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Wednesday, October 16,2013

OU prof training future casino bosses

By Fred Kight

Photo Caption: OU Alan Silver, center, brought a group of students to the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. From left, Karlie Jones, an unidentified showgirl, Silver, Anne Cesta and Julianna Perczuk.

Ohio's new casinos need executives with special business skills, and an Ohio University professor thinks OU can deal a winning hand for itself, students and the casinos by filling the need.

Alan Silver has developed three gaming courses for the Hospitality Program in OU's Department of Human and Consumer Sciences.

Introduction to Casino Management, Casino Management II and Casino Marketing already have been approved. The university taught the first class last year and will offer the other two online in the spring.

Silver, 64, is an assistant professor with many years of experience as an executive in the casino industry, and he has academic credentials, too. Before coming to OU, Silver was founding director of the Casino Resort Management Program at Tulane University, and he taught Casino and Hospitality Marketing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

He arrived on the Athens campus in 2011, two years after Ohio voters approved casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.

"When I started, there was a lot of excitement about developing courses for the industry here in Ohio," he said.

Advocating for gaming-industry scholastics, Silver pointed out that the number of casinos, and their associated economic impact, have been growing nationwide.

The 15 students who signed up for the introductory course in casino management were taught all about the gaming industry, from the early history of legalized gambling in the U.S. to the day-to-day operations of a modern casino.

Students collaborated on a group project in which they demonstrated how the major casino games are played. Group members were assigned to role-play as dealers and pit bosses to explain the rules and objectives of the games.

Silver's goal is to create a new academic track for students - casino resort management. The two current tracks in the College are Restaurant and Hotel Management.

"The thinking (among faculty) is there's a lot of potential, there are a lot of jobs," he said. "People need training, people need education."

Renée Middleton agrees, to a point. She is the dean of OU's Patton College of Education with overall responsibility for this area of study.

"At Ohio University, there is strong opportunity for expansion, to include gaming-focused courses, in the Hospitality Program in the Department of Human and Consumer Sciences," she said.

"Our response to the gaming industry expansion in Ohio and nationally is enhanced curricular offerings in the Hospitality program," said Middleton, but she added, "We don't expect to launch a separate major in the near future."

Silver expects more of his students will want to enter the gaming industry after they graduate, and has an if-you-build-it-they-will-come attitude about his proposed new track.

"A lot of the students here have not been to Las Vegas," he said. "A lot of the students have not been to a casino."

Silver staged a field trip to the Hollywood Casino in Columbus and just recently accompanied six students to the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. He said the visits were real eye-openers.

He noted that the food and beverage and entertainment segments of the business often are even bigger than gaming.

"It was amazing," said Anne Cesta, one of the six to attend the event in Las Vegas.

Cesta is a Hospitality student who made the trip "to explore the gaming industry and gain a better grasp of where the industry is heading in the future."

She's now applying for jobs, including some in gaming facilities, and she stated that if she receives an offer from one of those facilities, "I would absolutely take it."

All four authorized casinos are now open for business in Ohio. The state initially estimated gross casino revenue at nearly $2 billion dollars a year, but the actual take is running about half that.

Silver is not surprised.

"It's been rough here in Ohio, especially in Columbus," he said. "The Hollywood casino has had head-and-head competition with Scioto Downs (racetrack/racino)," and there are other examples of where so-called "racinos" have lured away casino customers.

Even so, the casinos are "doing pretty well," said Silver. "We've got to realize it's still a new industry, and any new industry takes time to develop."

Things should get better as the economy improves, and Silver believes Ohio University could be in a good position to win a jackpot.


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