Gambling on a job as Middlesbrough College trains casino croupiers
Getting up late and playing games for a living may sound like the ideal job. Now the art of the casino croupier is being taught on Teesside.
Middlesbrough College is training students to work in the industry, dealing blackjack and spotting problem gamblers.
It says it is only the fourth college in the country to offer a specific qualification in Gambling Operations.
Martin Smith, 44 and unemployed, said he had "nothing to lose" in doing the course.
"In this area some people might think it's not a great thing that gambling is thriving but, in my opinion, I'm happy with it."
An additional benefit, he said, was the course helped him understand the rules and the odds, leaving him more confident at the gaming table.
"What I really enjoyed was the maths, being able to think, use my brain for a change," he said..
"I can now appreciate what a dealer actually does. I think it's an art form."'Body armour'
With a licence already granted by Middlesbrough Council for a large casino in the town, many people are putting their stake on a job in the gaming industry.
Andrew Cummings, 30, has been driving HGVs after leaving the army six years ago.
The work environment of a casino, "the interaction with customers", appeals.
End Quote Stephen Andrews Course tutor
I never have to get up before midday and I play games for money.”
Although more sociable than solo driving, he knows it will be very different from being in the Army.
"I'll not be having to be putting my body armour on in a casino, for sure," he said.
A lot of his friends, more used to being on the other side of the gaming table, are "envious".
The college is aware of the potential for being accused of supporting an industry criticised for harming the susceptible.
Director of Programmes Lynne Alderson stressed the intention was to get people into work.
"We were approached by a national gaming organisation who told us the turnover of staff in this area of work was relatively high.
"We were also aware there was to be a new casino, or something similar, to be opened in the Middlesbrough area.
"We felt it was our duty, really, to try and prepare people with the skills to get that job."'Play games'
Course tutor Stephen Andrews, who has two decades experience of working in casinos, thinks it is a good industry to work in.
"I went into it for a short term job and I ended up in it for 24 years.
"I was once asked what I liked about my job and I said I never have to get up before midday and I play games for money."
But he doesn't only teach students how to deal roulette and blackjack.
Health and safety, identifying problem gamblers, protecting children and customer service are all covered in the NVQ Level Two Gambling Operations course.
Despite the recession, the latest Gambling Commission data shows the industry made - after paying winnings but before costs - £5.8bn in 2011/12, up year-on-year since 2009.
Betting accounts for over half of that (52%) with casinos a distant second (15%).
In Middlesbrough, there are 43 betting shops, one casino and one hotel licensed but not yet trading.
There is also a "large" casino planned for the town, one of 16 approved by the government when the Gambling Act 2005 came into force in 2007.
The Salvation Army, which "sees the consequences of gambling addictions", warned vulnerable people can "get caught into a highly destructive trap".
Divisional Commander Darrell Thomas said: "We would ask that anybody considering a career in the gambling industry, and those seeking to train people interested in doing so, exercise responsibility."