This word press is going to tell a story of a man who entered into a new profession as a boy and learned what it takes to be a man because of it. It will also tell of the anonymous faces this boy saw and how it impacted him to think about where he himself was heading in life. It is a peculiar trade and one that takes a lot of skill, cunning, and brutal honesty to be a part of. All of which the young man did not have in abundance before becoming seasoned in the trade. The lessons learned have branched out into other areas of his life and have allowed him to mature into the man he had always hoped to be. Or at least showed him the path. A path on which he continues to travel on to this day. This young man is me of course. Here is my story of the Casino trade.
Allow me if you will to take you into the world of gambling, entertainment, and the brutal honesty that is the Casino trade. It is astonishing to me just how much of a reflection gambling is of actual life and of how accurately you can learn about people in general by reading the dispositions of those who place their hard-earned money in the betting circle with the hope of winning big money. It is easy at first to imagine this trade to be dishonest, shady, and otherwise criminal but nothing can be further from the truth. Think about fast food if you will. How often will these large restaurants defend their food even though we all know it’s trash. They spend billions on marketing every single year and because of it they still somehow thrive. The degree to which they have to advertise a happy-go-lucky attitude about their business is to me what makes it so transparent that no one should even think about shoveling that food into their mouths.
Before we dive to deeply into that let’s start at the beginning of my career, dealers school to be precise. I had been working in fast food for 3 years prior to my enrollment into dealers school. Far too old of an age to be relying on a near minimum wage salary and answering to some of the worst humanity has to offer. Though I did build some character in the fast food trade it was but a drop in the bucket compared to just two weeks of dealer training. It started off slowly enough with learning how to handle chips, cards, and money as only a dealer can do. Each day increasing in difficulty as we would learn to quickly count card values, chip values, and dollar amounts so that we could keep games moving. At first this just meant learning how to deal the most basic and also most popular of games, Blackjack.
Our instructor was kind and patient enough to be teaching us but at the same time he was a complete smart ass and he made sure to remind us that his cruelty was nothing compared to what we would be subject to on a live game so I kept my mouth shut most of the time and just absorbed any kind of disciplinary actions taken against me because I had the feeling that there was no room for any kind of know-it-all behavior. I was exactly right to think this way as I witnessed one student after another losing their cool and being escorted out of the training facility. It became obvious to me that this job was not at all for the faint of heart. However, I myself was very faint of heart. This did not sit well with me at first but something inside me kept me going. This was the first time in a very long time that I felt myself actually giving a damn about my performance not just as a student but as a human being.
Several weeks into training it became obvious to myself and my teacher that I was becoming someone to look at with interest. Other students started to ask me questions instead of the instructor. I did not allow this to go to my head at all out of fear that any kind of arrogance would result in a return to the fast food work I had been doing. So I mostly differed this attention to my instructor. After I became more comfortable with it however, I began to be able to answer these questions with confidence and soon enough I was dealing mock games of black jack long before the other students in class.
For the first time in a long time I had a sense of pride in what I was doing. It became an art form just as much as playing guitar had for me in years past. It became clear to me that this job did not simply mean putting cards on a table then collecting and paying bets. There was much more to it than that after you learned the fundamentals of dealing cards. I started noticing subtle changes in people’s behavior when it came to different scenarios in the game. Much as professional poker players talk about when competing on TV. People cannot help but react when it comes to a game, especially when money is on the line. However, this was still true even though it was mock money on the line in class.
Let’s skip forward to my first night on a live blackjack game. It was a first night to remember as it was July 4th. The Casino was completely packed to the brim and a line of guest were in waiting to get in as the fire marshal would not allow more than capacity to enter the building. I was assigned a table in the main pit of the floor which was so crowded that it took me 10 minutes just to enter and find my place. The table was full of what I now know as a matter of routine are the most difficult people to deal to. Fifty plus year old drunk men and a whole table full at that with others in wait for when one of them got up to move on with their night. The amount of pressure, nervousness, and adrenaline that was rushing through my body is still to this day indescribable. In a moment I had forgotten every single thing I had learned in class and not only that was being cussed at, picked on, and flogged because on of the more veteran dealers had let it be known that it was my very first night on the job.
Music from the live band playing was so loud that I could barely hear anything which is an all important aspect to being a live table games dealer. You must be able to communicate certain things to your pit boss and this was nearly impossible with everything going through my mind at that point. That night I had to either put up or shut up and hand in my dealers license. My first hand went off without a snag, the second, third, and fourth as well. This was because nothing of note happened but I will never forget the first black jack I dealt was a bet made with several colors of value chips. Now days, it is something I don’t even think about but on my first night my mind drew a complete blank. A black jack will pay any bet three to two in odds. In other words a ten-dollar bet will pay fifteen dollars on any black jack which is the first two cards the player receives equaling twenty-one. Mathematically you simply take the entire amount of the bet, divide by two, and then add that amount to the original bet. On a ten-dollar bet, divide ten by two which equals 5, add five to ten which equals fifteen and then pay the bet. The bet I drew a blank on was a bet of twenty-three dollars and fifty cents. I stood there, confused, bewildered, and ashamed of myself.
Unable to figure out the payout my pit boss started pushing me to figure it out, the players cussing at me, calling me names, and myself beating myself up more harshly than that! It was one of those moments where everything goes silent and you either put forth the effort and do it or you fold like an accordion and fail miserably and decide to move on with your life. I knew I wanted this job more than anything in the world. I just got a new girlfriend, my own car, a new place to live, and was moving on with my life outside of this job so the idea of giving up now was out of the question. I started to scramble and figure out the bet one color at a time. And 5 minutes later, which is an obscene amount of time to me now, I had figured it out. The entire table of drunk old men, my pit boss, and the shift manager all cheered aloud as I stood there completely embarrassed, yet, triumphant in getting over myself and just paying the man his money.
