Gov. Dan McKee, left, and Bally’s Corporation Chairman Soo Kim, right, announce the $5 million gift to develop an education curriculum for students interested in the casino industry Thursday afternoon, Sept. 14, 2023, at the Community College of Rhode Island Flanagan campus in Lincoln. (Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
LINCOLN — Bally’s is hedging its bets that the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) will make the state New England’s gaming hub.
The Providence-based casino giant on Thursday afternoon announced the donation of $5 million to CCRI to develop and launch new educational programs in the gaming, hospitality, and security industries. Bally’s investment represents the largest single donation in the community college’s 60-year history.
“Today is an extraordinary day for our college,” CCRI Interim President Rosemary Costigan said before thunderous applause at a press conference at the college’s Flanagan campus in Lincoln. “It signifies a brighter future for Rhode Island and its residents.”
In attendance were school officials, Bally’s employees, and several politicians including 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate Gabe Amo, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and Gov. Dan McKee.
“To have a partnership with Bally’s is an extraordinary opportunity,” McKee said, adding that the funds build on his commitment to a trio of initiatives: improving education and bettering health and earnings.
The governor said Bally’s commitment will not only make a difference for students, but could inspire other Rhode Island-based businesses to support education in the state.
“We’ve been building the company now for 10 years — we have 17 casinos across 11 states, but it all started right here in Rhode Island,” Bally’s Corporation Chairman Soo Kim said. “This is our home and it’s important that we grow with our home, we nurture it, and that success is shared.”
Though it’s not all benevolence, as Kim was the first to admit that the donation is a way to create a pipeline of new employees to Bally’s casinos.
“This is an institution all about developing the future workforce,” he said in an interview. “Ultimately, Bally’s is a public-private partnership — for us to help train the next generation of associates is actually good business.”
The new program expected to start in fall 2024 will offer students the opportunity to earn a certificate or associate degree in casino and hospitality-related subjects such as dealer training, casino operations, cybersecurity, culinary arts, hotel management, and slot technology.
Students would learn both on-campus and at the Twin River casino.
The program also includes iGaming operations, something Kim said will be crucial as Bally’s rolls out its online offerings in the coming years after iGaming was legalized in June through legislation lobbied by the casino company.
Kim said that the company is in the process of filling up a “technology hub” in Warwick that has dozens of openings for people who can develop games for the Bally’s app.
“This is a journey,” he said in an interview after the press conference. “We would love to train tech developers — there really is a need for more of that. The hope is that students here can keep up with our needs.”
Kim did not disclose how many openings there are at Bally’s casinos in Lincoln and Tiverton, but that it’s “a growing company” that “can’t find enough good people to help in hospitality and gaming jobs that we can provide.”
When asked about how to entice a younger workforce into properties that allow smoking, something many employees have protested in recent years, Kim said both Rhode Island casinos have “advanced air handling systems” and that smoking is not permitted at any of the tables.
“And we have a huge non-smoking floor,” he said about the Twin River location.
In addition to a new curriculum, Bally’s donation will provide scholarships to first-generation students seeking a career in gaming and hospitality industries.
“Thank you for believing in our college and, most importantly, for believing in the potential of our students,” Costigan said.
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