Drexel Opens Dennis Gomes Training Lab

Drexel University officials and the family of late gaming legend Dennis Gomes cut the ribbon on the Dennis Gomes Memorial Casino Training Lab (l.).

GGB magazine part of curriculum in new gaming program

Philadelphia’s Drexel University launched the first formal four-year gaming career training program at an Eastern university with the ribbon-cutting October 6 of the Dennis Gomes Memorial Casino Training Lab.

The facility—named for the late gaming legend who fought the mob in Las Vegas and was an innovative chief of Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal, Tropicana and Resorts casinos—is still a work in progress for Drexel. Housed within the university’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management, the campus facility is still filling out its replica casino, the newest instructional tools being several slots recently donated by Bally Technologies and gaming tables courtesy of the Tropicana.

Heading development of the lab has been Bob Ambrose, a longtime casino executive brought in as a gaming and hospitality instructor for the casino training program. Ambrose had been executive director of slot service operations at Tropicana in Atlantic City and gaming and hospitality development executive at Gomes & Cordish Gaming, LLC when tapped for the new post by Dr. Jonathan Deutsch, director of the Drexel University Center for Hospitality and Sport Management.

At the ribbon-cutting, Deutsch credited Ambrose with developing a program designed to “mold the next generation of responsible industry leaders.” Deutsch said too many traditional gaming programs are comprised of little more than “textbooks and war stories.” Drexel’s program, he said, will let students “learn by doing.”

Ambrose secured approval for the gaming training lab a year ago from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and, said Deutsch, “took this idea and ran with it.” At the ribbon-cutting, Ambrose said the Gaming Lab is meant as a hands-on training center “as Dennis would have wanted it,” referring to the late Gomes, known as a hands-on executive with a strong commitment to education and mentoring.

Ambrose said Gomes represented the best of leaders in the gaming industry, which is why he decided a year ago to dedicate the new gaming lab to the memory of the gaming executive, who was owner of Resorts Atlantic City when he died in 2012.

Ambrose said the Gomes model of creating “energy” among the entire team of a resort provides a perfect example for future industry leaders. Gomes was known for being willing to institute outrageous and creative events to create that energy—when he was CEO at the Taj, he tried to bring back the legendary Diving Horse Steel Pier act (he was thwarted by animal-rights groups), and in his best-known promotion, he offered $10,000 to any Tropicana customer who could beat a live chicken at tic-tac-toe. (That latter stunt garnered the Tropicana positive press across the country.)

Gomes’ family, including wife Barbara Gomes, son Aaron, daughters Danielle and Gabrielle and Danielle’s son Jake, along with other family members, cut the ribbon on the gaming lab.

Aaron Gomes, who worked for his father at Resorts and most recently returned to the U.S. after two years as managing director of Echo’s Jupiters Gold Coast in Australia, is a Drexel alumnus, having earned his MBA there. He said he was proud to have the university be home to a lab dedicated to his father.

The elder Gomes had four “passions,” Gomes said—the gaming industry, education, caring about others and, most importantly, integrity. “I want the lab to represent not only gaming, but integrity,” he said. “That makes Drexel the perfect place.”

Deutsch said that while ribbon-cuttings are normally done when a facility is complete, last week’s event only marks one step in the lab’s development. While the Gomes lab is up and running in a bare-bones way, the program is appealing for help from the industry to develop it further.

The next step, he said, will be the addition of a hotel front desk, which, with the well-established F&B and hospitality programs already in place, will create a replica casino resort in which students can learn the business.

Meanwhile, Global Gaming Business magazine is being used as the main source of up-to-date information on the industry for students of Ambrose, who distributes the latest issue to his classes every month. At the ribbon-cutting, he cited GGB as a major partner in the development of gaming element of the training program.