use the best people in different areas and it’s the best for everybody.”

To be eligible for the dealer school you must be the best in your department, have excellent performance and service appraisals, approval from your department manager and, more importantly, the desire to learn.

“The candidate we are interested in is people (for whom) service is part of their character, part of their life,” he said.

The process can be emotional for the candidates as well as the management team.

Recently an employee who was working two jobs within the M Resort graduated from the in-house dealer school. She is a single grandmother raising her grandchildren and was in such dire financial straits that she had considered putting her baby granddaughter up for adoption. Upon graduating from the in-house dealer school she can make upward of $60,000, a life-changing jump in pay.

“It really does provide that opportunity and it can be emotional,” Newell said. “You can go from being a dishwasher making something like $20,000 to a professional dealer in and double or triple your income.”

The program usually takes six months. Some find the program to be daunting, but the staff helps them muscle through any fears, such as being so up-close with customers and in the spotlight as the dealer.

“It’s life changing for many,” Torres said, “and that’s what I wanted them to realize.”

A recent graduate was recommended for her outstanding customer service. Being one-on-one with the casino’s customers was her strong point. However, once behind the table, with the responsibilities and pressure that come with the job, she became nervous and shook with the effort to deal cards as well as maintain the high level of customer service for which M Resort is known.

“It took six weeks, but she’s fine now and doing great,” Torres said. “It’s more to it than what you might think, and we help them through that.”

The school is open 24 hours a day and is staffed by employees, many of whom come in on their own time.

“That whole dynamic just took over,” Torres said. “You see the people there working hard to learn, change their life, it’s really rewarding.”

The program has six to eight graduates every cycle from many different departments.

“You get more from every one of them because we have given 100 percent to them,” Torres said. “We are in this together. Employees see that and we get a bigger commitment from them.”

The employees have assisted management as well by offering more input about the school or their current jobs. The wall between executive and employee has come down to reveal a more symbiotic relationship, which in turn creates a better work atmosphere.

“If we focus on service, the rest of it will come,” Torres said. “If we invest in the people the profit model will work. It’s the key to it.”

Dealers are often the front lines of customer service, said Bryan Binek, director of operations at the Silverton. The Silverton recently changed the toke policy so all dealers are able to keep their own tips, something that has worked well for the company.

“It has done wonders for guest service,” Binek said.

The casino trains its dealers to its particular service brand. The Silverton currently has 100 dealers.

“Since dealers keep their own tips they have to rely on their guest service (skills) to make money instead of the other dealers,” Binek said. “Before the dealers started keeping their own tips, a lot of them weren’t having conversations with the guests and weren’t dealing the required hands per hour.

“Now that they are keeping their own they are more talkative and smiling at guests who are passing their game. It’s not a perfect system; however it is much better than before. We are receiving more letters than ever from guests telling us how much fun they had and how friendly the table games team is.”

This has been a good change for the industry.

“Dealers used to ask me why they can’t keep their own tips like the cocktail servers and bartenders. … Now they can,” Binek said. “I started when Silverton was Boomtown in 1994 as a dealer and we kept our own tips. … It was a great job.”

The Silverton hires only experienced dealers from local schools or other properties.

“At this time we only hire dealers that have experience,” he said. “We are currently hiring dealers that know all games (includes roulette and craps) and they will also be a dual rate (dealer and floor).”

Interested candidates can apply at Silvertoncasino.com.

There are many opportunities for those looking to get into the field, said professor David A. Hernández, director, Casino Management Program, College of Southern Nevada.

“We are very proud of our casino laboratory … of the Cheyenne Campus,” Hernández said. “It is the finest training facility in Nevada – or anywhere else. In it we teach all our dealing classes. In the lab. We have 16 blackjack games, three roulettes – both American and European games – two craps tables, one big baccarat table, three mini-baccarat games, two pai gow tiles tables, one pai gow poker, one Caribbean stud poker, a Let-It-Ride game and a poker table for all poker games and variations.”

At this time, the College of Southern Nevada and all institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education are requiring for students who are about to start college and who are pursuing a degree to be high school graduates. However, for those individuals who happen to be planning to attend the college and take a class such as a dealing class for career advancement, this will not be required. All students should be able to demonstrate that they are residents of the state in order to pay in-state tuition, which is lower than what out-of-state residents pay.

“All of our dealing casino classes are three-credit college classes,” he said. “The price for the class is approximately $265 for in-state residents.”

There are scholarships available at the college in addition to the availability of financial aid and veterans benefits. Training can last anywhere from weeks to years.

“It depends very much in the choice the students make,” Hernández said. “If the student chooses to take a dealing class only, we have classes which meet four days a week for four weeks. We also have some scheduled classes in the weekends, and they meet on Saturday and Sunday for eight weeks.”

For those students who are planning on getting their Associate of Applied Sciences in casino management, the program should last about two years.

“We have a difference here which needs to be addressed,” he said. “Every semester we have 80 to 100 students who complete their dealing classes. Now, are they graduates … not really; but they have satisfied specifically what they came to the college for. To take that one or two classes which would help them either advance in their job, or get a job.”

The college also has anywhere between 10 and 20 students who complete the Associate of Applied Sciences program and receive their degree in casino management.

The dealing classes have a maximum allowed number of 15 students, although the poker dealing class has only 10 students. The lecture classes, those in the C program, have a maximum of 30 students.

“In addition to those classes we teach a number of courses (online),” he said. “It is actually possible at this time to receive an Associate of Applied Sciences in casino management from CSN completely online without ever having to take a ‘live’ class with us.”

He offered some advice to those considering going into this field.

“Plan ahead,” he said. “Set your goals and inquire with our faculty and counselors as to what it is that you want to do. They should remember that CSN is the only accredited institution in our state which teaches dealing classes. In addition to that our Casino Management Program is the only program in the world which is covered by two different accreditations.”

As with all the programs in the State University System, the College of Southern Nevada is accredited by the Northwestern Association of Schools, as are its sister institutions, University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno, but the Casino Management Program is also accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Management.

“Again, our program is the only one in the world with this level of accreditation,” Hernández said.

Among the dealing classes, the most popular ones would be those classes that allow students to set foot into the casino industry and land a job.

“Those would be blackjack dealing and craps dealing. Among our ‘lecture courses’ – both (online) and ‘live,’ it would be Introduction to Gaming Management and Survey of Gaming Regulations,” he said.

The school doesn’t work with any specific casino.

“As a public institution of the state, we are mandated to work with everyone in the gaming industry, and we are very proud to say that we have graduates in just about any casino in the Las Vegas Valley,” Hernández said, “many of them in senior management positions.”

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