November 17, 2020

Casino Job Fair Tests to See if New Careers are in the Cards for Hundreds

An empty nester after raising four daughters, Elisa Williams said she was ready to expand her horizons.

Tuesday morning, the 54-year-old Hobart resident and a former spa employee became the first person to be offered a seat at the Hard Rock Northern Indiana Casino dealer school, which upon completion would provide her with one of 200 new dealer positions at the Gary casino when it opens in the spring.

Asked how she felt about being first, Williams joked, “I’m used to it. No really, I’m honored and excited.”

Before having her photo taken in front of the famed Hard Rock guitar and receiving a swag bag filled with gifts as a new dealer school student, Williams needed to pass personality, math and drug tests, as well as a one-on-one interview.

“The math test was really easy, but I panicked when I first sat down to take it,” Williams said.

Dawn Reynolds-Pettit, vice president, human resources for Hard Rock Northern Indiana Casino, said the casino received more than 300 applications for the dealer school as of Tuesday morning and applications were still coming in.

“We’ve had applications from experienced dealers, but most of those coming today have had no experience as dealers. They’re just interested in Hard Rock and want to be part of the band,” Pettit said.

She said Tuesday’s hiring event proceeded as planned, with precautions taken due to COVID-19, including requiring masks, maintaining 6-foot distances and having temperature checks. The second hiring event, taking place Thursday, will be done with smaller groups, she said.

“We want to make sure we’re respectful of state and local regulations,” she said.

After checking in, applicants were separated into two panel groups of 20, where they were asked questions to determine whether they’d be a good fit for the Hard Rock brand.

“There is a lot of great talent out there, but we need to find the ones with the talent that’s right for us,” Pettit said.

She said having a good personality is the most important attribute. From there, the dealer school candidates took a math test to make sure they know basic math. Those who passed the math test would then be given a one-on-one interview, then the final hurdle, the drug test.

According to Pettit, the casino dealer school is free for successful applicants, who will be paid while they learn craps, blackjack and other table games. Graduates will receive a bonus of up to $2,000, full benefits and a new career.

She said previously that a dealer’s starting salary is around $20 per hour -- a $5 an hour base pay plus an additional $1 for every table game learned, in addition to a share of the tips, which she said comes to an average of $14 an hour in this market.

Nicholas Cabanas, 33, of Lake Station was the second successful candidate to make dealer school.

Cabanas said he was looking to revive his casino career.

“I worked at a casino two years ago, but it was quite a commute,” Cabanas said of his drive to Illinois.

He said he was a dealer and a floor supervisor before and was excited about working for the new casino.

“There is no one that I know who hasn’t heard of Hard Rock,” he said. Waiting to be called in to the panel session part of the process, 25-year-old Cheyenne Marciniak, of Valparaiso, said she applied for dealer school because she needed a new job and this seemed interesting.

“I grew up playing cards during family gatherings. I thought it was time I learned how to deal,” Marciniak said.

Charles Rivera, 30, of East Chicago, said he wanted to try something new and his aunt told him she thought it would be a good fit for him.

“With my personality, this sounded inviting to me,” Rivera said.

The $30 million casino and entertainment destination will be seeking applications for other positions in December and January.

It will be hiring 800 new employees, in addition to bringing on those currently employed at the Majestic Star Casinos in Gary, which will close when Hard Rock opens.

Pettit said the new casino, to be located at the Interstate 80/94 interchange at Burr Street, will have around 80 table games and more than 1,600 slot machines.

The 200,000-square-foot complex will also have five food venues, an on-site sports book, retail shop and a 1,954-seat Hard Rock Live performance venue in the first phase. The second phase will include a 200-room hotel and multi-level parking garage.