On-the-Job: A Casino Manager

This is the story of Janie Judd, who worked her way up to the position of Assistant Shift Manager at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino. Over a span of more than 20 years in Reno she held a wide range of jobs: change attendant, a dealer of blackjack, roulette, and craps, and finally management at the Hyatt in Lake Tahoe.

Before I began as a change attendant I had never thought about working in a casino and had never even set foot in one. I was barely 21 years old and had a little 6-month-old daughter I had to support.

I carried change in Reno for a couple of months. I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life, so I went to the in-house dealing school. I liked dealing because of the good money and steady work. I started out with blackjack and eventually learned roulette and craps.

Dealing can be fun, challenging, and lucrative. I found roulette to be one of the more interesting games to deal. Although it is a bit repetitive like blackjack, there are different things roulette dealers do. In blackjack it’s constantly dealing and counting the cards, and paying or taking money. In roulette dealers pick up chips, spin the ball, and move chips around on the layout. But the tips are a little bit less at roulette. Bettors tend to wager less money on roulette than on blackjack, and they tend to tip in proportion to what they are playing.

What was the most challenging part about roulette? Definitely the totaling of bets because there are so many combinations to figure out. Sometimes the math can get a bit hard. But you get used to it after a while. You’ll be able to look at the layout and know how much to pay without even thinking about it. And you have to be very diligent about watching the entire roulette table, especially when it becomes crowded. Manual dexterity also comes into play as a roulette dealer. When you are working out of a tray on the blackjack table, you just take the chips out to pay the players or pick up bets. But in roulette you have stacks and stacks of chips to slide across the table to the players. That’s why dealers receive a lot of breaks. Not only is there constant repetitive motion in roulette, but it also requires constant mental concentration in order to keep it all together.

After ten years of dealing I climbed my way up the ladder. In a casino the usual hierarchy goes dealer, floor supervisor, pit administrative boss or supervisor, assistant shift manager, shift manager, and finally, casino manager. As an assistant shift manager, I help my shift manager when he is here. On his days off I operate as the shift manager. As such, I’m basically in charge of the entire casino during that particular shift. The gaming industry is definitely a service industry now and we want people to have fun. I make sure that our customers are having a good time. But my main responsibility is still to watch the money. I have to ensure that everything is on the up and up.

Management can be a stressful job. Some days you come in and nothing goes wrong. Today – right when I got in – the phone started ringing and suddenly I had a million things to do. This person checks in, that person wants more credit, this one has won a lot, and that person is mad because he has lost too much. So anything can come up. I am generally on the casino floor because I feel I should be visible and make myself readily available if someone needs me. And it does become bewildering at times to see people blow an enormous amount of money. A lot of times I walk away shaking my head thinking that all that money could have supported me for a year! So you can get jaded after a while. But it’s important to remember it’s not you who is taking the money, it’s the game.

You can’t take it personally. You learn to realize you have no control. All the odds are built in.

The industry has changed a lot. The dealers did not have a lot of say in the old days. You made good money so you weren’t going to talk back. It is more of a guest-service industry now. For the dealer it’s no longer, "Hey, you [the customer] want to gamble, I don’t have to be nice," and for the player it’s no longer, "I have all this money so I can call you [the dealer] whatever I want." The whole industry has become a more pleasant place in which to work. You meet many wonderful people, fellow employees as well as customers. I also enjoy the games, and of course, the money I earn.

More casinos are going corporate whereas they used to be privately owned. Corporations offer better benefits and more vacation time. The industry just keeps growing. I’ve also noticed that it didn’t used to be hard to move from city to city but now it seems much more difficult after the industry opened up all over the country. I would probably not be able to go into a Strip casino in Las Vegas and still be an assistant shift supervisor. I’d lose a lot of seniority. It still isn’t too bad moving from property to property within the same area, though.

The most challenging part of my experience has been learning to deal with all the personalities of the other employees. And being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry has been a learning experience as well. Most of the craps dealers are men, the roulette dealers are women, and blackjack gets a mixture of both. Management is still mostly men, but figures are always changing. I would tell anyone interested in this industry to go for it. The stress level working in a casino is there but not always. It’s also a great career if you have children or if you are going to school because you can work almost any hours to fit into your schedule. And my suggestion is to start out with blackjack since it is one of the more basic and easiest of the games to deal. You can get the fundamentals down with blackjack. Then when you move to more complicated games you will already understand security procedures, such as how to make sure no one is cheating the house and how to show your employers that you are not cheating them. You’ll be able to focus more on the dealing itself. No dealer is expected to learn all the games, but they are somewhat more valuable when they can.

When I first started in the industry it was a complete culture shock. Having come from New York, just being in the West was exciting enough. But to never have been in a casino, to become a dealer, and be where I am now – the experience has been simply incredible.

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