Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Take Your Readers to Work Day

I've been living and working here in Las Vegas for almost a year and a half now, and I swear I've averaged about three visitors a month since I've been here--that's a lot of buffoonery. One thing I've noticed while we're sitting in a lounge somewhere sipping on rum drinks, is that everyone seems to be fascinated by my decision to move out here and work in a casino. So most of the questions I'm asked seem to revolve around that theme. Because of that, I've compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions I get from readers either through email or in person once they arrive in here in town and we hook up.

Hopefully it'll give you a sense of life in Vegas as a casino dealer, so in the timeless words of superagent Drew Rosenhaus, Next question!

How long have you been dealing and where did you start?

I arrived in Las Vegas on the last Friday in February of 2005. I started dealing school the following Monday morning. After about four or five weeks I got my first job dealing dice at the Golden Gate downtown on Fremont Street. About three weeks later I got an audition at xxxxxx and was hired on the spot. It took about two weeks to get all of the processing and paperwork done, and my first day behind the table was May 7th, a Saturday night. That night I made $205 in tips, and compared to the $650 I was making every two weeks at the Golden Gate, I immediately sensed that my days down on Fremont Street were numbered. I quit that job a month later.

Which games do you deal?

I deal basically everything in the casino, including the carnival games, except Roulette and Baccarat. I went to Baccarat classes a couple of times when they were offered at work, but I hated it. The game holds absolutely no interest for me, and the players generally don't speak much English and don't seem to care to talk when playing. And betting on it is like betting on a coin landing on heads or tails. Dull.

After I got my first dealing job, I realized I may have made a mistake by learning dice instead of roulette--all the hot women play roulette, while all the grouchy old farts with questionable grooming habits play dice. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but there's more than a nugget of truth in the observation. Besides, because I can deal dice, I'll always have a job in this town.

Tell me about a typical day working in the casino.

Well, my shift is 8:00 pm till 4:00 am. I usually arrive at the casino around 7:15 or so and my first stop is the podium in the pit that's not open until later in the evening to sign in the payroll book, the toke book, check the toke amount from the previous night, and to see the roadmap to see which games and which order I'll be dealing them. If I'm not on dice, I'm generally on three other table games, and 90% of the time it's the World Poker Tour Holdem game, 3-Card Poker, and a $10 Pai Gow table. Sometimes on the weekends, however, I'm in the 'Party Pit' dealing nothing but $5 blackjack--but that doesn't happen all that often. I'll also check the memo book for messages from the bosses--procedures change all the time. I also find out who the other three people are on my string of tables, just in case I'm the 'relief' dealer and somebody doesn't show up.

After signing in and finding out all the info I need for the upcoming shift, I head back into the bowels of the casino to the uniform room to get a clean shirt--we get three shirts, and they dry clean them after every shift. I have a gold one, a red one, and a blue one, and no, the colors aren't significant like some folks want to believe. For instance, coincidentally everyone on the dice table is wearing their blue shirt on the same night--it doesn't mean that the dice dealers have to wear blue, but I've heard several players make that assumption in the past. We have to provide our own black pants, socks, shoes, and undershirt. Anyhow, after I get a shirt, it's off to the locker room to get changed, then stash my street clothes in my locker. At that point I usually have about 25 minutes or so to go to the Employee Dining Room, or TDR in casino parlance, for a quick bite before my shift starts.

I could write a whole post about the food in the TDR, and I probably will in the near future, but not now. But all the other dealers trickle in at that time and everyone chit chats or bitches about which string of tables they're on. At ten till the hour, we all head out and walk the 'beige mile' from the TDR to the main pit. All of the dealers linger around at the end of each pit they're assigned to and make sure the three other people on their string are present. If they are, the relief dealer takes the first twenty minute break and heads back to the dining room.

We have to take out the Day Shift dealers at 7:55, so if you're in the casino at the time, you'll see a mass influx of fresh dealers sitting down, and an exodus of worn out people suddenly perking up and heading for the exit.

Depending on the order of tables on my string, I'll deal my first table for either 20 minutes, 40 minutes, or a full hour, then take a break for twenty before going to my next table. After that it's pretty routine--an hour dealing, then a twenty minute break. The first thing you learn as a new dealer is that if you get the first 'long' table (the first full hour), then you get tapped out for break at 3:40, and get to go home early. However, it doesn't always work out that way, especially on Swing Shift when tables get closed as the night wears on and they move dealers around.

Anyhow, it's usually a slow start--I usually fumble the cards on the first shuffle or two, or my cutting checks to make change is somewhat sloppy, but after a few minutes I'm back on autopilot, dealing the cards, cracking jokes, and trying to drop a toke or two.

