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Originally published Wednesday, September 2, 2009 at 12:10 AM

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Casino workers to get college-level training

Olympic College and the company that manages the Suquamish Clearwater Casino are putting the final touches on a certificate program in tribal...

Kitsap Sun

SUQUAMISH, Kitsap County — Olympic College and the company that manages the Suquamish Clearwater Casino are putting the final touches on a certificate program in tribal gaming management that represents a new level of collaboration between the two.

A few more instructors have to be hired and a few more lines added to the customized college-level curriculum before school starts Sept. 21.

Eighteen promising workers for Port Madison Enterprises (PME) have been chosen to earn the new Tribal Enterprise Gaming Management certificate. Their tuition will be paid by PME while they earn 15 credits over a year on company time. Classes will be held near the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort, which PME manages.

Enrollment at present is open only to PME employees, but leaders say if the program is successful, it could be opened to neighboring tribes. While some have asked, there is no current plan to open the course to the public.

"We firmly believe in investing in our employees and our community," Russell Steele, PME chief executive officer, said of the collaboration that's been a year and a half in the making.

Wendy Miles, the college's director of customized training, expressed similar enthusiasm.

"I think both parties are very excited about the opportunity," she said.

What PME gets out of the deal are that its best employees become better ones, now equipped with a broader understanding of tribal gaming management. The models they learn will equip them to work in casinos beyond the Clearwater Casino.

And PME boosts its stock of trained leaders in an industry that even in this recession continues to grow.

PME currently has 760 employees, according to Steele, making it among the top private employers in Kitsap County.

The students will take educational excursions into the history of tribal casino gaming, hospitality, human relations, finance and marketing. Instructors will come from the community and Olympic College.

Collaboration between a tribe and an institution of higher learning is becoming increasingly common. In the Northwest, similar partnerships are in place with Everett and Tacoma community colleges and neighboring tribes, as well as with The Evergreen State College and Grays Harbor Community College.

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The partnership between Olympic College and PME started growing around 2006, when Olympic provided hospitality training for people who would work in PME's new resort. One instructor ended up becoming head housekeeper there, Steele said.

Everyone hopes the collaboration continues to grow.

"Both parties hope that we will launch another program in 2010," Miles said.

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