News and Notes

Charles Town casino dealing out new careers

CHARLES TOWN - Jenny Siford nimbly reached for the cards on the table before her as she prepared to deal a hand of blackjack to a group of other newly hired card dealers.

The Berkeley County resident is one of nearly 400 new employees who have been hired because of the addition of table games at Charles Town Races & Slots.

"It's very fun. We're all really excited," Siford said of herself and the other new dealers who recently completed a training course conducted on site by Blue Ridge Community and Technical College.

Siford said it's her first time working as a professional dealer, and that until now, her career had been spent inside an office.

"I worked at City Bank for 18-and-a-half years," she said.

Siford, like countless others, fell prey to the ailing economy that has plagued the region. She was was laid off from her job, and when a proposal to add table games in Jefferson County was put before local voters, she said she watched the issue with interest.

While Siford herself was unable to cast a vote on the matter, she looked at the games as a possible way to find a new career, she said.

For many, the vote and the addition of hundreds of new jobs couldn't have come at a better time.

"They had been talking about it for several years. I was excited," said Robert Contee, another Berkeley County resident who also was recently approved to become a blackjack dealer for the local racino.

Like Siford, Contee was out of work when he filed his application to become a card dealer. According to CTRS officials, his was one of 3,091 applications that came in from people hoping to deal poker, blackjack and other games.

Contee is excited that he made the cut, and is among those who will start work in June.

"It feels great," he said.

In all, nearly 400 people were picked to work as card dealers, stickmen and boxmen at the craps tables, and croupiers at the roulette wheels. Of those, 70 percent are West Virginia residents, said Al Britton, general manager of Charles Town Races & Slots.

Britton noted that roughly 170 of the new employees are from Jefferson County. He said the high rate of workers from Jefferson and Berkeley Counties is "exactly what we expected."

"We're excited, but not surprised that we're able to meet and exceed all of the promises from the campaign," he said, noting that similar figures were cited in the lead up to the December referendum on whether the games should be permitted locally.

The games are expected to come on line July 1, and are anticipated to generate salaries of close to $40,000 a year for the dealers who will staff them.

The prospect of being able to earn a salary of that size without commuting outside of the area was enough to entice Fairmont State University graduate Jawaan Holmes to apply for one of the positions.

Holmes said he earned a degree in marketing, and had interned in Washington, D.C., where he was offered a job. However, between the lengthy work day and the long commute, he had little time left to spend with his daughter, he said.

"Having a 3-year-old, that was tough," Holmes said, adding that "the job market wasn't any good."

Holmes decided to get a job at the local racino where he had been working summers since 2004. Now that he's set to become a card dealer, he hopes that he'll be able to move up through the company's ranks.

"I'm very excited," he said. "The casino business is really what I know."