A casino dealer is never supposed to stand out. If they do, it’s rarely for a good reason.
When dealers do their job properly, they’re practically part of the furniture – expertly shuffling cards, doling out chips and keeping the game moving along without much notice.
Players might be tempted to lump them in with wait staff or doormen; just another server there to make their experience complete. If you’ve ever played in a casino, maybe you’ve thought the same.
But the moment something goes wrong – whether it’s a poorly pitched card, an incorrect payout or a slowly dealt game, the dealer stands out like a sore thumb, with a table of irate players ready to jump all over their mistake.
Because honestly, how hard can it be to deal cards?
Actually, a lot harder than you might think. In fact, you’d probably be shocked to learn just how skilled dealers have to be to get behind that table in the first place. To find out just what it takes, we spoke with seasoned pros Marc Shumsker, Matt Costa and Susan Wheatley, who told us about all about their decades of collective experience at the tables.
The road to the casino starts in the classroom.
You don’t need to have a college degree to become a casino dealer – but those imagining a smooth waltz out of their weekend poker night and into the pit of a glitzy casino are in for a rude awakening.
In a casino, there’s no margin for error. A misdeal could mean the difference between a customer winning a fortune or losing an arm. Stakes are high, cheating runs rampant and players are impatient.
Anyone hoping to land a job on the floor should expect 80 – 100 hours of in-class time spent mastering just one game (usually blackjack) – and all of that will only get them a shot at an audition for a job.
In my ten years of teaching, I’ve required 80 to 100 hours minimum in classroom time and I expect my students to give just as much practice time at home. I teach “baby steps”; once you’ve mastered one step, move on to the next. Go to bed thinking about blackjack pay outs and wake up counting your deck down.
Dealers must know how to shuffle, pitch cards, cut chips, quickly calculate payouts and enforce even the most obscure rules at a professional level – all while keeping the game moving, watching for cheaters and proving they’re not cheating themselves.
Oh – and they’ve got to be friendly and welcoming, too.
At any given moment, a dealer must be doing at least 3 things at once: Dealing, pitching cards, moving chips, sweeping cards, monitoring the player’s actions for hand signals and betting motions, and protecting the game from cheaters.
Roulette: A test of mathematics
One of the most important jobs a dealer has is quickly and accurately figuring out who gets paid what at the end of a hand. Pay out too little and you’ll have angry players. Pay out too much and you’ll have an angry boss. Take too long figuring it out and everyone will start to get impatient.
Hit the start button to try it out for yourself. You’ll be presented with some bets in a game of roulette and it’s your job to figure out the winnings if that number comes up. We’ve even made it easy for you by offering multiple choices!
Practice, practice, practice!
Take, for example, the average 4 – 9 week blackjack class: The first few weeks focus on the mechanics of dealing. Students spend entire days just learning proper shuffling technique, how to cut chips and the basics of pitching cards while building up their manual dexterity. Eventually, dealers are taught the basic rules of the game, along with how to take losing bets and discard.
You work on memorizing a few things at a time and automate them, let them be, and then move on and memorize a few more things, always trying to get better.
Even the basics don’t come easy, and in-class time will never be enough to prepare for the audition.
A lot of students don’t understand that class time alone is rarely enough to be ready for an audition. Without putting the extra time in and working on the skills at home, a student is destined to struggle...
Adding to the challenge, professional casino dealers must “deal to the cameras”, requiring unnatural hand movements that strain previously unused muscles. They must also unlearn behaviors most of us do without thinking.
Susan Wheatley, an experienced dealer and instructor, shares just a few skills that must become second nature:
Always clear your hands (showing them both face up and face down) every time you drop money in the drop box – and never cover your mouth, not even to cough (you could be hiding a chip in your mouth).
Never give or take anything from a player hand to hand; money must always be placed on the table first.
Always “walk” your game – dealing hip to hip when delivering cards to players. A dealer giving the first person a hit card must see the person sitting on the opposite side of the table, otherwise, the player can “take a shot” by adding or subtracting from their bet.
Never turn your back from the table for any reason – a dealer must always look straight ahead, even when on a “dead game” – and never cross your arms, giving the impression you’re bored.
In later weeks, students are pitted against each other - one dealing while the others play. Instructors watch and make corrections, but never take it easy on the students. As the dealing gets faster, teachers ramp up the pressure by asking students to challenge one another - surrendering illegally, incorrectly adding bets or swapping cards when the dealer isn't looking.
As the in-class auditions approach, obscure scenarios are introduced to games more frequently, training dealers to handle tough situations and odd bets while keeping their cool and watching their mechanics. The pressure intensifies, and skills start being timed.
