THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF BEING A CASINO DEALER
Ariande has over 15 years of experience dealing and supervising casino games in multiple states for diverse casino companies.
Note: Though many male gender pronouns are used in my article, it is an arbitrary signifier.
"And the award for outstanding performance in blackjack goes to..."
Wait for it... This could be your favorite dealer... Cross your fingers...
"It's ... Nobody!"
You don't really enter the casino business to achieve recognition. You have a stage, the table, and you have an audience, the patrons and coworkers, but the gaming industry is particularly different than other incarnations of entertainment. You don't invent the games, but you have to make them function. If you do your job particularly well, you provide entertainment, regardless if patrons winning or losing. You have to do this while the odds are against every person that walks up to your table to play.
I could tell you about getting large tips-my personal record exceeded what I cleared for six weeks-or when a coworker outdid me (in one shift, a dealer dropped twice what I made the preceding year from a single player). Unlike poker dealers, we don't keep the money; it gets divided amongst all the dealers. I understand a player not wanting to tip Mr. Miserable to my left or Mr. Slow to my right. Even at the nicest casinos, the dealer is paid below, or close to, minimum wage; that's because the casino hierarchy expects patrons to subsidize the dealer's salary. This might sound depressing, but restaurants and bars do the same thing. Depending on whether or not you've ever been in the service industry, you'll look at tipping differently. There's an argument to be had, but before we go there, let me relate a few of my experiences...
As I weigh particularly positive and negative experiences, the positives are less about getting particularly big tips. I struck up a conversation with a gentleman smoking a foreign cigarette that is banned for commercial import. He tracked me down on his next visit to give me a pack of these cigarettes. Big deal? It was, actually. It showed that I made an impact in his enjoying the game and he wanted to make sure I knew it.
Rarely do gamblers (or patrons in any industry) take the time to fill out surveys or contact management about positive experiences. When you've done a great job and an email or letter comes in, bosses love to share these anecdotes and often provide additional compensation. More often than not, a patron shows me that I've done a good job by coming back, remembering my name, saying thank you, and building a relationship. I've earned my share of compliments over the years, some from people I never expected. Knowing that your work is appreciated is the pinnacle of casino achievement. That may not sound like much on the high side but it is if you are a dealer...
What they don't tell you in dealer's school has to do with the lows of the industry.
How about a particular guy who would reserve a craps game for a weekend? That's four dealers per eight hours over three shifts a day for an entire weekend. Then he says ..."I want to start by telling you what I tell every dealer everywhere I go: I don't tip. I think of you as the enemy. Now give me my marker." Good luck sir... Try to say that and mean it.
Try to thank someone for a two dollar tip after he wins a couple thousand bucks over eight hours. It's hard to do. Try to have five cold stiffs on a craps or blackjack game and one player you don't know. On some level you may know that how you treat the five stiffs may influence the sixth's decision to tip or not to tip. You still have to provide a level of service to the five stiffs, so you hold out hope for the unknown, who may also be a stiff. Now you have a table full of stiffs. Would you work harder without hope of additional compensation?
If I'm tired of typing about tipping, I'm sure you're tired about hearing about it. Enough!
There's plenty more that they don't teach you in dealer's school. There is no other public environment where profanities are tolerated. See how well direct profanities go when speaking to a judge. In theory, no casino would tolerate being labeled a "hostile work environment," but if we are honest, colorful language finds fluctuating attitudes. Routinely, a guest gets a warning. If it escalates, the patron is ejected for a day, but rarely does someone get banned for life. When you are on the receiving end of verbal abuse such as ... "You are the worst mother #&^ing dealer I've ever seen." What follows, you weren't expecting: "It's not personal." Why'd he use my name then? Why did he then compare me to every other dealer? He knows what he can get away with... "I was saying it to the cards." Sure...
A player mumbling, barely audible, just so you can hear it but not loud enough to hit the radar of a suit, "This mf'ing dealer, lousy mf'ing dealer, smiling mf'er... won't smile forever..." Notice that the player does not threaten the dealer, because the player knows there is a line that can't be crossed. Tip-toeing around the line is routine for patrons who want to get a rise out of the staff. I can't count how many casino employees who got themselves fired after being baited by an out-of-line patron.
