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Both Southern Miss and Tulane are attracting students with majors in casino management

Colleges offer degrees as pathway to casino career

Education continues to be a pathway for individuals wanting to advance in the state’s gaming industry. The University of Southern Mississippi and Tulane University have gaming management programs that are attracting more students even as the industry suffers from the downturn in the economy.

“Our program is generally growing and we’re continually looking for ways to expand it and serve the community,” said Dr. Karen Lucas, dean of Tulane’s School of Continuing Studies, Mississippi Coast campus. “Our students are prepared to take over in mid-management roles in casinos.”

Offering a full degree at the Coast campus, Tulane grads get a basic business degree with a major in casino resort studies. Lucas said they study marketing in a general sense and in a way that’s specialized to casinos, along with finance, accounting, human resources, quantitative statistics used in casinos, the history of gambling, customer service and legal, regulatory and security. Some online courses, including gambling addiction and food and beverage management, are also offered.

“Every student is required to take the legal course, leadership and organizational behavior and do an internship at a casino,” she said. “They also select from electives. We’re making sure our students are prepared to get jobs in this environment by helping them with resumes and preparing for interviews.”

Dr. David Duhon, interim chairman of Southern Miss’s Tourism Management Program, recalls when it shifted its hospitality program focus from hotel/restaurant management seven or eight years ago to one on gaming.

“Until that time, there were legal restrictions and we were constrained from offering casino management courses,” he said. “We got that changed with the support of the Mississippi Gaming Commission and the state Legislature because we wanted to offer what was needed to meet the needs of the industry.”

The hospitality industry when looked at from a broad perspective is a huge industry, he noted. “We are more focused on gaming now but we don’t teach people how to gamble,” he said. “We focus on administration in response to concerns from the industry. They are looking for management and were bringing in people with degrees from out of state.”

Southern Miss graduates earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in tourism management, which can have a casino or a hospitality emphasis. The casino tract also teaches a wide range of gaming-specific courses that include marketing, accounting, finance, security and managing conventions.

“We think we’ve seen an up tick in enrollment this spring, and we are anticipating some increase in the fall enrollment,” Duhon said. “Education is a good way to use time during a downturn in the economy. The next few months will be tough for the casinos, but we’re still recruiting students.”

Lucas echoed that sentiment. “Our enrollment is growing,” she said. “It’s a common fact that a downturn in the market sees growth in education, especially with non-traditional students. We expect that and we’re seeing it.”

Both universities appeal to non-traditional students and students with full-time jobs by offering evening and online classes.

“We’re trying to offer more courses in hybrid form to meet the needs of non-traditional students,” Duhon said. “We’re in the planning stage to offer some certificate programs at the graduate and undergraduate level on the Coast, too. Those will appeal to people who may have a degree and don’t want to pursue another degree but want additional training.”

The casino program also provides field trips for students to Coast and Tunica casinos such as one recently led by instructor Evelyn Green who was able to show students back-of-the-house operations, including security, at a Biloxi casino.

Gloria Thompson Thomas is a non-traditional student at Tulane who said she’s re-inventing herself after retiring from Ford Motor Company. The 55-year-old already has a degree in management.

“I wanted to do something different after retirement,” she said. “I applied at several casinos and was always told I didn’t have the experience that matched their jobs. I’m not sure I want to work at a casino, but I found this program, and I love it.”

With 24 semester hours required to get a post-baccalaureate certificate in casino management, Thomas is enjoying the gaming marketing and management courses. “I’m listening and trying to learn,” she says. “I see myself more on the hotel side but I’m also taking the regulatory, finance and food and restaurant management courses.”

Lucas said Tulane wants to make sure students leave not only fully prepared for the jobs they are seeking, but they also are prepared to work in other business fields if gaming jobs are not available.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at lynn@lynnsdesk.com.

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