Be too slow to deal and you’ll never even make it to the audition.
Counting chips: A test of visual recognition
Dealing at a professional level means making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible, with a minimum of interruptions and delays. A long-time veteran will know, almost at a glance, how much money they’re handling. Try it for yourself – how quickly can you count stacks of chips and get the game moving again?
Auditions are ruthless
To earn an in-class audition and pass the course, students typically must be able to shuffle a 6-deck shoe in under two minutes. That won’t fly in a casino, however – there, dealers are given only a minute and ten seconds. Shuffle too slowly, and you’ll be warned. Fail to improve, and you’ll be let go.
After a week of practicing, I was still barely breaking three minutes. I didn’t get down to 2 minutes until week 2 or 3. Dealers make it look easy – it’s anything but when you’re new to it.
In an audition, every one of the dealer’s skills will be tested in real time.
They create challenging situations, taking shots as players may do… by the end of the audition, dealers are often sweating and their nerves are shot. There are so many details it’s nearly impossible for a student not to get corrected all the time. The rare dealers who do everything right don’t get praised either - judges sit silently, watching for errors.
Passing an in-class audition awards a certificate. But the real challenge is yet to come: A live audition in a casino with real players, real money and a real job on the line.
My first casino audition was a blur - I was so nervous that I didn't remember it at all when I walked away. It consisted of two 7 minute sessions on separate blackjack tables at a live casino on a busy Friday night. Because the audition involves correctly handling the money of players, there are real consequences to messing up. The casino may not want to hire you or players might get upset - and it will be your fault.
Dealers auditioning for a casino job must deal a variety of games chosen by the casino manager. Sometimes, but not always, a dealer can find out the games ahead of time. $2-$5 No-Limit Texas Hold'em, $4-$8 Limit Omaha 8 or better, and $1-$5 Seven Card Stud are a few of many possible examples – but it typically comes down to the most popular games at that casino.
The manager evaluates the dealer on their ability to run the game, overall personality, appearance and professionalism – as well as whatever other criteria they decide.
They had me enter a room with 25 or more other prospective dealers, and to my surprise they turned on music and had all of us do “the hokey pokey”. Then, we played a game where they handed each of us a 20-item list, like “find someone in the group who can talk like Donald Duck” or “find someone from the Midwest” – and we had 20 minutes to complete it. If you were afraid to talk to people, you wouldn’t get hired. Personality plays a key role.
Recent grads are often competing against other experienced dealers. In most cases, if the casino is hiring from outside, they’ll take considerably less than half of those who audition.
Sometimes, if a dealer does not quite pass an audition but appears to be the type of person who the casino would like to hire, the casino will offer them a job in the poker room that is not a dealer job.
There’s an element of “who you know” – but more often, it’s about who you are.
Poker: A test of speed and memory
Think you know poker? How quickly can you spot the winning hand? At a casino table, the players will expect a near-instant decision after the cards are revealed, and if you call the wrong winner there’ll really be trouble. Try it for yourself – we’ve even kept it to two hands to make it easy for you!
Have you got what it takes?
I still remember my very first day of dealing poker. At my table, a dealer visiting from another poker room was complaining that he only had 20 minutes left to play. He had just been the button – and since I knew I wasn’t as fast as the other dealers, I asked him to move it for me – thinking he would like speeding things up.
He stared me down, mumbled that he didn’t, “F-ing come here to work”, picked up his chips and on his way out told the supervisors, “That moron over there is awful. What is he doing dealing poker?” Afterward, I got a talking to from management.
It takes years of regular dealing to learn all the lessons that are out there. They simply can’t be taught in a class.
As a dealer, instructor and hirer of hundreds of dealers, Marc Shumsker has unique insight into the kind of person it takes to make it as a dealer. A few factors that are considered every time include:
- Mechanics – Flashing cards during the pitch, paying someone the wrong amount, or having a bad pitch are all examples of things that can immediately cost a dealer the job. Dexterity is crucial; players hate having to wait for slow-dealing dealers.
- Procedure – Do they know the rules, and can they keep up with the game? Do they have the necessary maths skills?
- Attitude & Personality – Are they professional and hospitable? Are they smiling, communicating and interacting with players appropriately – even after they’ve made mistakes? And how do they interact with their coworkers? Demeanor matters a great deal.
- Ability to Follow Instructions – The reality is that even between casinos, procedures are almost never identical. What’s learned in class may not be the way a casino operates; an inability to be coached is an immediate disqualifier.
- Ability to Take Criticism – Mistakes are a part of the job, and players often call them out – rudely, and right to a dealer’s face.
