Marlo Brown, a 37-year-old single mother from Sicklerville, Camden County, was laid off 18 months ago as a craps and blackjack dealer at the Borgata in Atlantic City.
Except for two months last year when she was called back to work, she has been looking for employment ever since.
Now Brown hopes to hit the job jackpot at the soon-to-open SugarHouse Casino, 60 miles to the west.
On Tuesday she joined more than 8,000 candidates, including many castoffs from Atlantic City, who filed into the Convention Center in Philadelphia to hear about the 800 jobs SugarHouse will need to fill within five months.
"I'm tired of looking on the computer for jobs," Brown said after talking to a recruiter. She perked up when she learned that the casino would be hiring experienced dealers for craps, one of the hardest table games to master. Dealers can earn up to $60,000 in tips and salary.
People had begun lining up at 6 a.m. By noon, a thick line stretched down 12th Street and around the corner for another block on Race Street. The crowd was split between men and women, young and old, from twentysomethings in hoodies to fiftysomethings in pinstripes.
With the unrelenting stream of job-seekers, the SugarHouse management team spoke to groups of 400 at a time, answering questions, swapping business cards and urging candidates to fill out online applications at www.sugarhousecasino.com. The positions run the gamut from cage cashiers to valet parking attendants, accountants to marketing experts, security guards to pit managers.
The day-long event was only informational; no offers were made. But that did not damp the fervor. As loudspeakers pumped out Michael Jackson, people in the audience jumped out of their seats when SugarHouse employees tossed key chains into the crowd. Others dressed as giant playing cards handed out fliers saying "I Want to Join the Sweet Team."
Wendy Hamilton, the casino's general manager, told the first group that SugarHouse would base its choices on personality. "If you were the class clown or life of the party, you've found your home," she said to cheers and applause.
After winning one of two casino licenses in Philadelphia in 2006, the SugarHouse project was dogged by divided neighbors, political opponents and preservationists worried about ancient relics entombed in the 22-acre waterfront property, straddling the boundary between Northern Liberties and Fishtown on Delaware Avenue.
But the project now is poised to become the city's first casino, with a September opening. Next month, SugarHouse will top off the steel frame of its 60,000-square-foot gaming hall and start accepting candidates for its 10-week dealer school.
Managers talked not only to job seekers, but also potential vendors. Local politicians put their differences behind them and touted the jobs SugarHouse will bring.
"I'm sure some people will find it odd that I'm up here," said City Councilman Frank DiCicco, joining the stage with Hamilton.
"Even though I stood in the way," DiCicco said, "I always want to talk about the benefits."
And that's jobs.
Cheng Ren, 39, and his wife, Zheng Yan, 35, are part-time dealers in Atlantic City looking for full-time spots with SugarHouse.
Bob Bader, 40, of Port Richmond, an out-of-work union drywall installer, is hoping for work as a bartender.
And Angela Savage, 23, of Mount Airy, who lost her job at a South Street store two weeks ago, would like just about anything. "I'm not picky," she said.
Hamilton said the casino would need twice the number of workers as expected because of the addition of table games. Under the original slots-only plan, SugarHouse would have required only 300 to 400.
SugarHouse has asked regulators for permission to offer 40 table games, including blackjack, craps and roulette. A hearing on the application is scheduled for May 19.
If regulators approve the application, SugarHouse will recruit at least 400 people to attend its free dealer school, which starts in June in a building across from the casino site.
To get hired, candidates first will have to be approved by the state's Gaming Control Board and successfully audition as dealers for SugarHouse.
Hamilton, the former general manager of Parx Casino in Bensalem, said SugarHouse was making a push to hire from Philadelphia.
"We've concentrated very hard on the neighborhoods around us," Hamilton said. She said those closest had both the highest hopes - and fears - about the impact of the project. "We have a genuine concern about the neighborhood."
Carla Abrams, 31, a part-time table-games dealer from Sicklerville, was pumped about the prospect of working for the city's first casino.
"It's new," she said. "Philadelphia's market hasn't been touched yet."