Working in Casinos
Cathy shares the "real deal"
Casinos have never held any interest for me. I grew up in Reno where there are slot machines in grocery stores. But there’s money in those buildings, so I got a job as a Keno writer and worked my way up to dealing Blackjack and roulette. Normal people have no idea how boring the job can be, especially Blackjack (all you do is count up to 21, over and over, for 8 hours—it’s just mind numbing!). And you can’t escape from your customers no matter how much you want to. Plus, they’re frequently drunk, which doesn’t heighten their appeal.
Sometimes it can be fun, if you’re assigned to a pit near the live music, and if it’s any good. That can also be punishing, however. I still have nightmares about an all-Chinese, all-girl band called “Nancy Chen and the Shades of Jade” trying to sing Jambalaya phonetically. Scary stuff, that.
I don’t know if it’s still true, but dealers made more money than pit bosses back then. The only people who would accept jobs as bosses were people who wanted to look important or lazy people. I worked at one casino so desperate for bosses they made a rule that if you refused a promotion you were fired. No one cared—you just walked across the street and got a new job. Few people accepted their “promotions.”
One night I was scheduled to be the “check racker” on a roulette game. That’s an assistant dealer whose sole job is to pick up the chips (we call them checks) and put them in stacks of their proper color. They use them on very busy games to speed up the play (the more games played the more money the house will get). In roulette, checks are picked up in a special way that makes them go click, click, click and that’s thought to increase the enjoyment for the players. On this table, though, there was only one player, a filthy old man.
The dealer had a very strange look on her face so I whispered, “What’s going on?” She responded, “Watch the layout.” The layout is the felt covering on the tables. I could see nothing strange, so said again “What about it?” She said, “Little tiny bugs are hopping off that man and crawling halfway across the table and then turning and going back to him.” She was right! It was so gross! Immediately you start to itch and want to vigorously wash your hands. I asked why the bosses hadn’t made him leave and she said “He keeps pulling out $100 dollar bills from his pockets, so they won’t kick him out until it’s all gone.” And that’s just what happened. I had a thorough bath after work that night.
We shared our tips (we called them tokes) and that bothered some customers. The problem with “going for your own,” though, is that you create an argument about who gets which table. Obviously tokes will be better on a “high limit” game (minimum bet $500 or more) than on a low limit or dollar game. So then you have to ingratiate yourself to the “pencil man” who makes out the daily schedule. I wasn’t interested in falling to the level one might have to sink to please the pencil man enough to get the good games. Also, after a suicide-inducing night on a dollar game, you knew you’d at least get some decent tokes and that would help alleviate some of the pain.
Once on day shift I was standing on a dead high-limit game. A “dead game” is a table with no players. Some places hire “shills” (usually pretty young women) who gamble with house money to encourage others to join in, but we didn’t have any shills around. A customer known to be very rich and very generous to dealers approached my game. I told him to choose another table because I was running very hot. But he had a few minutes to kill while he waited for his family to arrive for lunch, so he sat down. He was playing three hands, $1,000 each. In ten minutes I took him for over $17,000. Drove me bats! (I had just purchased my very first house for $17,000, which was a HUGE amount of money in MY world). As he left, laughing, he said, “You really are running hot!”
I had some really horrible customers one night and was whining to a really righteous old-school pit boss. Told him I just wanted to leap over the table and strangle them to death. He laughed and said one time in Las Vegas he’d had enough and just put down the deck, walked around the table and punched the customer. Knocked him right out of his chair. I laughed delightedly and said, “What happened to you?” He said he’d been blackballed from all the clubs for a year. I asked, “Was it worth it?” He broke out in the sweetest smile and said, “Yep.” I made it through the night floating on that smile, imagining the thrill of that one, well-deserved punch.
Your primary job as a dealer is to “protect your game.” If someone cheats on your game and you don’t catch them, you’re assumed to be a partner and you’re immediately fired. Most cheaters sit on the far ends of the table (1st and 3rd base) because they have a better chance of evading your peripheral vision. Players can “pinch or press” bets after they’ve seen their hand. That means adding to or taking away from their bets after the hand is dealt.
I usually memorized the bets of 1st and 3rd bases every hand, so I’d know if they had changed later. When in doubt, I’d “mark their bet.” If they bet 7 chips, I’d move 7 quarters to a different tube in my money tray. If the bet had changed, I could tell the pit boss that the player had cheated and I’d “marked his bet” as proof. The most fun I ever had was with a magical player who was cheating this way. I told him I knew he was cheating, and then tried to catch him at it. In an hour I never saw him do it, although because I’d marked the bets it was confirmed that they’d changed. When I left the table I went straight to the podium to report him, so he left the premises. But he was amazing!
Dealers tell each other (in code) which players are cheap (stiffs) and which toke well (Georges). For example, when leaving your game you’d say, “Third base is a George,” which alerts them to be especially nice to that one or, “Blue shirt is stiff,” so they’d do nothing to help that player.
For some reason, luck goes in streaks, so if you want a player to lose and they’re winning you can change up your shuffle or ask for a different deck of cards. Frequently that’s all that is needed to alter the outcome. Dealers’ luck goes in streaks, too, so if the house was trying to beat a specific player, bosses would go around asking “are you running hot?” and if you were, they’d put you in on that game to get the money back. I noticed I dealt hotter when I was drunk, so I’ve had bosses tell me to go next door on my break and have a couple of quick drinks so I could come back and beat some customer. True story. And it worked!
People always want to know the secrets to winning. I always responded that the secret was not to play. Automatic win! You still have your money! If forced to elaborate, I’d tell them that luck goes in streaks, so if you’re winning, let it ride. That means if you bet $1, leave your original dollar on the table and your winning dollar too. Next win it’s $4, then $8, then $16, and then $32. You’re only out $1 so far. Don’t chicken out! Let it ride. You really can win (or lose) 17 in a row. If you’re losing—LEAVE THE BUILDING. Don’t throw good money after bad. Come back some other day and always tip the dealer.
-by Cathy Bixler