Rock Fans Jam Casino Job Fair - Tuesday 7th of August 2007

In a parking lot at the Florida State Fairgrounds, people filtered purposefully from their cars into one of the larger, nondescript exhibition halls.

Some came in suits. Others in T-shirts and shorts. Most wore something in between. Nearly everyone had come seeking the same thing. Many people would leave with nothing but a firm handshake and a polite rejection.

The event is the start of the massive two-day job fair for the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the 250-room resort owned by the Seminole Tribe at Orient Road and Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa.

The Hard Rock is adding 325 workers, raising its total work force to 2,000 employees, as it finishes up a $120 million expansion project that adds 50,000 square feet of new casino space and a new upscale restaurant called Council Oak Steaks & Seafood.

Hard Rock employees opened the doors to the job fair at 9 a.m. By 11 a.m., hundreds of job applicants had made their way through the door, filled out the four-page employment application form, and wended their way through a preliminary screening line.

John Fontana, president of the resort, said he expects at least 3,000 applicants over two days.

In an economy in which unemployment hovers at record lows,whats the big attraction to casinos? Well, for one thing, many people see the gaming industry as an attractive, growing field thats certain to yield new opportunities in the future.

Plus, theyre casinos.

"In a casino, theres this idea that anything can happen," said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and author of "Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling."

"Someone can come in and tip you $100 because theyre having a nice day," he said.

Of course, he pointed out, plenty of noncasino workers receive equally handsome tips from generous customers.

Denise Von Herrmann, an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, said casinos often attract workers who are looking for fun.

Party Atmosphere

"Look at whats inside the casino: typically its a party atmosphere - thats whats necessary to get people to get people to loosen up and feel comfortable and play," she said.

For people looking for work in the service industry, casinos may appear to offer more excitement and less drudgery than other employers, Von Herrmann said.

"Think about your typical customer service job: If people are calling customer service, theyre unhappy about something," she said. "The folks who are coming to a casino - theyre not unhappy. Theres not much that the employees have to provide to make them happy. They come almost expecting a great time."

Nationally, the number of casino employees is on the rise, from just under 200,000 workers in 1990 to 355,000 in 2005, according to the American Gaming Association. Casino employees earned $12.6 billion in wages, including tips and benefits, the association said.

Eric Farber was one of the Hard Rocks first hires, and one of the people Adams had guided from interview to interview. At 10:49 a.m., he got the news from Joan Hancock, the casinos technical aid device manager. As long as Farber passes the required background and gaming tests, hell be working on the casino floor as a customer service representative in a few weeks.

Farber said hes between jobs, and he found out about the Hard Rock openings from a friend who works there. He said he likes working in the hospitality industry because of the challenge of dealing with different kinds of people in different situations.

"I like to call it a study in human behavior," he said.

As Farber got his good news from Hancock, Gwynndolyn Plair made it through the primary screening line and was waiting to be called up for a one-on-one interview.

Plair will be studying criminal justice this fall at Hillsborough Community College, and shes looking for a part-time job at the casino. She said shes interested in working at the Hard Rock because of the wide variety of jobs available there.

"It looks like a great opportunity," she said.

A few feet away, Sidney Smith also waited for an individual interview. He would like to work at the hard rock because his current job, washing and detailing cars, doesnt offer a lot of business in the summer, thanks to the rainy weather.

Smith would like an hourly job as a cashier, or a room attendant, or on the casino floor, or in the warehouse. "Actually, Im open to anything," he said.

Why apply to work at the Hard Rock, instead of somewhere else?

A thoughtful pause.

"The whole atmosphere," he said. "It cant really pinpoint it. It just seems fun, you know?"

In fact, Hard Rock management is counting on the 36-year-old brands brash reputation to help recruit employees. Job fair ads shout, "Wanna Be Starting Something?" and tout the company is looking for "enthusiastic rockers."

Expanding Work Force

The Hard Rock is attempting to expand its work force while the unemployment rate in the Tampa Bay area is 3.9 percent, a figure that suggests that many people have jobs and arent necessarily looking for new ones. The hotel, restaurant and tourism sectors are among the industries struggling to fill open jobs in the tight labor market in Florida.

So, of course, the Hard Rock isnt just banking on its image. Its also touting pay that starts at about $10 an hour - lower for positions that include tips - as well as a stable of employee benefits that include health care, 401(k) plans, free meals, tuition reimbursement and merchandise discounts.

Luis Merea didnt need any convincing. He used to work at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, but didnt pursue a job when he moved here.

However, "when I heard about this job fair, I knew I had to be here: The hours were great, the benefits were really good, and the moneys pretty good," he said. "And the best part: Wed get all the celebrities."

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