City officials are expected to sign off Wednesday on a deal that promises to help residents seeking the 1,700 jobs planned for Horseshoe Casino Baltimore — addressing one of the main arguments made by gambling supporters in the debate over expanding casinos in Maryland.
A Caesars Entertainment subsidiary has agreed to fund a temporary employee in the mayor's employment development office to lead hiring efforts in Baltimore, to print informational materials targeting potential employees in the city, and to report twice a year to city officials on hiring progress toward its workforce development plan.
"The agreement will go a long way to ensure that city residents are prioritized and have the first chance to seize these new job opportunities at a time when people need it most," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
City workforce advocates welcomed the move but said efforts with previous projects show it will take persistence to ensure that residents learn of the opportunities and have access to specialized training needed for many jobs. Extensive background checks could also pose a challenge to getting some residents hired, a city councilwoman acknowledged.
Caesars officials said local hiring is always a priority when building in a new community.
"Working within the local community is always going to make the most sense," said Jan Jones Blackhurst, an executive vice president for Las Vegas-based Caesars. "If you want to be an integral part of the community, local hiring is your first step."
Casino jobs were the focus of many campaign commercials during the run-up to the November referendum, when Maryland voters approved Question 7 to allow table games and a sixth casino in the state. Proponents, including Rawlings-Blake, urged votes in favor the measure for the tax revenue and jobs it could create.
"Question 7 means thousands of jobs and millions for our schools," she said in one ad, with former Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden towering behind her.
The agreement with Caesars helps ensure that those jobs benefit city residents, said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector. State law encourages casino operators to hire within a 10-mile radius of the facilities, but city officials are seeking to narrow that scope to provide opportunities for thousands of unemployed residents who live near enough to the casino's Russell Street site that they could commute by public transit.
"That's not good enough for Baltimore City," Spector said of the state policy. "These are new kinds of jobs for us."
Spector plans to gather representatives from the mayor's employment office, the casino, unions and other stakeholders at a televised public hearing Jan. 23, when more details of hiring and training needs will be discussed.
The agreement requires the mayor's employment office to develop "talent scout reports" to find and market qualified residents to Caesars and its subcontractors. Jobs are expected to include construction, initially, but then positions on the casino floor, in restaurants and other parts of the facility.
Given the specialized nature of many jobs, city officials are emphasizing the need for training. Caesars is also being required to, if possible, establish employee mentoring programs.
"Of course we won't find table game operators in the general public," said Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. "We can be a city with lots of them, as soon as you train us."
But there will also be hurdles, Spector acknowledged.
Those offered jobs working at a casino in Maryland must fill out a 14-page gaming employee license form, which is reviewed by staff from the state lottery and gaming commission. Applicants must indicate if they've been charged with a crime, but also must reveal if they've been the subject of a criminal complaint or an investigation by any government agency or organization.
Those filling out the form must also disclose if they or any business they worked for has filed for bankruptcy.
The Maryland State Lottery Commission warns applicants that it "will make inquiries to establish whether the identified individuals have had any involvement with law enforcement agencies" and says failure to disclose past incidents will "be take into account in assessing the applicant's character, honesty, and integrity."
A spokesperson for the commission said staffers spend about 40 hours completing a background check for executive-level employees, and 20 hours for table game dealers and others who work directly with gamblers. Sixteen new employees will be hired to deal with the license applications.
The outreach needed to find potential applicants will also be a challenge, said some who have experience in workforce development on city projects. Caesars has agreed to pay up to $80,000 to employ a community recruitment coordinator in the mayor's employment office for a yearlong period around the opening of the casino, which is expected in 2014.
That position will be key, said Andrew Frank, a former deputy mayor who now is an economic development adviser to Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels.
"The difference between getting city residents these jobs or not is having someone focused on it and having the expectation that it's going to happen," Frank said.
Past projects, including the city-owned Hilton Baltimore hotel and East Baltimore Development Inc.'s east-side renewal, have made similar efforts to promote city hiring. Some, like the Hilton, have been considered successes. But the East Baltimore project has been criticized for not providing jobs for the neighborhood residents it displaced.
"It's not a brand new idea to do outreach, but it hasn't happened so much," said Ralph Moore Jr., the former director of East Baltimore's St. Frances Community Center and the organizer of an annual job fair for some of the city's poorest residents. "It takes a strong effort to crack through what's going on in people's daily lives, even if you're offering a service that will be useful to them."
Some questioned whether the city is equipped to train residents for the jobs.
"Unfortunately, a lot of our city residents will not be prepared for these jobs," said Arnold Jolivet, managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association Inc. "The city is not prepared to do that."
Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Korman contributed to this article.
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