The slots come to Drexel - to teach

Drexel's Bob Ambrose explains the machines to Yonghwan Um (right), Vincent Santosusso.
Drexel's Bob Ambrose explains the machines to Yonghwan Um (right), Vincent Santosusso. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 26, 2014

After finishing his lesson this week, Drexel University instructor Bob Ambrose told his undergraduates to take five.

"Play some slots," he suggested.

Which they did, attaching themselves to three bona fide slot machines and pulling their handles.

The university this month became the first in the state to install slot machines for use in its casino management courses.

The machines, known as "Reel Money," "Power Strike," and "American Original," donated by Bally Technology, don't accept money or pay out, but work much the same as a slot machine on any casino floor. In fact, at one time they saw action at a Pennsylvania casino.

Ambrose, a former Tropicana executive who started at Drexel full-time in September, said the university wants students to learn all aspects of a casino, and hands-on slot experience helps.

But, he added, "I can't teach them how to win, because there is no formula for that."

Bringing the gambling machines onto a college campus was not easy.

Drexel had to get approval from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and agree to keep the machines under 24-hour camera surveillance. The machines must be locked away and out of view when not in use. The keys to the room on the sixth floor of the Paul Peck Problem Solving and Research Center must be kept in a safe, and a log of each use must be maintained. The machines also were inspected by the state after installation.

Why all the red tape?

Greg C. Fajt, a Gaming Control Board commissioner, explained during a hearing in October: There may be other requests for slots, he said, "so we want to get this right from the get-go."

Other schools have expressed interest, said Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the gaming board.

"It's a useful tool because it can provide the [live] training that you don't get from a computer program," said Lia Nower, a professor and director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University. She suspects more schools haven't done it because of the expense and regulation.

The donation from Bally, including installation, is worth more than $100,000, Ambrose said.

No New Jersey university houses slots except the Atlantic Cape Community College's Casino Career Institute, which trains dealers, security workers, and other entry-level employees.

Israel Posner, executive director of the gaming, hospitality and tourism institute at Richard Stockton College - in the suburbs of Atlantic City - doesn't plan to add slots. He finds them unnecessary for teaching casino management.

"There are people," he said, "who are always concerned about problem gambling, and there may be some people that raise concerns that this introduces gambling. However, these students are anticipating a career in that industry."

Jonathan Deutsch, professor and founding director of Drexel's Center for Hospitality and Management, acknowledged that casino-related professions have their detractors.

But it's clear that another casino is coming to Philadelphia, he said: "We want to position ourselves to provide the best possible leaders in those fields to be responsible managers."

Ambrose's 10-week introduction to casino management course, which is open to all majors, includes a two-week section on slot machines in addition to other topics such customer relations and problem gambling.

On Tuesday, the four students in Ambrose's class learned the distinct steps it takes to turn on the machines and got started.

"That's going to be part of your exam, turning the machines on. Absolutely," he told them.

Yonghwan Um, 19, a sophomore from Rockville, Md., stepped up.

"I lost more than I gained," he said after a few spins.

"On average, about 83 percent is returned back to the customer," Ambrose told students.

But then the machine was adjusted. "When the games are in demo mode, you can set up jackpot scenarios," Ambrose said.

Before long, Um started hitting jackpots and soon amassed more than 61,000 credits, $61,000 if he had been playing for real money.

"This is amazing," Um said. "It's not anything we can learn from books or lectures."

Ambrose already is eying expansion. He plans to apply next year for more slots and a couple of blackjack tables.


ssnyder@phillynews.com

215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq

www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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