On-the-Job: Blackjack Dealer

Colin Hupp relocated to the Lake Tahoe area, landing his first job at Harvey’s Resort Hotel and Casino. He worked his first six months there as a pit clerk, then as a blackjack dealer for a year and a half. Duties as a pit clerk included operating computers in gaming areas to track players, cutting markers, entering forms, and issuing comps for the marketing department. As blackjack dealer he was on the frontlines with customers. Responsibilities entailed handling money, dealing blackjack according to house procedures in a high-pressure environment, and monitoring fair play.

I came to Lake Tahoe sight unseen, not knowing really what job I would get.

I saw an ad in the paper for pit clerk at Harvey’s and applied. I had a little previous computer experience, but I had never worked in a casino before.

As a pit clerk, a lot of my responsibilities entailed tracking the games, tracking players’ betting history for comps, and printing out markers. The job of pit clerk is really very straightforward. It mainly involves data entry. There are computers at all the pit stands and as a pit clerk, I would go wherever the pit bosses would send me. Like if someone needed a marker in pit six, I’d go over there. Basically you’re an assistant to the pit bosses. You do whatever they tell you. It’s not a hard job. It was easy to learn, and there’s no interaction with the public, not like there is with being a dealer. Of course, being a dealer is where the money’s at. As a pit clerk I was making something like minimum wage with no tips, but working as a dealer, you make so much more because of the tips. Most people work as a pit clerk for six months or a year and then they apply to become a dealer. That’s what I did. At Harvey’s they have their own dealer school, which I think is true for most of the Lake Tahoe casinos. I applied, went through the two-week in-house training, auditioned at a live-action game, passed, and soon after began working as a blackjack dealer. I was on a pretty good schedule. I worked four ten-hour days, from 9pm to 7am, and then had three days off.

Working as a blackjack dealer at times was like, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this!” It was really fun. But then sometimes it’s like any other job with good days and bad days. You know one thing about being a dealer you had better like people. But it’s not like being a bartender or some other service-related position. For example, as a bartender, if you don’t like a particular customer, you just serve him his drink and then move down the bar. You don’t have to talk to him. When you’re dealing, you’re stuck there with six people in front of you for who knows how long. And it never fails, a beautiful woman comes up and you want her to win so she’ll stick around, but she’ll lose. After a couple of hands, she’s out of there. But some old guy comes up to your table, and he can’t lose. He’s there for like three hours. It’s funny that way. And if you’re working the low minimums, anyone with $3 can come to your table. At that level, there’s no telling who’s going to show up.

Blackjack is a card game and a lot of it has to do with luck. I just basically dealt the cards. Some nights I couldn’t lose; other nights, I felt like I just was giving trays of chips away. But in the end, the casino always makes more than it gives out. The casino knows the odds and how much it can make off the games and the player knows the odds, but still people come to play.

I would say dealing is the easiest job in the whole casino in relationship to the money you’re making. I call it the “golden handcuffs.” The money is so good, you don’t want to look for another job, even when you start to get burned out. After a while, you don’t hear the bells and noise of the casino. What starts to bother you are the crowds. And being on your feet for so long. Another thing I didn’t like was the mandatory overtime. If the casino gets busy and they don’t have enough dealers to cover the spread, the boss will come up to you and say, “Sorry, OT today,” which means cancel your plans, you’re working overtime today. But then when it’s not busy, they’ll send you home early. It’s what’s called a “force-out.” But that’s just the nature of the business.

As far as skills one should have in order to be an effective dealer, I’d say it’s very important to be able to count quickly. Good math skills are a must. A big part of your job as dealer is counting out chips, handling money, and dealing the game according to the house procedures. Pit bosses, who really have a lot of say as to who’s hired for the dealing jobs, look for people who are, obviously, very trustworthy and can keep track of money. You know if you have a history of say, armed robbery, you’re not going to get hired to work in a casino. You’re also under the scrutiny of the county sheriff’s office. You have to be licensed and they do an extensive background check.

There are tons of jobs here, most of them entry-level. The turnover rate is really high because this is such a seasonal town. People are always coming and going, but the best time to land a job in a casino is either in the fall or the spring. The quickest route to becoming a dealer is to take a job as a pit clerk. It’s almost by default that pit clerks become dealers because they’re already juiced in with the pit bosses. The bosses have a lot of pull as far as who gets hired on as a dealer, and if you are already working for them, and they know you and like you, it’s a sure thing.

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