They came looking for work as maids, cooks, security guards and card dealers – and within a few hours, some walked out with full-time jobs and uniforms measured for their first day of work.
More than 4,000 people have already applied online for 400 jobs at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and the early birds won out during the casino's first day of interviews in two huge exhibit halls at the nearby Florida State Fairgrounds.
Technically, the job fair lasts Monday through Thursday, but by 9:30 a.m. Monday, enough people showed up to fill all 1,000 interview slots for that day. Managers started handing out reservation cards to come back later in the week, and ran out by mid-afternoon.
"I'm number 740, so, fingers crossed," said Toni Jackson, 43, now a middle-school lunchroom cook who has managed kitchens using the "One Minute Manager" philosophy of positive reinforcement. "I have a very stable job now, and been a cook for 25 years, but there's no room for advancement where I'm at. … I'm a mom, and Italian, so I know how to manage people in a kitchen, let me tell you."
That's good news for casino President John Fontana, who said culinary jobs are among the most critical positions the casino needs with its new restaurants. Then there is the new staff he will need to support more gaming space and hotel rooms.
"We set this up to handle the whole process in one day for people," Fontana said. "We need these people for all the growth we anticipate."
Job seekers first had to apply online, then go to two massive exhibit halls at the Florida State Fairgrounds, check-in, take a number and wait in one exhibit hall the size of a basketball arena. In keeping with the casino theme, DJs blared hard rock music, and a series of large TVs showed sepia-toned documentaries about the Seminole tribe.
Then, like a game show, DJs called out numbers in groups of two or three to meet in the second, more quiet, exhibit hall where screeners decided whether the applicant would even be qualified, or should be shifted to other potential jobs.
Applicants approved for an interview went to meet with hiring managers arranged in rows the length of a football field and broken up into rooms by tall black curtains.
Anyone making that cut went to another area for a criminal background check and drug test with a mouth swab. Anyone making that cut went to either a fitting room for uniforms, or directly to a table to register for orientation later in the week.
At each step, managers sent anyone not making the cut to the parking lot. They made 185 job offers by the end of the day Monday.
Though Florida's unemployment rate stands at 9.4 percent, many of those applying already had jobs and wanted better ones.
Paige Gordon, 21, made the cut after showing up a 7:30 a.m. to win interview slot No. 246. A student in the nursing program at the University of South Florida, Gordon originally wanted a job as hostess.
"They saw I worked at Panera before, so they suggested I try for a barista position in a new restaurant they have," Gordon said, standing in the most-fortunate of lines – the one to schedule an orientation time. "I got it. I'm thrilled." The position starts at $9 per hour.
Hailey Palmer, 19, applied for a job as a cashier, since she's already worked at Busch Gardens kiosks.
Instead, managers hired her as a slot machine customer service staffer, a job that brings $15 to $16 per hour in tips. "I heard they were opening the doors early, so I got up even earlier and I was number 176," Palmer said. "Boy, am I glad I did."
David Combs, 38, had slot number 950 and already works in a casino in Mississippi as a bartender. "All my family is back here in Tampa," he said. "So I'm looking to come back … What I did is go last night to the casino and talk to the beverage director. I learned a lot about how everything works. Hopefully that gets my foot in the door."