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SUNY Schenectady's casino and gaming management program goes bust

SUNY Schenectady's casino and gaming management program goes bust

Program effectively defunct after student interest dried up
SUNY Schenectady's casino and gaming management program goes bust
Eric Jensen teaches blackjack at Schenectady County Community College on Feb. 29, 2016.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

The casino and gaming management degree program at SUNY Schenectady is effectively defunct as enrollment in the program has fallen to virtually zero in the past three years.

College officials in November said students can no longer enroll in the program – though any students who previously entered will be allowed to finish their degree – as they consider how to restructure the program or discontinue it entirely.

The program, which was frequently spotlighted as a symbol of Schenectady entering its new casino era, was established in 2013 before the city was even selected as a future casino site and Saratoga Springs was pitching itself as a casino site. But the program received significant fanfare as Rivers Casino established a presence in town and local officials trumpeted the potential of new jobs. At the time, community college officials saw casino operations as a natural outgrowth of the school’s hospitality strengths and a growing industry statewide. The community college dedicated a space at the school to create a mock gaming floor outfitted with different casino game tables.

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The program launched in fall 2014 and peaked the following year, with 47 full-time students and 18 part-time students enrolled in fall 2015. But the numbers dropped precipitously at the start of the 2017-2018 school year, falling from 35 full-time and 14 part-time students the year before to just nine full-time and seven part-time students. Last year just one part-time student enrolled in the program; no full-time students enrolled.

“I think the program will not continue the way it is currently configured,” SUNY Schenectady President Steady Moono said during his recent interview with The Daily Gazette.

David Clickner, interim vice president for academic affairs at SUNY Schenectady, said college officials were reviewing what the next steps for the program would be. But the college leaders acknowledged the college is not accepting new enrollees in the casino management program.

“One of the things we do as colleges is we look at our programs, we look at enrollment in our program and we look at their responsiveness to the needs of students, to the needs of the community,” Clickner said. “In this particular case, enrollment never became as robust as we had anticipated.”

Despite the lackluster performance of the casino and gaming management degree program, Moono, Clickner and, in a statement, Rivers Casino General Manager Justin Moore, insisted the relationship between the college and the casino remains strong. 

Moono highlighted the college’s strong culinary and hospitality programs – even music programs – and the opportunities students in those programs have had interning and working at the casino’s restaurants and venues. Business students, including a student Moono mentors, have also worked as interns at the casino.

“The gaming program in particular did not get as much as traction as both entities anticipated, but I can tell you we have students at the casino right now,” Moono said. “We have students who are part of the culinary… in the human resources area, we have students in the business area interning at the casino.”

In a written statement provided through a spokesman, Moore, the Rivers general manager, said SUNY Schenectady graduates are currently working at the casino and that the casino looks forward to continuing a partnership with the community college.

“Many of the college’s offerings are of great value to the casino for helping us develop and hire a skilled workforce, especially their world-class culinary and management programs,” Moore said in the statement. “(SUNY Schenectady) graduates are also currently employed at the casino, and we will continue working with the college through our paid internship program and other initiatives moving forward.”

The casino, which employs over 1,000 people, offers its own intensive internal training, including a dealer school held periodically as the casino needs to fill vacancies. But the community college was sold as a route for people to acquire a strong foundation of skills covering a wide range of casino operations. After dozens of students availed themselves of that foundation, though, it appears student demand and interest has dried up.

Moono said even without the casino management program the college has a strong relationship with the casino and plans to build on it in the coming years.

“The partnership with the casino remains and is very strong,” Moono said.

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