An avid scuba diver, Wendy Hamilton, 45, general manager at the newly expanded SugarHouse Casino, majored in marine biology. She imagined that one day she'd be teaching - in college, or somewhere like the all-girls' Catholic high school she attended in Bryn Mawr.
So how did Hamilton end up running a major casino, one of the few women to hold that job in the nation?
"My dad teases me and says it was all that exposure to Catholic bingo that put me into this," Hamilton said.
Very funny. What really happened?
After graduation, I worked at Duke University Hospital, where they have a hyperbaric center and I was a diver, so that interested me. But this is home, so I came back and looked to see if I could work in anything related to marine biology.
Back in '93, '94, New Jersey was in a hiring freeze. I was living in the family beach house in Ocean City and I applied at Harrah's and got hired at the hotel front desk.
You built your career in Atlantic City. Tough times there now, right?
In 2006, casinos were a $5.2 billion market. In 2015, it's barely $3 billion. That's enough to strike a very ice cold dagger into any business person.
How would you assess the market in Southeastern Pennsylvania, now that there's been approval for another casino here?
There's SugarHouse, Parx in Bensalem, Harrah's in Chester, and the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Everyone has to report to Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and the numbers are out there. So we watch, year over year. There was a period of two or three years where there was no growth. In fact, it declined.
And it was during that time the [new] license was awarded. Your revenue base is shrinking. You're competing with each other. And then we're talking about another mouth at the table.
The license is granted, but do you think another casino will really open?
I hope not.
Is this why SugarHouse invested $164 million in its expansion that opened this spring with restaurants, bars and more gaming?
It was about rounding out the experience - to give people more to do. Now you can not only play slots or tables, but have a meal, see a show, attend a banquet.
If everything goes my way, our non-gaming revenue will increase by 50 percent from 2015 into 2016. With that said, it will only go from being about 8 percent of our total to 10 percent of our total.
Is that breakdown typical?
At a destination market like Las Vegas, you hear about 50/50 gaming and non-gaming. You're dealing with hotels with thousands of rooms. Big sophisticated spas. Retail. They're making money from tenants and entertainment.
To staff your expansion, you grew your staff from 1,200 to 1,700. Any problem finding the talent you need in Philadelphia?
Our situation is interesting, because there are certain jobs that require very specific experience in gaming. We're able to find that because of our proximity to Atlantic City. Philly is a great city. It's an easy place to attract people to.
Do you have good job interview questions?
One question I like is, 'If I had all your friends and family here with me, what would they tell me about you?' Another way of asking the same thing is: 'We're at a family barbecue. What's your role?'
What answers do you get?
It's an interesting commentary on our society: 99 percent of the men say, 'I'm on the grill.' Women can be in a hundred different places, but the men are always on the grill.
What about your barbecue?
At work, I have to be the leader. When I'm not at work, I tend to just be part of the crowd. I'm probably nice to talk to, but you're not going to remember it.
What's your favorite game?
I probably grew up playing Uno, which is not much of a casino game. When I do play, blackjack is every man's game, every woman's game.
Do you gamble?
Not really. I play here and there, especially if I'm on a business trip to Vegas. When I get on a vacation, the last place I want to be is in a casino. It's not like I don't like to gamble. I enjoy it. But I'd rather be fishing.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.
Title: General manager, since 2010.
Home: Camden County.
Family: Son, 8.
Diplomas: Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Bryn Mawr; Duke, marine biology; St. Joe's, master's in business administration.
Yes she did: "Camp out" with her son overnight in her SUV in her driveway.
Binges: "House of Cards," with Ben & Jerry's Salted Caramel Core ice cream.
Who she'd love to book at SugarHouse: "If we had Adam Levine, I'd make sure I was hanging out in the green room."
Favorite game: Blackjack.
What: Entertainment, food venue, casino with 1,891 slots, 28-table poker room, 103 table games, opened in 2010. Employs 1,650.
What's new: Recent $164 million expansion added garage, more bars, eateries, 30,000-square-foot event space.
Dollars: $162.1 million revenues from slots; $94.6 million from tables June 1, 2015 through May 31.EndText
What SugarHouse's Wendy Hamilton learned from being fired, at philly.com/jobbing