Part 4: Things your Blackjack dealer knows
A new dealer can pick up a lot of things in class and on the casino floor in a very short time. You might find them interesting, so I’ll share some here.
As a new dealer, the job can be intense.
Aside from the game rules, payouts and table limits, you need to remember what everyone has bet – especially first and third base, where they’re more likely to cheat. Get the cards out fast, then count everyone’s card totals faster than they do, or they’ll be on you. Miscount the new total with the hits, on their hand or yours, and you’re an idiot. Pay no attention to what they say their total is. They’re probably saying a better number than they actually have. Take and pay winners and losers, remembering your hand total, and everyone else’s. Then keep the rack clean, and remember what your floor supervisor wants you to do first, second, third, etc. By hour eight, your brain is mush.
Dealing hurts your back
After eight hours, the constant, repetitive motion of dealing at a busy table can wreak havoc on your body. Your back hurts. Your ribs hurt. I’ve heard other dealers call it “pushing cards.”
Dealing at low-limit tables
There’s no getting around it. Everyone has to start somewhere, but there is a certain prestige associated with dealing in high-limit rooms. Dealing to the masses of players who stand three-deep to wait for a $5 table is considered the bottom of the casino ladder.
It takes a year or more to get good.
Dealer school doesn’t prepare you for the tsunami of rules, procedures and players. It’s just a start.
There’s a lot of money in the rack.
The rack at a $5 or $10 table probably contains about $35,000 in cheques. The highest value in that rack will be purple $500s. In the high-limit room, they have gold $1,000 cheques and even a few fire orange $5,000s, and the rack typically has over $300,000. Upstairs, they say, they have $100,000 cheques in a safe. They’ve never been used, but some managers have seen them.
The cheques are not as nice as you’d think
The cards are awesome. They change them every gaming day, bringing in two new, pre-shuffled six-deck packages of Gemaco casino cards at each table. But the chips can be coated in a concoction of sweat, booze, cigarette ash, dirt, and God-knows-what.
A supervisor can count your rack from two towns over
Dealers keep their rack “clean.” That means you keep it lammered off in stacks of 20 cheques whenever possible. If you have less than 20 cheques, you lammer them to make them easy to count: Five $5 cheques between lammers, four $25 cheques and a lammer, and five $100s. After that, odd numbers go on top.
Floor supervisors have the visual acuity fighter pilots, and can “read” a rack almost instantly from distances I find astounding. They can also read a stack on the table, from any angle, from about 20 feet away.
Dealers really do want to see the players win
It’s a fact. It’s not my money, so I’d rather see a player win $10,000 from the casino than watch him lose $100 five dollars at a time while cursing me.
The casino pretty much presumes everyone, including you, will steal from them.
Part of dealer orientation is meeting the investigator who will catch you if you think about taking a dollar. They’ve seen too much – too many scams and schemes pulled by the players, the dealers, the dealers working with the players, even trusted supervisors and casino officials – in the past.
Cameras are everywhere, and they’re manned. During training, a woman asked our instructor how many cameras they had in the casino. The answer is a secret, of course. (I know the number, and it is stunning.) When she asked, “How many people do they have watching the cameras?” he answered briefly. “They have enough.”
One of our instructors trained at the dawn of gaming in Atlantic City, where veterans of Las Vegas were flown in to be instructors. His first teacher was from Old Las Vegas and the days when the mob was deep into the casino industry.
“My first instructor had no thumbs,” he said.
It seems this man worked at a mob casino, and became involved in some shenanigans way back in the day. He was accused of stealing from the casino. As a punishment, the “businessmen” who ran place cut off both his thumbs.
“They liked him,” our instructor said. “If they didn’t, he would have been buried in the desert.”
My own brush with an accusation came on my second day of dealing. I was standing at a dead $10 table and a casino official in a suit came up behind me with an IPad. He looked at my rack, and looked at the IPad. “You’re short one $500 cheque,” he said. I almost crapped right there. My floor supervisor rushed over. “What’s the problem?” the Floor said. (He was known for being tough and rather abrupt.)