On the subject of smiling, the dealer can't win, except when everyone is winning, which is, let's face it, not that frequent. Smiling during these rare cases is easy. The corporate standard is all about constructing a fun environment for gaming. "Why are you smiling? Are you happy you took my money?" Here are a few quick answers. I don't ever "take" your money; you gamble it. A dealer responded, "Sir, I'm smiling because I love my job." This infuriated the patron."You love that you take my money?" And much to the dealer's credit, he answered quite profoundly, "I love the unknown in gambling, and I hope you win next time."
"You don't smile, do you?" Often as a dealer, you simply cannot say what you are thinking about. Nobody brings the kids to Disneyland to hear Mickey whining about Minnie; you probably don't want to hear about your dealer's divorce or negatives about people playing around you. While you, the patron, may balance your personal life with your professional life, you've seen lots of dealers who show little or no regard for your experience either by talking too much or too little. Here's another case where the dealer can't win. Five patrons enjoy an amusing anecdote, while the sixth writes a complaint letter. If you are all business, you're liable of being labeled "not friendly," whereas if you congratulate someone on a first grandchild, you impede a shooter getting the dice by a few seconds. "Are we here to talk or are we here to play crap?"
They couldn't possibly teach dealers how to read people. People go to the casino for a number of different reasons. Some gamblers will only walk out happy if they have won, with standards as different as there are people (a small percentage win, doubling the bankroll, etc.). Some don't gamble to win or lose-it's just about playing. Lots of players always want to be right, even when they are losing. If you make the slightest error, they may yell at you. Some think that the more that they yell, the faster they will get paid. If the mistake is ours and we correct it, some patrons will not let it go, bringing it up time and time again, questioning every pay-out, every hand... If the patron is wrong, they expect you to forgive and forget immediately. You have to learn to manage personalities the best you can with the cards that are dealt.
Twenty years ago, the industry was more concerned with speed and accuracy. It used to be that the casino ran the game and if a patron didn't like it, oh well. With the proliferation of casinos came a pseudo-commitment to customer service. Gone is the guy with a stopwatch timing a shuffle and sweating the money. Shuffle machines and side bets are employed to increase profits. Now, somebody winning is a good thing (so long as they weren't card counting).
Airline pilots, police officers, surgeons, et al: these careers are never afforded the luxury of having a single bad day. Unless you've spent a long time in the business, you are typically only watching your hand and your money (unless you are counting). A repetitive casino job involves up to sixteen patrons per roll, or six per hand, etc. Mistakes happen and can get corrected. While trying to do many things at once, repetitive motions and routine muscle memory can result in errors. After a single mistake, the response should not be, "Can you get ___ removed and find someone who can actually deal this game?" Being polite and asking for it to be corrected will likely result in a timely correction.
The dealer always has to be on the lookout for cheats-fearing the worst of someone can make treating him with a friendly attitude inherently difficult. It could be a hand signal, a capped bet, a pinch, a claim that someone wasn't paid, a "shot" in craps... With verbally agreed wagers, understandings are inevitable, but if you've spent any time in casinos, you know what I'm talking about. A mistake on either side is forgivable. But if you see a pattern of behavior on your table, get up and get out. Running a shoe down with surveillance is routine; don't get caught counting because someone else is cheating. You are free to comment to the floor or pit, but you also want to limit your exposure.
Wins and Losses
Seeing someone win an outrageous amount of money is fantastic. When someone buys in for a thousand and gets up ten or thirty thousand, it feels great to be part of the game. What isn't so enjoyable is watching that player blow that thirty thousand back and another five thousand, only to come back the next day and blow another buy-in...
The extremes of losing are no fun to watch or be a part of. I know the lowest point in my career occurred several years ago. I remember like it was yesterday. A player (I'll call Robert) sits down on a $25 table and buys in for $500. Robert is about 60 and has a wife or girlfriend who utilizes a walker. Robert starts off jovial, betting $25 a hand. Maybe Robert is up $200 after the first shoe. His other half comes by. She is shaking."I'm winning. Here take another $20. Go hit a jackpot." "Robert, don't go crazy again." She is shaking, but probably because she has Parkinson's.
