The dice began to roll and the cards to whisper yesterday in a fourth floor office suite nestled discreetly among the stylish boutiques of Connecticut Ave NW, a few blocks from the White House, in a city where gambling is illegal.
It was the opening day of classes at the International School of Croupiers, Inc. - a school for dealers, the first such licensed and bonded gambling outpost in the United States outside of Las Vegas, according to its workers. They have their eyes on the Atlantic City casino business expected to open up in six months or so.
It was a varied assortment of students who came to seek their futures in the perpetual fluorescent daylight of the gaming tables yesterday - college students, a retired government accountant from Pennsylvania, a bar-tender for Annapolis.
They all view the gambling industry as their solution to the job crunch, with good wages and a bit of excitement thrown in.
"I got disgusted the job market," said Joe Divito, 24, who had been a graduate student in public administration at American University. "I probably could have gotten a job in that field, but I think this will be more profitable in the long run."
Gary Moore, who had become bored with studying accounting in Cleveland, Ohio, said the excitement of the gambling world appealed to him. Also, he added, "I once lost $1,200 in seven hours, in Freeport (in the Bahamas) so I decided I'd better get on the other side of the tables."
The school is owned and operated by Joyce Hard, 32, a Washingtonian who describes herself as a former sububan housewife who knows nothing about gambling, and her parnter, Harry A. LeVan, 31, a gambling professional with seven years experience as a dealer and shift boss in Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
Licensed by the District's Department of Economic Development, the school is located in Washington partly because Atlantic City is issuing no licenses to gambling schools until its state casino control commission is established, according to Ms. Hard, a pretty blonde in rose-colored glasses. "And also because I didn't want to move."
New Jersey is expected to get the casino commission set up by September, with the first casino to open late this year or early next, according to Mary Morgan of the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce.
The croupiers school occupies the fourth floor of a building at 1215 Connecticut, just above the Christian Fellowship Publishers Book Service. Its red-carpeted "classroom" houses a roulette wheel, four blackjack teaching tables and two crap tables. More equipment will be added if business is good, said LeVan, a man with styled hair, a gold chain at his neck, a three-piece suit with a nylon print body shirt open at the neck.
So far, 25 students have signed up, he said, though he hopes eventually to teach 150 or 200, at a time. The students pay $490 for 60 to 80 hours of instruction.
Graduates who get hired by a casino can expect to make at least $15,000 the first year, plus benefits. LeVan said. There are no job guarantees though. As Sid Kramer, one of the school's instructors, said, when trying for a casino job, "it's the personal audition that counts."
Joe Weresuk, a stocky young bar-tender at the Bay Ridge Inn, in Annapolis who signed up for the course, said he, for one, plans to specialize in craps. "They tell me if you learn craps, you'll always be able to get a job. The other (blackjack, roulette dealers, etc) may be a dime a dozen. But a good crap table man is hard to find."
If gambling is new to the East, the East in turn has provided some culture shock to the first Las Vegas settlement here.
"We are used to a 24-hour town," LeVan said. "Not being able to go shopping, or take a suit to the cleaners at 3 a.m. is strange to us."
Ms. Hard, a divorcee who lives in the Kalorama section of the northwest Washington, said she got the idea for the school through two friends who were dealers. She said she was subjected to the "typical problems" of divorced women - difficulty getting credit or finding a satisfying job. "But I was getting alimony, so I wasn't desperate." She started looking for a business of her own. After the suburbs, she said, "I wanted something with a little glitter."
LeVan said he is taking a cut in income to get involved in the school "I'm looking to the future . . . Right now we're an elite group of top gambling people on the East Coast. There are better people - but they're all in the West."