I work at an Indian casino in the Midwest. I think there are only four states that don’t have Indian casinos in them. They’re almost everywhere at this point.
I deal all sorts of games — blackjack, baccarat, and all of these made-up poker games they’ve invented so people can play against a dealer instead of against each other. So, like, three-card poker and four-card poker, and there’s a variation of Texas Hold’em, and silly things like something called Casino War. God knows why you’d want to play these things, but you can.
People like these games because in real poker there’s all this psychology of trying to read what the other players are doing. You don’t have to do that when you’re playing the casino version against the dealer. You don’t have to guess if anyone’s bluffing or anything. All you have to do is figure out if you have a good enough hand to bet or not. It’s a strictly mathematical decision. Of course, people who play real poker would say that’s silly because in the made-up games against the dealer, the odds are always against you. While if you’re playing poker against real people and you’re good at reading them, you can actually win. But still, most people play against the house anyway, knowing the house has the edge, acting on some level like they just don’t believe it.
People are weird. Really weird. I always have players at my table who insist that the casinos cheat, that the shuffling is rigged somehow, that somehow we know how to give the dealer the best hand or somehow hit you with a card that’s going to break you when you’ve got 15 in blackjack. Of course, that’s impossible. We don’t shuffle. The machine shuffles. I’m just dealing the cards and handling the money. But the players seem to honestly believe that we can cheat — and they come in and play anyway. That’s the thing that blows me away. They think we’re ripping them off, and they still come in and sit down and play for hours?
I’ve worked here about four and a half years. I live about 15 minutes away. I usually get a ride with one of my co-workers. The casino itself is a very large three-story building. We have a hotel next to it that’s 20 stories high. You can see it for miles. We have an employee entrance, and you go in, you put your uniform on. Everybody who works here who isn’t some sort of manager has some colorful sort of uniform so you can tell exactly what they do. I always say, everybody’s color-coded for your convenience. Table game dealers, slot attendants, cashiers. Waiters and waitresses — and there are different ones for each restaurant. The housekeepers, they wear black so they don’t get dirty. I guess they’re supposed to look invisible.
Once you’re changed, you go and find out what you’re doing for the day. They have a road map set up on the wall. It’s organized by each pit, and you find your name and it tells you where you are and what you’re dealing. You won’t know until you get there. There’s always a little surprise.
Most games you deal standing up. They have a few sit-down blackjack tables because you get people in wheelchairs and such that want to play, and they’re trying to be accommodating. But that’s it. Everything else I do is standing up, which is tiring.
You have to learn to filter a lot of stuff out if you want to concentrate. Because when you’re dealing, you’re doing everything quickly in this loud place with flashing lights and the players always watching you, and supervisors, and you’re always on camera. You have to get over the fact you’re always being watched.
I was scared out of my wits for a while when I started. I wasn’t used to working in public. I had always worked in offices in a quiet environment where people are doing mental work in front of a computer. Here, everything is very public. You get all these people standing around. Probably doesn’t bother a lot of people, but it makes me feel a little claustrophobic. I’m basically an introvert; I don’t like being around crowds of people.
Some people are friendly and want to chat, some just want to be left alone to their cards. You have to try and read them because some people will complain if the dealer never talks to them. You have to figure it out for yourself. The ones who want to talk want to talk about pretty casual things. It’s kind of like being a bartender. I don’t really want the players to get to know me that well. For the most part I don’t really want to get to know them. I don’t feel like we have much in common. Some of them are definitely icky. A lot of them are.
The other day, I’m dealing roulette. There are a bunch of players and bets are scattered around as usual. I spin; 14 hits. And the important part of the story is that 14 is red and in the second 12.
The first thing you do as a dealer on roulette when a number hits is pick up all of the losing outside bets — the ones not on a specific number. So I’m doing this, and there are no bets on the second 12. There’s $30 on black, but since that’s a loser, I pick it up.
I do that, and a player says, “Hey, you picked up my winner!”
I ask him what bet he means and he says, “The second 12!” I explained to him there was no bet on the second 12, and the bet I had picked up was on black, which had lost.
And he says, “Yes, you did!”
Okay … fine … If he wants them to review the video from the camera, let’s do that. Better to just check the video than to argue with players. So I pull my paddle and call the floor manager and explain what happened.
So now the guy realizes I’m not going to just pay him, and he changes his story. He says the $30 had been on the winning spot, but someone — he points to another player — moved it. This is not actually our responsibility, but the floor manager goes and calls surveillance.
We wait a few minutes. The floor manager comes back and says to give him $10. That’s kind of weird, but okay. I give him $10. The floor manager talks to him. I can’t really hear the conversation because the live band is playing. I just see that the guy gets all pissed off and says we need more cameras and that’s bullshit that he isn’t getting paid on his bet. He leaves along with a friend who had been with him.
When I go on break, the floor manager tells me what really happened: The guy had $10 on the second 12, and his friend (not the person he had pointed out) had moved it to black. She gave him his $10 back as a courtesy just to keep the game moving. But this is a fine example of why you never want to believe anything players tell you without checking it out.
There are some casinos, like if you’re in Las Vegas, most of the players are on vacations. We get a bit of convention business, but mostly we get a local crowd, and I think that actually makes a difference. The people on vacation tend to be a good deal more pleasant. If you’re on vacation, you’re there to have fun and you probably have a budget set aside for gambling so you’re a lot less uptight about losing it. We get a lot of regulars and some of them really are in here every day. I don’t think most of those guys are having fun anymore. You wonder, why is someone going to do something every day or every week when all they’re doing is complaining about not winning. I’m sure there’s an addiction element to it because they don’t seem to be having fun, but they don’t stop.
Most people who work here are in their 20s. For a lot of people, it’s their first or second job out of school. You don’t need a college degree for it. I got into this because I was out of work for almost two years and I knew someone here who was a poker dealer. It’s very hard to become a poker dealer because they earn a good deal more than we do. But they always need blackjack dealers and so I decided to give it a go.
They pay as a base wage plus tips. I think all casinos do it that way. It comes out to about $17–$18 an hour. About two-thirds of it is tips. A lot of players don’t tip. We find that very irritating of course. We’re always thinking what a great job it would be if everyone tipped, but not everyone does.
I do feel grateful, though, to have this job. Employers in this job market are very fussy about hiring people who have exactly the right skills and have done exactly what they are looking for for the last five years. Casinos don’t really care about that stuff. If you can do the work, and you’re reliable, they’ll have you no matter what you did before.
Almost nobody goes to school planning to be a table dealer. We have one guy, that’s always what he wanted to do. He grew up in Atlantic City. Now he’s a pit boss, he’s been doing it for 25 years. And he loves it. But most people are like me, it’s something we switched into. It’s a second or third career or it’s a temp job. It’s a really good thing to look into if you are out of work or you’re looking to change careers because they’re not that fussy about what people used to do, and they will train you.
Still, I have to say: My work does not have a whole lot of meaning for me. We do entertain people and it’s important for people to have whatever they think is entertaining in their lives. But do I think I am somehow greatly improving the human condition? The answer is no. I don’t think it would be any great loss to humanity if casinos disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow. I’m sure there are some people who are coming in and it’s doing them no good at all. I feel pretty neutral about being involved in it because people have free will. We don’t make anybody come in or stay longer than they should. You’re supposed to be grown up and know if you can afford to gamble or not.
I’m looking to get out of it. I’m getting too old to work for ten hours a shift on my feet. It’s physically wearing me out. I sometimes feel like all I do is work and then sleep to recover from the work. I don’t have the energy to do anything fun. You’re working in this huge crowd of people and you’re lonely.