“He’s short one purple,” the man said.
“He is not short one purple.” said the supervisor, insisting that I had the same number the Floor had recorded. I started breathing again, but I think I saw a bright light and some dead relatives. I knew that I hadn't touched a purple cheque since arriving at work, but still imagined a body cavity search and a mugshot was coming my way.
The two men started in on each other. I heard the Floor say, “How long have you been doing this job?” the ultimate insult in the casino industry. Away they went, to where I could not hear them. My supervisor came back, so I figured someone’s IPad simply didn’t update. My integrity was saved, and this man became my new favorite floor supervisor. He could see I was still upset by it. “When you deal for me,” he said, “you don’t listen to anybody but me.”
Aside from “past-posting,” (adding a chip or peeling one off after you see your cards), players will often say a total that’s better than what they actually have. You have to ignore whatever they say, and count their total very quickly.
Players give crappy hand signals, and have somehow mastered a movement which is part hit and part stay. They’ll say what they want. Give them a good card, and they’re fine. If the card breaks them, they instantly say they never signaled the hit. Give a card they want to the next player, and they’ll swear they signaled a hit. Delay a half second or ask them for a clear signal, and you’re the worst (expletive) dealer in the world. They’ll act like they don’t understand what you said, and just sit there, holding up your game. It’s their way of trying to see the card before they decide to take it. This happens often, all day long. It sucks. It also makes you love the players who give nice, clear hand signals.
Dealing can be dangerous
Players who lose money can be dangerous, profane and threatening. Occasionally, someone says they’ll be outside when you leave. Some casinos in Vegas have dealers leave in groups through a back door into a bus with tinted windows for a trip to some parking half a mile away from the casino. We have a player who plays calmly until he busts, then hits the table so hard, he has broken his hand.
Lots of dealers get fired.
There’s a point system. When you start, you’re allowed a small number of points in your first 90 days. Go over, and you’re fired – no questions asked, no appeal, and really no animosity. They may like you, but if you get the points, you gotta go. Hint: Fail to show up for work one day, and you’ll get enough points to get fired.
Lots of dealers quit.
Experienced dealers carry a lot of information in their heads. Remember, there are no notes, phones, laptops or calculators at the tables. They have to keep it all in their heads. It has value – to your casino, and to others. During a break on my first day, my shadow told me that our casino was losing five dealers a week – more than the classes were pumping out. Were they quitting? Were they getting fired? Were other things happening? Yes to all, he said.
Floor supervisors are really nice.
I mentioned this in a previous post. It’s worth mentioning again. They’re awesome.
Floor supervisors want it done their way.
They’re awesome, but they were all trained in different places. To each supervisor, their way makes the most sense, and that’s how they want it done. As a dealer, this means every supervisor will stop by and briefly, gently tell you that just about everything you are doing is wrong, or is being done in the wrong order. They’re not doing it to be mean. They’re trying to show you a better, easier way to do it. You accept it. You thank them. You do it their way.
Your 20-minute break goes fast.
As a dealer, you really do get a 20-minute break every hour or every hour and twenty minutes – usually the latter. To get to the restroom or break room, you need to walk a good distance, then go down a couple of flights of stairs. The “back of house” is a maze to the new guy, and I got briefly lost once. If you hit the restroom, you may have five minutes to sit down before it’s time to go back up.
The pay may eventually be great.
Early in our class, we were told we’d make about $25 per hour as a dealer. One casino official mentioned $30. So you get breaks every hour and 20 minutes, a free meal in the employee dining room every shift, and $25 or $30 an hour. Sounds good. Sign me up.
But most casinos actually pay their dealers minimum wage – less if their state allows it. My casino pools and shares tokes, dividing the total for that day by the number of dealer hours. Tokes are collected by two trusted dealers, and counted in the counting room. The toke rates are posted on a bulletin board. At some other casinos, dealers keep their own tokes.
