Back in 1990, I moved to Las Vegas. I don’t know why, because I had no real interest in casinos or gambling, but it was there, so I went. I was about four months shy of my 21st birthday, so I could not even drink or gamble legally. I had about $500 in my pocket and the clothes on my back. The first thing I did was get a room at one of the cockroach motels on Fremont Street. Then, as I was walking down Las Vegas Blvd., I passed a building with a giant sign on it. It said “International Dealer’s School.” I paused for a second and thought to myself that this could be an interesting job. I went inside. That day, October 4, 1990, was the start of some truly strange and memorable experiences.
The staff inside told me that I would be applying for a Federal Student Loan and my tuition would be completely covered plus they would give me a check for $50 every week. Score!! I signed up. That, plus my new job at McDonald’s, would pay my weekly cockroach rent and all the Twinkies and Cheeseburgers I could eat. And, it was no scam. They really did give me the $50 check and I really did get my tuition completely covered by the Federal Government. I attended Dealer’s School for almost six months before graduating. They offered job placement assistance, but they were not able to find me a job. I left Dealer’s School with my certificate, never to return.
My First Casino Job
I would love to tell you that my first job was at the Tropicana down on the Strip dealing Craps and making $1,000 per day. Yes, dealers at the Trop did make that much in tips pretty often from what I had been told. No, I was not that lucky. I went to the Hotel Nevada on Main Street and asked for an audition. The tiny hotel/casino was located on Main Street right across from the Greyhound station and there was nothing but drug dealers, hookers and crazy homeless people walking up and down Main Street. Even worse, Hotel Nevada had cheap food back in 1991. That means the crazies would often go inside the Hotel Nevada with their plasma money to buy a sandwich and play penny slots for free beer. I am not saying that all homeless people are crazy, but I do think all drug dealers and all hookers are crazy. Worse, Nevada had just slashed the mental health budget. There were actually flocks of crazy people roaming the streets homeless. Many of them came to the Hotel Nevada to eat the $1.99 breakfast.
So I went up to the Pit Boss and asked for an audition. I was in my black trousers and freshly pressed and starched white long sleeve shirt, looking sharp. He instructed me to tap out the Dealer on their only open blackjack game. I tapped him out, he spread the double deck across the layout, cleared his hands and stepped back to the right. I stepped up to the game; there were three players. I scooped up the double deck not nearly as expertly as I thought I would. I shuffled the cards according to procedures as I was taught. Then I offered the cut to the Player on the left. He cut them, and somehow after completing the cut I ended up with the cut card on top of the double deck in my hand and I pitched the cut card to the first player. I felt a tap on my shoulder and I sighed. I didn’t even deal out one hand and the Pit Boss decided my cut card clumsiness would prevent me from getting the job. I was told to go back to school and get more practice. Later I found out that at the Hotel Nevada, the average tips for a Dealer were $3 per day. I am glad I never got hired there.
I had been trained as a Craps Dealer plus I took Roulette and Blackjack. My desire was to deal Craps more than anything. That game just looked like so much fun. So much cheering and camaraderie. Everybody seems to be on the same side hoping to beat the evil House together. And I have always been very strong in math, a skill that is required as a Craps Dealer. There are more than a hundred possible bets and a dozen different sets of odds to memorize. It is easily the most complex game in the casino. Yes, I wanted to be one of the elite, a Dice Dealer.
A few days after Hotel Nevada turned me away, I went to El Cortez on Fremont Street. Word on the street was if you were a dice dealer at the Cortez, any joint on the strip would hire you. So I went in and asked for an audition. The Pit Boss asked me to wait a moment, summoned the shift manager who talked to me. He told me that I was in luck that one of their dice dealers had just quit. So he had me tap into the Stick position on the dice table. The table was completely full and it was a 25 cent game. Ten people were throwing bets into me at the same time, shouting and making bets that cause even seasoned dealers to shake their heads in confusion. With the help of the box supervisor, I muddled through it. I don’t know why, but they kept me on Stick for an entire hour with no break. The normal amount of time a Dealer remains on Stick is 20 minutes. The other dealers were taking their normal breaks, but I was left on Stick.
