Training’s in the cards for Hard Rock Bristol
Mike Pauley started learning poker from his grandfather around age 8 and traveled around the nation playing competitively during his early 20s. When he learned that the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol was hiring casino dealers, he applied online.
“I had thought about having a career somewhere, but I didn’t want to move away from here,” he says. But then Bristol, Virginia, residents voted in November 2020 to allow a casino to operate in the city. “And I thought, ‘This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting on.’”
Pauley, who lives in Kingsport, Tennessee, is among the Hard Rock dealer training school’s first 39-person class preparing for the casino’s July 8 opening in a 30,000-square-foot temporary space in the former Bristol Mall Belk store. It’s expected to create 600 jobs, while the permanent, 90,000-square-foot resort set to open in July 2024 should generate about 1,200 to 1,500 jobs. As of mid-May, Hard Rock had hired about 400 people for the temporary casino.
Students in the casino’s first poker dealers class began learning craps on April 25 and will learn simpler games like blackjack and baccarat during their 12-week trainings. A second group of about 80 dealer trainees began learning roulette in an eight-week course on May 19 and were set to learn table games by mid- to late June. The school has 53 students from Tennessee, 31 from Virginia and two from North Carolina.
Hard Rock Bristol dealer pay starts at $5.25 an hour. Depending on the market, dealers can make from $20 to $50 an hour in tips, says Mike Spatz, the casino’s vice president of gaming operations. Hard Rock also provides medical benefits and 401(k) plans for dealers.
Shift manager and trainer Steve Vacca moved from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood in Florida to Bristol, Virginia.
“When you’re working in a bigger property,” Vacca says, “sometimes there’s not a lot of room for advancement because everything is pretty much carved out.”
The temporary casino will have 21 table games, but the permanent one should have about 55 tables, “so obviously a lot of people are going to move up the ranks.”
Says Pauley: “We were excited that [Hard Rock] came to Virginia and gives us this opportunity to have a good job with something we like, and I couldn’t really turn it down.”