This goes on for hours, and sometimes you have a miserable table with whiney and stiff players that you can't wait to get away from, or sometimes you're on a dream table full of attractive gals in low-cut tank tops who are tipping you every hand and you never want to leave. Regardless, it's back to the dining room for a few minutes to relax, slouch, and sip on an iced tea or eat an ice cream cone. Lately though, I've been trying to just eat salad or fruit when I'm nibbling each break.

Finally, the shift ends, and I'm usually pretty tired. Even dealing the sit-down games in Chinatown are exhausting because it's a mental workout. Basically you're doing nothing but math all night long. Not hard stuff like long division or differential equations, but figuring 5% commissions or calculating jackpots or big payoffs on odd-sized bets, in addition to counting to 21 about 400 times an hour when dealing blackjack.

If I'm lucky enough to get the 3:40 am push, the first order of business is to partner up with another dealer who also just got tapped out, get a key and a canvas bank bag and we go around to all of the tables in the casino emptying the toke boxes. It's a big job on the weekends when we have over 40 tables open, but usually there are several sets of dealers collecting the tokes. After the bags are full and the boxes are empty, we have a few 'treasure boxes' we dump them in and they're put under lock and key until Security fetches them a few hours later.

Once that chore is done, I sign out, clock out, toss my shirt in the laundry chute and head for the door. If it's the weekend, a bunch of us will stop by the bar for free beers from our favorite bartender. If it's not, it's home for a shower and some websurfing before hitting the sack.

What was the biggest win you ever participated in as a dealer?

One night we had an extremely hot dice table, and a couple of guys were there for almost 16 hours, coloring up for almost $40,000 apiece (on a $5 table, too!). We worked our asses off that night, but we made a ton of money.

The biggest single winning hand I ever paid was $8000. The table limit was $2000 per hand, but the player had to split twice and double down once, and I ended up busting.

What was the worst smackdown you've ever administered upon a player?

One night I took a guy for over $20,000 in less than eight minutes on the blackjack table. It sucked too, because every camera in the place was focused on my table, along with every floorperson. And the guy was a great tipper, but unfortunately I wiped him out. He's never played at my table since.

What's the best thing about being a casino dealer?

Actually there are a lot of great things about dealing. The money is good, the job is relatively low-stress, and I absolutely don't take it home with me, which wasn't the case all the time when I was an equities trader. The company I work for treats me well, and the bosses, for the most part, are mellow and don't sweat the money. I get to be 'on stage' for eight hours every night and be goofy, so it's pretty fun. There's always lots of good scenery to ogle in the casino, and the occasional freak show of human drama unfolding right before your eyes is also a bonus. But I think best thing is that I enjoy the work I do, and I enjoy working with the people I work with. I look forward to going to the casino every night, which I can't say was the case in my past occupations.

What's the worst thing about being a casino dealer?

Probably the sacrifices--I no longer have weekends or holidays off. I can't spend time with my friends as much as I'd like when they come to town. I also have very limited time off until next spring, so the lack of vacation really sucks--I'm bound by the neon handcuffs. There are other downsides to working in a casino--inconsiderate smokers (usually the Europeans are the worst), stiff players, players who whine and bitch even when they win, and spineless dual-rate floor supervisors who can't handle tough situations or don't know the rules of the games they are supervising.

What are your favorite and least favorite games to deal?

I love dealing the World Poker Tour holdem game. It's fun, relaxing, but complicated enough that not everyone can deal it, so it's got kind of an 'exclusivity' to it, not unlike dice. As far as carnival games go, I really enjoy 3-card poker, too. I also really like to deal dice, but I don't think I like it as much at our casino because of all the local fleas that come in every night. If I could ban about 25 certain people from ever playing at my table, I would. But that's a shortsighted view, because they really do create action for us and help us make money. But I confess that I hate the strokers and fleas, although I know that we need them.

Because I'm still not an 'expert' dice dealer, I think I'd rather deal it on Thursdays and Mondays when it's not as busy. I think that would be ideal, with my other three nights dealing my regular string in Chinatown with the carnival games and pai gow, then going to blackjack once or twice late at night once those tables start closing down.

As far as least favorite games go, everyone hates dealing Let It Ride, including me. Ugh. Luckily I've dodged that punishment for about the four or five weeks. I also dislike very much any single-deck variation of blackjack. It seems like all you do is spend an hour shuffling, and if you're six feet tall like I am, you'll notice very soon that the height of the blackjack tables is about three inches shorter than your comfort level, so it wears you out fairly quickly.

On which games do you make the most tips?

3-Card Poker is a huge moneymaker for the dealers, but blackjack is our bread and butter. Craps is inconsistent--some nights it's huge, some nights the toke boxes look pretty dusty. We usually don't make shit on games like Let It Ride or Pai Gow, unless somebody hits a good-sized jackpot.

What was the biggest tip you've ever made?

