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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 February 2006, 09:02 GMT
Casino jobs looking odds on bet
By Paul Burnell
BBC News in Blackpool

Ali Werfalli and Carly Hayes at Blackpool and Fylde College Gaming Academy
The classroom has blackjack tables and roulette wheels

The phrase multi-tasking takes on a whole new meaning when you try to train as a roulette croupier.

Colleen McLaughlin, manager of the UK's first Gaming Academy at Blackpool and Fylde College, insists the accomplished croupier has to practise several skills simultaneously.

"You have to pick up a stack of chips without counting and be able to tell by the way they feel that you have 20."

There is an art to spinning the ball on the roulette wheel and, while it is circling the wheel rim, you have to ensure the chips are placed correctly and no punters are changing their bet.

Then there is the manual dexterity in perfecting the effortless but flash card shuffle required for the blackjack tables.

Colleen McLaughlin
I went to Vegas and never won a thing
Colleen McLaughlin, Manager Blackpool and Fylde College, Gaming Academy
The academy, which officially opens on 22 February, was set up in the wake of Blackpool Council's own spin on the government's wheel of fortune.

The council's regeneration money is stacked on the Casino Advisory Panel recommending that the resort should be the venue for the one regional super Casino permitted under the Gambling Act 2005.

Eight large casinos and eight smaller new casinos will also be permitted under the first change in UK gaming laws since 1968.

Yet, according to the college, even if the council's gamble failed it could hit the jackpot with an estimated 5,000 new jobs in the gaming industry up for grabs.

"There is going to be a great need for trained staff and we are well placed to take advantage of this," said Ms McLaughlin, although she admits having the super casino a few miles down the road, "would help us and help the town."

The UK Gaming Industry
15,000 people work in 122 casinos
18,500 in the bingo industry
22,000 in slot machines
UK punters spent 3.5bn on gambling chips in 2001/2
Source: Gambling Commission

The resort's drive to become a Lancashire Vegas has brought a strong campaign opposed to the downside of the gambling boom - such as addiction and related social problems.

"We teach social responsibility and we train our students to be aware of problem gambling," said Ms McLaughlin. This includes having a stock of leaflets from the charity Gamcare - which helps problem gamblers.

She believes that a night at one of the UK's 122 casinos for most people is not going to turn you into a hardened gambler.

"A lot of the customers are young people who are just going for a night out instead of clubbing."

Organised crime

Neither does the UK industry have the whiff of organised crime associated with US the gambling trade

Ms McLaughlin said: "When I got my first job I had to be interviewed by the local police - now to get your certificate to work in the industry you have to have a Criminal Records Bureau check."

The college is playing for high stakes having invested in a classroom casino with blackjack tables and roulette wheels and a slot machine workshop next door.

Work placement in a real casino is illegal for the students so every effort is made to recreate the casino atmosphere in the classroom from piped music to the ever present noise of slot machines.

Restricted access

Students must be 18 and over and it is the only part of the college where access is restricted.

The academy is offering a range of courses, including six-week croupier training, a two-year foundation degree in casino operations, management training for the industry and a 12-week diploma in casino operation.

Management trainees from Gala Casinos, one of the UK's bigger companies, are trained at the academy.

So what has attracted the current students?

"It's one of the best ways of seeing the world in safety," said Nichola Roberts, 19 from Oldham.

"I was looking for a challenge instead of the usual 9-5," said David Ollerton, 34, from Belfast.

Ali Werfalli, 25, studying with his fiancee Carly Hayes, 19, from Blackpool have already got jobs in casinos waiting for them once the course has finished.

David Ollerton at Blackpool and Fylde College Gaming Academy
David Ollerton wanted a challenge away from 9-5

"I have visited casinos and never won anything. I thought I might as well make some money out of it on the other side," said Ali.

Carly, who swapped a job in a care home, added: "We were attracted by the fact that you can learn new skills and travel the world."

Which is what first attracted Ms McLaughlin to an industry which has taken her to the Med, Southern Africa and eventually back to Blackpool.

She may be running a college department but give her a deck of cards or stack of chips and it is easy to see her first love.

Although even this expertise was no use to her as a punter in Las Vegas.

"I went to Vegas and never won a thing!" she said.

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