Then finally I was tapped off and told to go to second base. That is the left side of the table from the stick. Dealing the base was even worse. All eight players on my side of the table were yelling at me every roll. “Press my six and eight!”, “Take down my outside bets!”, “Drop me down to single odds on my four!” Every roll every one of them wanted something changed with their bets, not to mention I had to get all their payoffs right or I was in for a fresh round of screaming and berating. It was a harrowing experience. After about 30 minutes, I started to find a rhythm. I can’t say I dealt like a champ. Not even close. But it did start to get easier. No, they did not stop their yelling all at the same time or throwing chips at me haphazardly, but I did seem to find a sort of rhythm. I thought I was doing great. They left me on the base a total of two hours. I felt my shoulder being tapped. I cleared my hands and stepped to my left, toward the boxman. My forehead was drenched with sweat, not to mention my underarms. I met the shift manager in the center of the pit and he told me that I needed to go back to school and get more practice. Arrghhh!! I had just dealt for them for three hours totally free. I didn’t get to keep any tips and I definitely got no pay. I went home to my cockroach motel room mad at the world.
One day about a month later, I went to the Union Plaza at Main and Fremont. I asked for an audition but they weren’t hiring. It was so difficult finding an opening in these casinos. I wanted something better than McDonald’s, so I went inside the personnel office. They did not call them Human Resources back then. I put in my application and put Open for my desired position. I got a call back for an interview and I was hired into my first casino job. Yes I was now … wait for it… a Hard Count Attendant. They offered me a whopping $5.62 per hour and there were no tips. Even worse, it was mandatory to work six days per week. But it was better than $4.25 per hour at McDonald’s, so I happily accepted the offer. Now it was my job to empty all the coins from all the slot machines into buckets and haul them back to the Hard Count Room. Don’t worry, there were about eight guys on my team. Once we had all the coins back in the hard count room, we would put them through counting machines, where the coins were dropped into canvas bags and they were weighed. Then we would put them through the rolling machines and put the rolls of coins into nice plastic containers. I would get off work every day at 11 a.m. and go home. Every day after work, I would shower, change into my black and whites (that’s the black trousers and white long sleeve shirt) and go check all the small casinos and ask for auditions. I would even make sure to ask two or three times each day because back then small casinos did hiring separately by shift.
Finally I Get Hired as a Dealer
One night, the swing shift manager at Golden Gate Hotel on Fremont gave me an audition. It had been a couple months and he knew me by this time. I had been going in there and bugging him about 4-5 times a week. He put me on a blackjack table and this was not my first time there, he had auditioned me now several times. I had asked him if I could come back and keep doing auditions, so I can keep getting better, even though he always told me he had no openings. I guess he liked my tenacity and he agreed. But this night, it was different. After dealing for about 30 minutes, I was tapped off the game and I met him at the podium in the center of the pit, as usual. But this time, he told me, “I have good news for you, one of our dealers didn’t show up tonight so we have an opening, can you start tomorrow night?” My heart leaped right into my throat. I had to almost catch my breath as I was so excited. I was finally going to be a casino dealer. Maybe it wasn’t Craps but it was something. I figured I could always work my way into Craps by going on the game after my shift.
He told me to sit at a dead table at the other end of the pit and fill out the application. I went into work as a Casino Dealer the next night. I was so excited that I could barely contain myself. I was issued an apron and a very goofy looking bow tie, but it was the old west kind that hangs down. It looked stupid, but I didn’t care, I was a real Casino Dealer finally. I walked proudly into the pit with my silly old west bow tie among a small crowd of scowling and whining co-workers, ready to receive my first table assignment. I went to my first game ever, a Blackjack game and Wow!! I was amazed at how bad these players smelled. The pay was $4.25 per hour and the average tips were $20 per day. But hey, it’s better than a kick in the head, right?