Individually, players only allowed to bet a maximum of $300 per hand for the dealer. That's because the casino knows that once it goes in the toke box, they'll never get any action on that money. So a tip bigger than that needs supervisor approval. I've dropped $200 a few times when dealing high-limit blackjack and the player put up a black chip for me. Once in awhile we'll hit a blackjack for $250 total, but the floor knows about it because we have to call out 'black action' whenever somebody is playing a hundred or better.

On the dice table, we've gotten 'a thousand and down' a few times when players put us up for a hundred on the hard six or eight. That's always nice.

Being a locals casino, we see the same players every night, and a lot of times they bring in gifts for us. Generally it's a no-no, but as long as it's nothing major and the bosses know about it, they'll usually give the ok. I've gotten cigars and such from players, and on holidays people always bring us candy and baked goods, too.

What were your best and worst money days as far as tokes are concerned?

Since I've been there, we've had a few days over $300, but not that many. We're generally high-fiving each other if we get over $200 in addition to that $56 the casino pays us every day. The worst day I've had was $96--luckily that was the only sub- c-note day I've worked the entire time I've been there. What sucks is comparing it to Caesars Palace, where they average about $325 or more per day, or the Wynn, where it's 4 bills+ every day. But it sure beats the hell out of most places.

What's the most interesting thing you've seen while working?

I'm always amazed at how much money people can keep digging out of their pockets while butting their heads up against monster losing streak. It makes me wish I had a magic pair of pants that kept dispensing hundred dollar bills.

It's always interesting to watch people trying to take shots on a game and then get caught--it happens on dice all the time, and every now and again on blackjack. I also never get tired of watching drunks trying to hit on the cocktail waitresses--it's enabled me to compile a pretty good list of really bad pickup lines. Watching the hookers work the room is always fun, but the most interesting thing I've seen was an attractive gal walking through the casino one night wearing nothing but high heels, lace panties, a silk teddy top, and bunny ears. Somebody had a very happy Halloween last year...

Ever see anyone famous?

Since we're not on the Strip, it's not a trendy spot to be seen, so there aren't many Hollywood types lurking about, but the most famous person to stop at my table was Robin Williams. He didn't play, but stood there for a minute or two chit-chatting with the floorperson before people recognized him and drove him away. I get a few of the more recognizable professional poker players on occasion, and about three weeks ago I was dealing dice to somebody who I recognized from being in movies or something, but I couldn't place it for several hours. I could tell that he knew I recognized him, too, but offered no clue to his identity. I never found out his name, but before the night was over, I realized that he had a bit part on a past episode of The Sopranos from one of the early seasons, getting capped in his one and only appearance.

Ever get an indecent proposal?

At least once a week. Unfortunately, it's never from anyone I'd be tempted to say yes to. And people promise me all kinds of stuff if I'll just please deal them a winning hand, kind of like soldiers praying in a foxhole when the shelling starts, I suppose.

Do the people that sit down at your table usually know how to play the games?

Generally, yes, but about 15% of them have no clue how to play--this is especially true at the dice tables and the $5 blackjack tables. Dice, I can understand, but I don't know how somebody can make it to adulthood and come to a casino with a pocketful of money without having the most rudimentary grasp of how to play blackjack.

Some of the carnival games need explanation, and a lot of people don't know how to play Pai Gow when they first sit down, but they usually have it figured out within an hour or so. And I'm teaching somebody how to play the WPT poker game at least once a night.

What's the deal with yelling out 'Money plays' or 'Checks play' all the time?

The floor supervisors have to keep track of all the cash going into the drop box each night, so whenever money is played, they have to know about it. Also, they know exactly how many much money is in the rack at all times, so when somebody starts betting big, we have to call out 'checks play' to notify them that 1) there might be a big payout coming, and 2) so they can watch to see if someone is counting cards or something along those lines. If somebody is betting ten bucks a hand and suddenly bumps it up to a hundred, it's a fairly good indicator that they're trying to track the shoe.

Also, some people on Vegas discussion boards advocate pocketing the black or green chips when the floorperson isn't looking so you can ask for more comps under the false assumption that if you lose more money, you get more comps. First of all, the pit knows exactly how many green and black chips are in play, and even I know as a dealer how many black chips you've put in your pocket. If my table opens with $6000 in black in the rack, and I haven't colored anyone up with black, yet I only have $4800 in black an hour later, I know that you've got $700 worth in your pocket to go with the five blacks sitting in front of you on the table. It's not rocket science.

And the casino doesn't care how much you've won or lost. It's how much action you've given. You bet ten bucks a hand until the floorperson walks up and then bet $50, guess what, you're still rated at ten bucks a hand. You can't outwit the system. All they have to do is look at the rack and look at your stack. Money doesn't disappear from the table.

What are the most common questions you're asked while at work?

Which way to the cage, which way to front desk, what time does _______ restaurant close. But the all-time most frequently asked question, which I get about three dozen times a night, is Where is the restroom?

Hope all this gives you some insight into life in the green felt jungle. If you have any further questions, fire away in the comments section and I'll answer them all later in the week.


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