He loses everything the next shoe and buys in for another $500. He is not betting $25 any longer. He isn't playing poor strategy, but the cards aren't going his way. A shoe later, a few buy-ins later, she comes back again. Her voice is strained and she is still shaking. "Robert, I..." He responds, "I'm doing fine. Here, let me give you some money." He goes into his pocket, takes out his money clip, undoes the rubber band, and pulls out a hundred dollar bill. When she takes the money I already know there is a 0% chance of her gambling it. It is going home with her.
Another buy-in a minute later, from the other pocket, and a depleting roll. "How much am I in for?" It is a legitimate question and it is not necessarily indicative of an actual problem. Or he could know exactly how much he is in for and wants to make sure he's being rated properly. All-in, lose. Buy in $500. Blackjack. FANTASTIC! His eyes light up. Bet $1,000, lose.
His other half comes to visit two more times, shaking, pleading with him to stop. Robert has asked about his buy-ins but hasn't said any phrase for which I can cut him off. I can still hear the stress in her voice. He lost $8,600 that day, every hundred dollar bill from the gambling pocket and every one from his money clip.
That one hurt the most because I could feel the impact of his losing. The thing about casino chips is that they are a step away from currency. A thousand dollar chip is something we see day in and day out. Casino employees are desensitized to the actual value of money. When industry employees implode, it gets ugly. The next patron is a dealer at another casino. How the hell can they lose $10,000 if he only makes 30-60k/year? Is he stealing, running up credit cards, or does he have a side business?
You see people escalate. Maybe a player recently retired and has more free time. Maybe the player sold a house or got a settlement. The player who used to be thrilled winning $300 now doesn't stop until up $3,000 or broke. We hear details through the grapevine when he stops coming in.
We can stop you and will stop you if you show certain signs, but just like the insulting customer, there is a line that has to be crossed. When we have sufficient evidence, we prohibit play."Can you give me directions to the parking garage? I want to jump." I would stop your play for this and call security. But if you ask me, "Where can I get a cash advance?" I'm not your financial advisor, husband, father, or priest. I direct you to the window.
Smoke and Monotony
In between the extremes of highs and lows is the everyday routine of dealing. In principle I get it: your bet, whether it is $5, $25, or $2,500, deserves to be treated with respect. I know what is intended in the statement, "I treat every customer like a VIP." But you are not going to have a limo waiting for you at the airport with chilled Cristal with a $10 average bet. That's not to say you don't deserve to have a good time. You do. Would you be as interested and as emotionally invested in blackjack if you were only betting $.01? At some higher number, the amount becomes more interesting for the player and dealer. Further, your value to the casino is not your buy-in, but it's also not the sum of all your bets either. (You should never expect to be comped more than 10% of what you actually use.) If you sit out a lot, supervisors have to cut your time. It's a suit's job to keep track of what you actually play.
Smoke is tolerated at a higher level at higher stakes. This is the way of the world. When a high roller lights a cigar, no one says anything. If a guy on a $10 table lights a cheap cigar, players complain, and dealers often make faces. The player did nothing wrong by exercising the freedom to smoke. But what if that player only bets one out of ten hands or has his bets off nine out of ten rolls in craps. Everyone on the table is aware that there are dangers involved with inhaling second-hand smoke. How would you treat a customer who presents an actual threat to your health? Now think of the guy who takes a big drag and then blows all the smoke directly at the dealer's face. You, the patron, can get up and find another table. If you are the dealer you are stuck there.
On the issue of smoke, very few casinos prevent smoking on the casino floor. You may think it fair or unfair that different states have different regulations for different industries. It may be banned nationally in the future, but if you can't stand it, don't enter the industry or if you are on the patron side, find a place with good ventilation or a friendly smoke-free layout. Complaining on the floor will get you nowhere. Write the casino administrator and your Senator.
On the issue of complaints, get the right audience. No dealer sets room prices, comp rates, or the table minimum. If a mistake happens, address it. If you aren't rated fairly, discuss this with a pit boss or host. Would you want to hear someone complain about something that you have no control over?
If your dealer doesn't like the job, he or she should consider finding another occupation, but it is probably not your role as a patron to point this out. I have wanted to suggest this to many dealers when I was dealing, supervising, or playing, but I prefer to show my appreciation by tipping, filling out customer surveys, speaking to managers, etc.
If I didn't enjoy my job, I'd quit. While everything isn't perfect, it's like anything else-you have to take the good with the bad.
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