Casino job fair big draw despite criticism - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Want to be a blackjack dealer at a casino?

You could be paid between $7 and $9 an hour.

Anthony McKinnis of Las Cruces is interested.

"I just think it would be interesting, working in a casino," said McKinnis, who is hunting for a job.

Thats why McKinnis joined hundreds of others who visited job fairs Saturday in Del Cerro and Las Cruces to learn more about jobs that could exist if the Jemez Pueblos casino is ever built in Anthony, N.M.

At least 200 people attended the fair Saturday morning in Del Cerro. On Saturday afternoon, dozens showed up for the fair in Las Cruces.

No one argues that better-paying jobs with benefits are sorely needed in southern Doña Ana County. The countywide unemployment rate in May was 6.6 percent. The median family income in the county in 2000 was about $33,500, almost $17,000 below the national average.

But many people oppose the proposed casino. They say that casino jobs arent the type of work needed in Doña Ana County, and they worry about gambling addictions.

On Saturday, representatives of the pueblo and Santa Fe art dealer Gerald Peters, the pueblos partner, tried to alleviate such fears.

"I believe wholeheartedly in this particular project," said former Las Cruces Mayor Rubén Smith, an unpaid promoter of the proposed casino. "Were here so that we can explain to you that what we are proposing is true."

Before the casino could be built, it still needs the approval of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the New Mexico governor.

Theres no certainty those approvals will come, but the developers asked the people attending Saturday to fill out forms telling developers which jobs they are interested in and the types of training they want. Those who requested it will receive information on specific jobs by mail at a later date.

According to the developers, the 950 jobs at the casino, such as security, culinary services and slot machine operations, would be mostly full-time jobs that would also pay 100 percent of health insurance costs.

People living in Doña Ana County and Anthony, Texas, would have hiring preference over other applicants.

The lowest-paying jobs would start at between $7 and $9 an hour. The highest-paying jobs would start at between $25 and $29 an hour.

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