DIGGING DEEPER: SUNY Broome Casino Management Program put on hold

DICKINSON (WBNG) — A program at SUNY Broome is struggling after only two students enrolled last year.

The Casino Management Associates Degree program was approved in 2014 by the New York State Education Department.

A $300,000 mock casino called "Casino Vespa" was built with state money on campus to accommodate the program. Administrators at the college anticipated a lot of interest in the program from students when a full casino license was promised to the Southern Tier.

"The thought process was that if we got a casino for the area, that we did after a struggle, that after we did that and got that entity going that there would be a lot of job opportunities and that people would want to fulfill those," said Chairman of SUNY Broome Hospitality Programs Rey Wojdat

After a battle with New York State, Tioga Downs was awarded a full casino license, but the interest in the SUNY Broome Program hasn’t come with it. Nearly four years later, the idea of casino management at SUNY Broome is looking more like a bust. This has forced the college to shelf the program.

"It means that the program exists but I am currently, this college is currently not taking any students in for this year," Wojdat said. "It was a surprise to me that there are very few students interested in doing that. I don’t know at this time if that is parental influence."

Wojdat says the possible issues with enrollment vary. He does know part of the problem was the long process of getting a casino to the Southern Tier.

In December 2014, New York State awarded del Lago Resort in the Northern part of the Finger Lakes region with a full license. Leaving our area out to dry.

"It had all this steam and all of a sudden it died out," said Wojdat.

It would take nearly two years for Tioga Downs to fight for and receive a full license.

Even with the full license and now a fully operational facility, SUNY Broome’s interest in having a relationship with Tioga Downs appears to be lost in the shuffle. According to the college’s website, the goal of the program is to "combine casino-specific skill level courses with courses in general hospitality, management and business. The degree is designed to equip students with technical skills and theoretical knowledge required for entry-level and supervisory positions in the gaming industry."

Wojdat says when Tioga Downs began hiring to fill positions for its expansion, the needs of the casino and what SUNY Broome’s program was producing didn’t match up.

"The thing that a college degree should do for you is not keep you at table games," he said. "It is probably where you should cut your teeth but if you want move up and that is what we would do is offer a degree that gives you management expertise so you can move up, that was not Tioga Downs immediate need. They had management staff. They needed people who work the floor. It didn’t work."

SUNY Broome President Kevin Drumm says the disconnect between the college and the area’s only casino is still a concern. He says there have been efforts on SUNY Broome’s end to come to some sort of agreement or partnership, but there has been little dialogue.

"The only thing we can guess is the casino does a lot of its own training," Drumm said. "We have tried to work with Tioga Downs to do some of the training but it hasn’t worked out."

12 News reached out to Tioga Downs for comment. We have yet to receive a response.

According to Wojdat, the "Casino Vespa" facility, located in the basement of the Science Building, is used almost daily when school is in session. Other hospitality course are taught there, but Casino Management hasn’t had a full-time student since Spring of 2017. The blackjack table, craps table, and roulette wheel have been sitting idle.

We asked Wojdat if he considers the program a failure.

"I don’t consider it a failure," he said. "But it certainly needs to be retooled."

Going forward, SUNY Broome is going to combine Hotel Hospitality with the Casino Management Program to try and increase enrollment. Still, those changes may not happen any time soon.

"It is not easy anymore to get a program changed through SUNY or the state education department. It can be a long and laborious process," Wojdat said. "So, I am not going to be able to give you a commitment. I am not going to be able to promise when it is going to happen. But it will happen."

Administrators and the community must now wait to see if going all-in with $300,000 of state money for this program and facility was the right gamble.

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