Changing careers could be a gamble, but sometimes pursuing something new is worth the risk.
Michael Favata, 43, was looking for a new job after retiring as a Navy officer and moving back to Schenectady. He decided to search the Schenectady County Community College website to possibly enroll in the entrepreneurship program, but stumbled upon the college’s casino and gaming management program instead.
“I clicked the gaming link by mistake and thought that it looked fascinating,” Favata said. “I do believe there is no coincidences and that things happen for a reason. So I applied, and I was accepted. I certainly have no regrets.”
Favata is older than most of the 57 other students in the program, but he said his classmates inspire him. On Monday, he participated in the program’s first lab, where students practice playing and working on table games like craps, roulette and poker.
But Favata isn’t aiming for a job as a table game dealer. He has his eyes on a management position, ideally at the future Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, which is expected to be up and running on the old Alco site less than a mile from the SCCC campus in about two years.
Matt Grattan, executive director of workforce development at SCCC, said interest in the program has been growing rapidly since the state Gaming Facility Location Board recommended Rivers Casino for a license as one of the first commercial casinos in the state.
The $330 million project is a planned development by Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago. The casino is part of Galesi’s plans to revitalize the 60-acre Alco property with apartments, condominiums and townhouses, as well as retail and office space, plus a Courtyard by Marriott hotel. The total price tag for the entire project is a whopping $480 million.
“The phones are ringing, and there is certainly interest since the casino announcement,” Grattan said. “We’re excited that we were able to position this program in place when it was just a concept of the governor’s to expand gaming in New York. We will have some graduates ready when the shovels go in the ground, and even more students would be available once the casino opens its doors.”
SCCC launched the gaming program in September 2013, less than two months before voters approved the expansion of casino gaming in the state as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Upstate NY Gaming and Economic Development Act. In addition to Schenectady, casino projects in Thompson, in Sullivan County, and Tyre, in Seneca County, were also recommended for casino licenses.
Before the Rivers Casino opens its doors, Grattan said SCCC is gearing up to expand its gaming program to ensure students are qualified for jobs and the city has resources to deal with security and problem gambling.
The two-year program, which requires students to complete at least 61 credits to earn an associate degree, has courses in gaming operations, food and beverage, security and surveillance, and tourism. Students are also required to do a three-credit internship at Saratoga Casino and Raceway in Saratoga Springs.
“Because we know we will be drawing employees from different counties, we think it is a great opportunity for our Albany location to attract potential students from Albany County, Rensselaer County and others,” Grattan said. “We can offer some of the initial core courses in Albany, and then students can come and complete their degree at the Schenectady campus.”
After several meetings and discussions with officials at Rush Street Gaming, SCCC is planning new courses, degree programs and non-credit training programs. Grattan said Rush Street Gaming 50 percent of its workers when the casino first opens would have previous experience, but as SCCC pumps out more graduates, Rush would hire more local residents.
“The discussions were about process, in terms of how we scale up the operation,” Grattan said. “A project this size, with this many employees, in a relatively short period of time has two phases: a short-term need to train employees and to develop a continuous, long-term pipeline of employees. Those are related, but also have two very separate and distinct timelines. Right now, we’re talking about the short term of how to get the operation up and running.”
Favata thinks his Navy experience, along with his SCCC training, will help him move into management at a casino.
“In the Navy, I was responsible for a lot of people and a lot of money, and I was good at it,” he said. “I am a human resources officer by trade. After I put my time in the business, I want to be in a position where I could lead people. I could see myself as a manager at a casino.
“I heard they planned to put a casino here, and I thought that would be a great place to work. It seemed like everything fit together for a reason.”
Favata was in the Navy for 20 years. He has traveled all over the world and was stationed on five continents. He started the gaming program at SCCC in September and believes a casino in Schenectady will be another step for the city to rebuild after years of industrial decline.
“There are a lot of folks who are putting forth a lot of effort, like Ray Gillen [chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority],” he said. “I believe Kim Otis [an instructor in SCCC’s gaming program] is doing the same thing with the program at SCCC to train gaming professionals for the future. I have had the privilege of going to colleges and universities on three continents, and I am having the most fun and getting the best bang for my buck at SCCC. It has been an absolutely amazing experience.”
The college is looking to offer more courses in problem gambling, Grattan said. Faculty members are working with the New York Council on Problem Gambling to educate students on how to recognize characteristics of gambling addiction.
SCCC’s gaming program offers a security and surveillance course, but Grattan said the college is considering creating a standalone certificate or degree program in the area.
“We have had some interesting meetings with technology companies about drones in regards to security surveillance,” Grattan said.
SCCC is also planning to add new noncredit training programs that teach basic skills for employment, such as food preparation and housekeeping for the casino’s restaurants and hotel.
“Our beverage management and hospitality programs will benefit from a casino here, as well,” said Martha Asselin, SCCC’s acting president. “Communications, marketing and psychology are also skillsets that Rush will look for in employees. We will be looking at how to connect those programs with the uniqueness of a casino coming to Schenectady.”
Joseph Caprara, 36, will be one of the first students to graduate from the gaming program in May. He hopes to become a casino floor manager, a shift from past jobs in the kitchen at restaurants in Colonie.
Caprara was planning to earn his culinary degree, but like Favata, he was drawn to the college’s gaming program when he visited SCCC’s website. As a floor manager at a casino, Caprara said he could leverage his culinary skills and get a piece of all the industry has to offer.
“I want to be on the floor, in the pit and dealing with the public, even if it has to do with security,” he said. “Casinos have restaurants, hotels and gaming. The casino general manager would probably oversee all of that, so that would be my ultimate goal.”
Caprara has big dreams. He hopes to be one of the first people hired at Rivers Casino. He plans to continue taking classes in hospitality and restaurant management to get more experience. “My ultimate goal is to work for them,” he said. “I think the casino coming is a great opportunity because it’s a chance for people to get into this industry. It will also help the local economy big time.
“I have no thoughts of going out of state; I want to stay right here.”