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SOUTH : Poker School Aims to Staff New Casino

August 22, 1993|SANDRA HERNANDEZ

Jean Williams doesn't like the idea of turning away potential students, but if you are colorblind, don't bother applying to The Gaming Academy, a recently opened storefront school for poker dealers.

"You could mix up the deck of cards and end up with a mess on your hands," said Williams, owner of the academy at 3325 Manchester Blvd.

Williams said she decided to start the school after Inglewood voters approved Proposition E last November, giving Hollywood Park approval to open a card casino at the racetrack next year.

"While I saw a business opportunity, I also saw an opportunity to try to ensure that people from the area were trained for some of the 2,600 jobs that will open up" at the new casino, Williams said.

Since the school opened July 13, seven students have signed up to learn how to deal everything from basic poker to more difficult games such as Pai Gow poker. Students pay $2,500 for the 10-week course, which includes a workshop on customer service as well as training in seven card games.

Among the first to enroll at the academy was Linda Caldwell, a teacher at John Muir Middle School in South-Central who is currently on vacation. She said she was attracted by the possibility of supplementing her income.

"Teaching is my profession, but I also enjoy playing cards, so I said, 'Why not do both?' " Caldwell said.

Students first go through a daylong orientation aimed at familiarizing them with the general rules of the games. Then the real work begins, and they are taken to a row of burgundy felt tables to learn the basics of shuffling cards, cutting chips, counting cards and ranking hands for the various games.

"There's more to dealing cards than dealing cards," Williams said, adding that bad technique can result in inadvertently flashing cards to players.

Isadore Breau III, one of three instructors at the school, agreed. "Most people have problems dealing. You can't just pick up the cards like you do at home. You have to keep the cards (near) the table," he said, referring to a dealer's ability to pitch and shuffle correctly.

Williams, who declined to say how much money she has invested in the school, said she hopes to win a contract with the city of Inglewood to train some of the dealers Hollywood Park plans to hire next year.

The city, which administers federal funds for summer job training programs, is considering bids from two schools to train card club dealers. Hollywood Park has agreed to give priority to Inglewood residents who apply for casino jobs.

The Inglewood City Council is scheduled to review the bid for the job training courses this week, according to Assistant City Manager Norman Cravens.

Training dealers is becoming a lucrative business, said Robert Turner, marketing director for the Bicycle Club Casino in Bell Gardens. "It's a new job market in California that is growing tremendously," Turner said.

There are now 290 card clubs in California that employ at least 15,000 dealers, according to the California Card Club Assn.

Bicycle Club manager George Hardie said proper training is crucial to the job audition, in which would-be dealers run a table with actual players.

Dealers can earn $25,000 to $75,000 a year at the Bell Gardens casino, depending on tips and the difficulty of the game, Hardie said. And it's precisely that promise of money that is drawing students such as Caldwell to the school.

"Who knows? If the money is right, maybe I'll make the switch someday," Caldwell said.

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