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Tulane on the Coast forges ahead with gaming courses

While the issue of gaming management courses offered through state colleges remains mired in court, Tulane University’s Mississippi Gulf Coast campus recently celebrated its first anniversary of offering courses towards a degree in casino resort management.

The Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) has taken the position that state universities can offer gaming courses, but the Mississippi Attorney General’s office disagreed. Currently, the issue is waiting to be heard by the Chancery Court in Hinds County.

“We feel like as a constitutional governing board we do have a right to offer courses related to gaming,” said Sarah Nicholas, spokesperson for the IHL.

Southern Mississippi at Long Beach began offering gaming education courses this past semester, but students may end up getting credit for a regular business prerequisite instead of it being counted as a gaming course. Nicholas said if the IHL prevails, students taking the gaming management education courses will receive credit for a gaming course. If the court rules against IHL, the courses will be counted as regular business courses.

The IHL points to a 2002 Mississippi Supreme Court ruling regarding an issue involving the state community colleges that upheld the Mississippi College Board as a constitutionally created body whose decisions can not be vetoed by any state agency. The position of the IHL is that the Supreme Court decision overrides a 1991 law that forbids the teaching of gaming education courses at state colleges and universities.

While the issue awaits court action, Tulane is on tract to become the second-largest casino resort management program in the country after the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said Alan Silver, director of the program.

Into management positions

Silver said the gaming management courses offer the opportunity for the 40,000 people employed in gaming in Mississippi to learn the skills that would allow them to be promoted to higher paying management positions.

“The Tulane program will now help Mississippians with the ability to advance into middle and upper manager positions,” Silver said. “The tendency right now here in Mississippi is to take the middle and upper managers from a nationwide search. A large percentage of those individuals taking the higher paid positions are coming from Atlantic City and Las Vegas.”

There are about 65 people in the Tulane program, many of whom work part time or full time in the casino industry. To obtain the degree, students must complete 18 credits in the core gaming management area, and 37 general credits.
Courses offered include an introduction to casino resort management, a three-unit course taught by Tom Brosig, the co-founder of Grand Casinos.

“It gives the students a flavor of the casino resort management industry,” Silver said. “It is a snapshot of various aspects including food and beverage, human resources, finance, accounting, marketing and casino operations management. We aren’t teaching table games, but we are teaching mathematics and probability, things of that nature.”

Other courses include:

• Casino resort marketing, which deals with all marketing in casinos including advertising, promotion programs, direct mail, player’s club, player tracking systems and data-based marketing. It is very management oriented and focused.

• Casino math and statistics. The course deals with all aspects of casino math including the probabilities of various games, and how a casino handles the statistics and the math with various types of table games and slot machines. It includes information on how slot machines are set up, how probability is calculated, and how they are tested. Silver said it used to be years ago that slot machines were just spinning reels. Now slot machines are miniature computers with requirements for hold percentages.

• Legal, regulatory and security compliance deals with issues such as requirements for the licensing of casinos and casino employees.

• An addictive behavior and gambling course covers all the elements of addictive behavior. Silver said the percentage of addiction in the casino resort industry is really far lower than people realize, lower than any other type of addiction. The course includes information about identifying customers who might have a problem, and learning about programs in place to treat compulsive gambling.

• Introduction to casino resort management food and beverage. The course is taught by George Burkhardt, former executive vice president for food and beverage at Grand Casino.

• Casino accounting is an online course in casino accounting offered by Dr. David Patterson, a leading expert in casino accounting who is on the faculty of University of Nevada at Las Vegas and faculty of University of Minnesota.
A course planned in the future is on casino resorts impact on society.

Expanding the program

“Here in Mississippi, it has been an economic boom to the economy,” Silver said “It has added thousands of jobs to an economy that was very depressed before the casinos came in.”

Next summer Tulane plans to offer an internship program set up to give the students experience in a wide variety of casino positions. The internships, which will be done at the end of the coursework, will give students 60 to 100 hours of practical experience. If students already have experience in one area, they will probably be required to get experience in another area of the casino operations.

More courses are expected to be offered online in the future.
“I see the number of students growing not just in the Biloxi-Gulfport area, but in other areas of the state as we do more online,” Silver said. “The casino industry is 24-7, 365 days per year. A lot of people employed in a casino can’t make a set time for a class. With online courses, you can sign on at 2 a.m., read notes, view PowerPoint presentations and listen to video lectures and interviews with key people in the industry. It can be very productive for students to learn online. UNLV now has about 8,000 students taking online courses.”

Silver has continued to teach an online course for UNLV since moving to Mississippi. He said in addition to students in the Las Vegas area, he also has had students from many other states, and even foreign countries such as Korea, China and Italy.

“With more online courses, we can reach more students, reaching out to Tunica, Vicksburg, Philadelphia and other gaming areas in Mississippi,” Silver said. “You have one casino operation in Philadelphia that size wise is the third- largest casino in the U.S. They have more than 5,000 machines. A lot of people don’t realize that. There aren’t too many casinos that have more than 5,000 machines. A normal casino here is about 2,000 machines, or even less than that.”

The Tulane program got a boost recently when Harrah’s Entertainment funded an endowment of $250,000 to support education for ethnic minority students.

“On my desk now are a number of scholarship applications that will be announced soon,” Silver said. “They are $1,500 cash awards per year renewable up to five years. It pays for one course a semester. It is a cash award. So if someone is working at the Grand or another casino with tuition reimbursement, the award can be used for other needs.”

Silver said there is a high percentage of minority workers in the casino industry, and the scholarship programs gives them incentives to improve their education and chances for promotion.

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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