Fast forward two years and I am a competent dealer in several different and varied games including several types of poker games. The lesson I learned that first night has never left me. That is, people, even when they’re being complete shit heads, typically just want the best things to happen for themselves and others. Even if they’re calling you every name in the book, they still want the good thing to happen. That is why this business is so god damn honest. They don’t come there expecting to win every hand or at all for that matter. What they come to do is have a good time and it is my job for that entertainment to be at my expense. That’s not to say I still let guest cuss me out and treat me like garbage like I did my first few weeks of dealing. It just means it’s my job not only to deal the game correctly but to make it as entertaining as possible for the guest.
The trick is to present the guest with such a good time that they leave me a tip, which is the bulk of my annual income. I have had experience in sales in my lifetime as well which has come in handy but one thing I’ve noticed about this job in contrast to sales is that of the level of honesty. When it comes to what I’m selling I can be utterly blunt about it where as when I was in sales I had to make the product sound better than it actually was. Here, when someone is losing and starting to get pissed off about it all I have to do is get the rest of my table to start cheering for them. I have to encourage them to have a good time despite the loss and that they are partaking in something that’s not just about them but the party atmosphere around them. They don’t want to be a party pooper do they? Hardly anyone does and those that do want to poop the party well there are other ways of handling them as well.
The most difficult guest that I encounter are the one’s who complain no matter how much they’re winning or losing. Either that or they have hardly anything to say at all. Getting them to play along is difficult but not impossible. It takes a higher level of patients and cunning to get them involved with the “party”. For example, getting the rest of the table involved with their decisions on the game can mean the different between a tip or not. If they simply are not going to tip and others are it is amusing to hear the rest of the table cuss that guest out for being a prick and not treating their dealer right. “Hey buddy, it’s not like it’s the dealers money, he wants us to win too ya jerk!”, they’ll say. To which I’ll reply, “Yeah, my boss already makes enough money, none of us have his kind of money so let’s make it together folks!” If that doesn’t work and the party pooper still doesn’t play along it only encourages the rest of the party to have more fun in spite of the pooper. It’s fascinating to me how this dynamic plays out over the hour-long period I will deal to them before I have to go on a mandatory break. Which is another interesting way of using psychology on the table.
In the state in which I work, by law, a dealer is not allowed to deal for more than an hour and twenty minutes at a time. This not only allows the dealer to gather their thoughts and clear their mind but it can also swing the game back in or out of the favor of the house. I call this dynamic “good cop, bad cop.” Much like we all see in cop movies/tv shows where cops team up on a suspect and play good/bad with them dealers can do much the same thing. For example, for an hour I might be “dumping” to the table which simply means paying out a lot of money on each hand. This gets the party atmosphere in high spirits while I’m there but then my break comes and a new dealer is there for the twenty minutes I’m away. The new dealer now may be impossible to beat. This is all a part of the fun of gambling. When I get back from break after the new dealer takes back most if not all of their chips the guest will rejoice in my return and offer up tribute in the form of either handing me tips or placing dealer bets so that I can play along. As the bad cop a dealer learns not to take the insults personally and realizes they have played their part in a mind game that results in more tips than usual.
Now you may be saying to yourself that this is some how shady and dishonest but is it really? We aren’t allowed to ask for tips directly and in my opinion this is a good thing because it is more professional to actually earn those tips by providing an entertaining experience rather than cheaply asking for tips out right. Not only can a dealer lose their job but in my opinion it cheapens the entire experience for the guest and the dealers as well. Regular guest know what is going on and not only are happy to tip but realize it adds a lot more to the party like atmosphere going on. These are the guest we rely on most to ensure a great time for everyone playing and after so long you develop really tight and awesome bonds with them. But for every guest like this there are ten who just do not get it. This is where the artistry of everything I just talked about comes in to play.
Often times I feel like a rock star on his own unique stage because people know my name by word of mouth and I find regulars returning to my tables every single week just to have a good time of which I am very happy to oblige. It is just as important for me to have a great time as it is to make money at my job and that is why I absolutely love what I do. This job has not only helped me financially but has helped me mature into the young man I always hoped I would be. It has motivated me to make other changes in my life. Like caring about my appearance, the way I socialize with others, and how I treat my personal life with loved one’s and friends. At the end of the night when I am ready to clock out there are always stories to be told, merriment to be had, and friendships to be maintained. Some times I help count up all of our tips for the day and I can tell you that I and the other dealers all take pride in every single red cent we get. We do not think of our guest as suckers and they do not think of us as scam artist. We develop a bond with them much as a bar tender would his guest.
I honestly believe this is one of the most honest trades in the world because no one forces anyone to place those bets on the table. We even go so far as to explain the best odds possible and that there is not one single game in the entire casino which has the guest best interest at heart. Why then do people keep putting their money in the circle? I say it’s because of the thrill of the chase, the good people they’re surrounded with, and the memories they create while there. Sure, people get lucky and make a lot of money some times but more often than not people will spend what they bring every time they come and yet they return the next week. That tells me there is something else at play. Something intangible and valuable to humanity involved with gambling. Something that only people in the entertainment business truly understand and have mastered over the years. It’s the same reason you pay to go see your favorite bands, or go to the movies, or even take your friends or co-workers out to a nice restaurant. Once the money becomes irrelevant and you are simply having the time of your life you quickly realize that what you are betting on is having a great time.