The Swiss government is due to award new licences for casinos in the autumn and croupier schools are opening up all over Switzerland in anticipation of the demand for qualified staff.This content was published on May 25, 2001 - 14:18
Around 60 companies have applied to operate casinos, but the government is only due to award between 20 and 25 licences. Between four and eight "Grand Casino" licences will be awarded, while 15 to 20 additional licences will be given to smaller operations.
Conservative estimates suggest that between 2,000 and 3,000 staff will be needed to work inside the new casinos, but the new training schools have so far attracted few applicants for their introductory courses.
Leontine Thorrington, director of a croupier school attached to the Casino de Montreux, says part of the reason for the shortage is the reluctance on the part of many Swiss to become involved in a new and untested industry.
"The difficulty arises from the very conservative nature of the Swiss," Thorrington said in an interview with swissinfo. "And this makes it more of a challenge to attract people to a new profession."
"The Swiss prefer to wait and see: they're not known for their habit of jumping wildly into new things," she added.
Industry insiders, including Thorrington, say casinos have traditionally been viewed with suspicion in Switzerland not least because of their perceived links to criminal organisations.
"Casinos historically have a bad name," said Thorrington. "But the traditional image of its links with the mafia are not representative of the true state of the industry today."
Concern about the prospect of Swiss casinos being used as illegal fronts for money laundering has also delayed government legislation.
Swiss voters approved making gambling houses legal in 1993 and since then various committees have been examining the rules under which casinos should be licensed to operate.
Under Swiss law, anyone applying to run a casino must be able to provide precise details of where the initial capital to open the business came from. Operators will also have to demonstrate they have sufficient safeguards in place to prevent money laundering.
Thorrington is convinced that tough regulations will effectively close off any opportunities for money laundering in the new casinos.
"The Swiss Gaming Board's strict rules governing casino operation mean that money laundering will simply not be possible," she told swissinfo.
"Police investigations are routinely carried out into the background of anyone wishing to hold an operating licence, and if there is the slightest doubt about a person's character, then they don't work in the casino business."
But while the government and Swiss gaming board continue to sift through the applications for licences, croupier schools are preparing for the day the new casinos open their doors to the public.
"We're looking for people with an aptitude in mathematics and proficiency in finger dexterity," said Thorrington.
Emmanuel Pieraccini, a trainee croupier attached to the Casino de Montreux, admits that one of the hardest tasks was convincing his family and friends of the merits of his chosen profession.
"My family think the job is a bit unusual," Pieraccini told swissinfo. "As a croupier, you live the life of a nomad. Firstly, you have to work nights, and then you're always at work when everyone else is out enjoying themselves. A career in the casino industry is certainly nothing like the usual nine-to-five job."
Despite the delay in awarding the new licences, and the difficulty in finding young Swiss keen to embark on a career in the profession, Thorrington believes the future of Switzerland's fledgling casino industry is bright.
"I am absolutely convinced that when the new licences are issued, Switzerland will become the number one place in the world for the discerning player.
"This is a wonderful country which has everything to offer the industry. Once casinos are given a chance to prove their legitimacy, I have no doubt that this will be the place to be."
by Ramsey Zarifeh
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