PLEASANTVILLE — Angel Jones once faced steep odds opening up her first casino school, but she has played her cards right.
The T.Byrd Training Center held the grand opening of its Casino Dealer Division on Monday. Teachers, students and city officials gathered on South New Road to celebrate the new center, which will serve as a state-certified training school for aspiring candidates looking to try their hand in the casino-dealing industry.
The grand opening was catered with hot food and featured live music.
Trina Byrd is the CEO and namesake of the training center, which has stood on New Road for years but became less active as the center’s computer classes shifted online. She chose Denise Hillery Jones, also known as Angel, as the director of the Casino Dealer Division that will now occupy the space.
Jones has decades of experience in dealing, having started in 1979, not long after the dawn of casino gambling in Atlantic City. She’s also taught dealing since 1994. Looking at the new school, fully outfitted with gaming tables and wheels, Jones reflected on the trajectory of her long career and her work over multiple years to make the new center a reality. She is excited the center will be a way to give people jobs and new opportunities. The grand opening ceremony happened to coincide with her birthday. “It’s the most exciting, rewarding thing I have ever experienced,” Jones said. “I was just so blessed.”
Mayor Judy Ward held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new center, standing in a line with casino teachers as she symbolically opened the facility to the public. She said the new facility would add vibrancy to the city and praised Jones for her experience and passion.
“It’s going to look good seeing life on this corner again,” Ward said as she cut the ribbon.
Jones is the CEO of another school, the Casino Dealers Academy at the Tilton Shopping Center in Northfield. That school ran into trouble at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing the business into dire straits. Still, it did not fold and has regained its footing over the past year.
“I never thought we were going to get another one,” said Glenn Jones, husband of Angel Jones. Byrd said she had long considered Jones an ideal partner in heading a casino-dealers school at the center. She said she has been in contact with various area casino executives who have experience working with Jones and worked with them in devising the curriculum.
“She’s very respected and well-known in her industry,” Byrd said of Jones. “It was just the perfect marriage for us to get together.”
There was a long road to opening the casino school at the New Road property. The site had been used as a center to teach computer classes beginning in the 1990s and had come to teach courses in Microsoft Office products and other programs to help prepare people for the workforce.
Those classes began shifting to a virtual format in 2016. And while Byrd said it made the classes more accessible and helped prepare her business for the start of the pandemic, it also left the property on New Road vacant.
Byrd said she helped develop professional etiquette, time management, customer-service techniques and other important workplace skills in a way tailored to the needs of the casino industry. Jones said among the features of the program is role playing, where students learn how to respond to different, stressful scenarios and possibly irate gamblers.
The center awards certificates tailored to meet the standards of casino hiring managers and teaches how to deal a variety of games, namely mini baccarat, blackjack, craps, poker and roulette.
The school is state certified as a job-training program, said Byrd and Jones. Because of this status, interested job seekers may be eligible for a grant from the One-Stop Career Center, run by the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development, to pay for tuition. The city’s One-Stop office is at 2 S. Main St.
The Casino Dealers Academy, in Northfield, does not have that state certification, although Jones said she will continue to operate both schools. She said the dealers academy is still particularly useful in helping experienced dealers refresh their skills or learn to deal new games, and then certify their new talent to employers.
Several current and former students were on hand to speak to Jones’ teaching. Robin Kelsey said Jones had accommodated her with red-eye classes at the Casino Dealers Academy that began at 2 a.m., when other schools were unwilling to help her. She now deals roulette at two casinos.
“I would recommend this school to anyone,” Kelsey said. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be dealing.”
Dave Nockowitz, a craps dealer and dealing teacher who has decades of experience, said the new school would be an asset to the community, especially considering the looming role casinos continue to play in the area. He said the possibility of securing a state grant to attend the school would provide those looking for work a critical opportunity.
“It’s great for this city to have this,” Nockowitz said. “Free education in the biggest industry in South Jersey.”
Article by Chris Doyle