Revamped Gaming School Trains Post-Katrina Dealers - - The News for South Mississippi

Revamped Gaming School Trains Post-Katrina Dealers

Joseph Akins is a bit of a gambler. The Texas man gave up a bull riding career to join his church on a hurricane clean up mission in Biloxi.

When he got here in September, he said the area looked like "a bunch of bombs going off. That's what it looked like to me. Like somebody strategically put nuclear bombs all over the place and let them all go off at one time."

Akins' church group made two trips to the coast. After trip number two, most of the group went home. But Akins stayed. And now, he's betting on Biloxi and its casinos to make him feel like he belongs here. That's why he enrolled in the Crescent School of Gaming.

"There's a bunch of work down here," he said. "So I thought I'd stay and work."

Katrina wiped out the Crescent School's Gulfport headquarters. So it opened a temporary location on Oak Street in Biloxi. Each one of its tables is filled with futured casino dealers who came here after Katrina changed their lives.

For example, one of the dealers practicing at a blackjack table was Steven Wilson. Before Katrina, technology was in his future.

"My goal was to get my computer science degree," he said. "But it's a little hard to go back to college right now."

His problem is that until last August, Wilson lived south of the railroad tracks in Long Beach. The inside of his house got hammered by the hurricane's storm surge. And his family lost virtually everything.

At that time, Wilson was a stay at home father. Now, he's a parent and a husband doing the only thing he can think of to get his family back on its feet.

"Getting a job. I figured the casinos were making a strong comeback and it was time to do something," he said.

Wilson expects Crescent's casino training to help him land a job. And that means everything.

"A new house, a new start, new furniture, new vehicles," he said.

As for the former bull rider from Texas, dealing school means gambling on a new way of life, in a community Joseph Akins recently decided to call home.

The students enrolled in the Crescent school program at a pretty good time. The next wave of casinos is about to open. Six resorts will either reopen or expand their gambling floors in August, September and October.

Grand Biloxi and Beau Rivage both open in August. The Island View Resort and the Hollywood Casino both expect to reopen in September. The new Silver Slipper should move into Hancock County in October. At about the same time, Treasure Bay's initial expansion project should be finished. Those casinos are hiring almost 8,000 people to run their properties.

by Brad Kessie

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