Focus on Tioga Downs: Stephen and Laura find a winning career on the gaming floor

Lauren Platner at Tioga Downs

Lauren Platner at Tioga Downs

This article is the fifth in a series about SUNY Broome alumni at Tioga Downs Casino ResortClick here for the first article in the series, which details the diverse career opportunities at the Tioga County business and introduces you to HR director Karen Shelp, a SUNY Broome alumna. Click here to read about Alicia Iacovelli, the sales manager planning the upcoming Alumni Event. Click here to read about Brianna Sheppard, Tioga Downs’ social media maven. Click here to read about Michelle Jones, who switched careers within the company.

Tioga Downs Casino Resort draws visitors for many reasons. They catch concerts and shows, enjoy the pool and its waterslide, or grab a meal. They see the horses race around the track, cheering in the stands.

But many come for the slots and games, whether it’s poker, blackjack, craps or roulette. They come to win big – and, above all, to have a good time.

A trio of table games supervisors at the Tioga County business have ties to SUNY Broome. James Baburchak earned an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts, while Stephen Gaug earned a certificate in Casino Management after receiving a degree from Binghamton University. Lauren Platner honed her skills with several classes at SUNY Broome, which helped her start on a new career. In fact, the three had taken their Introduction to Casino Management class together at Broome, Platner said.

So, what does a table games floor supervisor do?

Stephen Gaug at Tioga Downs

Stephen Gaug at Tioga Downs

“I protect the integrity of the game. I keep track of the inventory of the tables. Any discrepancies, I help resolve,” Gaug explained.

While horse racing has been a part of Tioga Downs’ identity from the beginning, the casino took off only in the past few years, after the company received its official license from the New York State Gaming Commission.

Around the same time, SUNY Broome began its Casino Management degree and certificate program. The major is currently being redeveloped  into an online format, which will make it more accessible to those interested in casino careers. However, the program has already made an impact, allowing future dealers such as Lauren and Stephen to investigate their career possibilities.

“I don’t know if I would have come here if I started without knowing anything about casinos,” Platner reflected. “I think it’s a good introduction; it gives you an idea what it’s all about.”

Finding a winning career

For both Gaug and Platner, Tioga Downs represented a new and welcome career path.

Lauren spent years working for Broome Developmental, and jumped at the chance when her employer expressed a willingness to pay for classes. She had long wanted to become a casino dealer, and decided to take courses in casino management and casino games at SUNY Broome.

“I started dealing and I love it. I love the customer service aspect of it,” she said of her job at Tioga Downs. “It’s rewarding to get to talk to people. I enjoy coming to work.”

Stephen studied management at Binghamton University, but job opportunities after graduation seemed limited to retail and he knew he wanted to use his talents elsewhere. Tioga Downs interested him.

He took a bartending class at SUNY Broome and then worked as a bar-back at the resort for 2½ years; this support role involves assisting, stocking and preparing a bar, and filling in as bartender when needed, he explained. While working on his Casino Management certificate, he landed an internship at Tioga Downs, giving him the opportunity to see the broad expanse of careers available in the company.

“At a casino, there are many different departments; it’s a unique environment. When I was first coming in, I wasn’t sure where I would fit in,” he explained.

All of the courses he took at SUNY Broome were instrumental in his current success. His bartending class gave him the skills and knowledge for his first job at Tioga Downs, and subsequent classes taught him the ins and outs of the complicated casino industry, even the parts of the operation that he might not personally see.

Within the next few years, he hopes to work his way up to pit boss, he said. Overall, his bet on a career in the casino industry has paid off.

“I love interacting with the customers and the other dealers. If you have a good table with happy customers, you can’t really ask for a much better job,” he said.