But when you’re new, not all of your hours will get a share of the tokes. Employee orientation doesn’t. On my first day dealing, I thought I was making a share. I wasn’t. On my second day, I thought I was making tokes. I wasn’t.
And the casino deducts some of the expense of hiring you from your pay. Our state charges $350 for a gaming license. The casino generously pays it up front, but takes back $70 per paycheck for 10 weeks (five paychecks). My first week’s “net pay” was $10.58. (That’s not a typo. That’s ten dollars and fifty-eight cents.)
Two weeks later, I collected two weeks of pay. I got tips for some of those days, but not all. My gross pay came out to $18.79 per hour, and net pay – after taxes, deductions and license – was a little over $13 per hour. If I make it 10 weeks, my state license will be paid off, and my net pay will go up to something around $20 per hour. I was hired part-time, so no benefits, even though you can work 40 hours a week or more. Eventually, they say, if you're over 40 hours too often, they'll have to give you benefits.
Some people never tip.
The dealers here know what I’m talking about. Some people will bet $5, get blackjack, and tip the dealer the $2.50 chip. Others won’t tip, even if they win big. I heard about a player in high limit who won over $30,000, colored up and walked away. No tip. For some, it’s an honest personal belief. For others, tipping is foreign to their culture. It is what it is, and I understand everyone is different. It’s appreciated, not expected.
It’s nice to get tokes, because it means your player is winning and happy. It’s also more interesting when the player “puts the dealer in the game” by betting the toke. If the player wins, your toke wins, too. As a dealer, I understand that if you are losing, you won’t be tipping. I’d rather see you play and win.
You are not the only dealers
The casino has professional poker dealers, separate from table games. In Las Vegas, they have “Party Pit” dealers – young women who deal while wearing lingerie. We have “dealer-tainers,” who wear tiny little dresses when they deal in certain areas. And they look very nice in their dealer uniform. We were touring the back of house and one of them walked by. When she turned a corner, I told the instructor, “OK, I am not wearing that to deal.”
He looked me up and down. “Agreed,” he said, dryly.
The casino loves VIP players
Like many casinos, we have a multi-level affinity program. There are cards – all different colors, and the top tier card. To get the top tier card at this casino, you need to drop $750,000. (Seven hundred fifty thousand dollars.)
But that may not all be from your own bank account. If a player buys in for $10,000, bets and wins, say, $30,000, then loses all of it, he or she will be recorded as losing $30,000 that day. Players who do this get pretty much anything they want. Free meals, hotel rooms, etc. One high roller player, talking to the dealers outside a class, said he can call Las Vegas and get a room on a busy holiday weekend. He said, “If I want a room, they’ll pull someone’s reservation for me.”
“For $750,000,” I thought, “they should pull someone out of the shower.”
Some people live at the casino
They’re not supposed to, but we’ve seen people sleep in the slot machine chairs, “staying overnight” inside the casino for a two days or more. The most I’ve heard of so far is four days.
The casino industry’s biggest winner is state government
The state where I work takes 55 percent of the casino’s slot machine “win” as a tax. The tax on the table games “win” is 18 percent. The state charges $350 for each gaming license, and has a gaming license “tax” of around $12 per paycheck on your pay after that. The casino serves alcohol, so there’s an LCB tax on your pay, too -- maybe $2 a paycheck. That one really gets me. (There’s a long and storied history of bootlegging in my family, and paying tax on alcohol I can’t even drink just seems unnatural.)
If you’re a history buff, you’ll know that my state’s current slot machine tax is a bit more than what Al Capone took from his illegal nickel slots back in prohibition days. (He gave half the money to the bar owners, after all.) The state simply coopted what the mob was doing by making it legal.
I’ve really enjoyed sharing what is to me a new world here on PCF. Now it’s time for me to step aside and be a spectator in this thread and read the stories of our other dealer members, past and present. If you’ve been a dealer or will be someday, you have my greatest respect. Dealers really are, as one writer described them, “carnival barkers who can do calculus in their heads.”
Thank you for reading, and for the great comments. Please continue the thread with your own stories of dealing, playing, and winning at the tables.