Top-tier dealers are able to keep a strong game pace, which takes both strong mental and physical reflexes. The wit is important to be able to maintain the entertainment factor and keep up with whatever your players might say to you.
Top level dealers leave their problems at the door. They smile and greet each customer and thank them for playing when they leave. They keep the game entertaining and fun, while providing game security and making floor supervisors aware of intoxicated or underage players. Top level dealers have a clean, well-read game, dealing “to the cameras.”
A dealer needs to become a perfectionist, as they’re responsible for anything that happens at their table – but when mistakes inevitably come, they must know when it’s time to call in a supervisor.
Mistakes are a part of the job - I still make them on a daily basis and I’ve been doing this forever. The most important thing I can stress to a new dealer is to never fix your own mistakes. That can get you fired more than anything.
In summation, Marc had this to say:
The job can be a bit of a grind. The industry […] wears people down over time. An experienced dealer that is tired of it all is common, and when they vent to other team members, they can bring the whole team down.
So - what makes the best dealers? Highly skilled, procedural dealers who carry themselves appropriately, have an air of charisma, are motivating for other dealers to aspire to and who bring up the overall vibe of an entire property.
Dealers must also be prepared for the realities of the job
Working as a dealer means long days on your feet, plenty of overtime and working on holidays and weekends, even when it’s not a regular shift. Casino environments are often filled with second-hand smoke, and in some casinos, a dealer may be asked to dress a certain way (for example, scantily clad in the “party pit”).
I knew a dealer who got fired on the spot for waving smoke off her face. The customer has a right to smoke and I once had a table full of smokers with no thought to me being 8 months pregnant.
A dealer’s job is always changing and evolving; they must remain dedicated to learning new games and adapting to new rules, keeping up to the standards set by WSOP and other major casinos.
Technology is also ever-changing, from the introduction of shuffling machines to learning the “Bravo” player monitoring system, inputting chairs and keeping the system in check while also performing the rest of a dealer’s duties.
One of the most unexpected challenges is the morally challenging situation of taking money from players – even when you know they cannot afford it. And then, there’s the challenge of dealing with the players.
There’s this feeling of entitlement that leads to players berating and belittling dealers, as though we are substandard. A day at work can be mentally taxing.
Dealing can be a LOT like babysitting. Some players are control freaks and want to try to run the whole game, others want to tell the dealer they made mistakes when nothing’s gone wrong, forcing the dealer to stop and show that everything was correct instead of continuing to deal.
On a regular basis, players do not get along, and the dealer has to get them to settle down. “OK everyone, let’s just play cards” is a very common dealer saying in poker rooms.
Players sometimes forget that dealers are people at work, earning a living.
Sometimes players end up getting kicked out for (abuse), but dealers have their jobs on the line if they retaliate. The property has to be careful about who they kick out, too, because you never know who has deep pockets.
That human element is where things get really interesting – because no matter how well trained you are, there’s nothing that can prepare you for some of the wild things you’ll see out on the floor.
Confessions of a Casino Dealer
For your enjoyment, we’ve compiled just a few stories from dealers – from your run-of-the-mill abusive player to patrons dying at the table.
On the craps table one night, a gentleman, the shooter, rolled the dice and said, “IT’S MY DAY!” On the second roll he yelled, “IT’S MY DAY!” On the sixth roll he rolled the dice and was about to yell it again when he fell down backwards. It was quite funny at the time - until we realized he died.
Another night while dealing poker, a customer made his bet and then fell over on the floor. While security and paramedics were working on him, the floor supervisor called over his wife, who had been playing slots. Seeing her husband on the floor, she asked if those were his chips - and if they were still in play. They were, so she sat down and proceeded to win the pot.
“TV coverage of poker players going crazy when they win hundreds of thousands of dollars has led to an epidemic of poker players acting like they won the lottery when they win a $200 pot. I had one player in a tournament hit their card, yell out “WOO!” three times, run all the way to the cashier as if propelled by an explosion, run back to his table and let out “WOO!” twice more.
All after winning a hand in a tournament with 2 tables left, where only 7 people got paid and first place was only around $1,800. They were pulled aside and forced to miss a few hands.
I once had a player sit down at my table and buy in for two thousand dollars. I went over the usual pleasantries, “How’s it going?” “How are you doing tonight?” – but I received no response at all. I brushed that off. The player had no luck with the cards - and after losing ten straight hands at two hundred a pop, he look up at me and said “F--k You Man!
I immediately called my supervisor over. The player’s explanation was that I was “a big unfriendly ogre.” The cards were not in his favor, but the sense of entitlement led him to put all the blame on the only other person he was near – the dealer.
One of my staff was dealing at a table where a player had ordered a tea from the waitress. When it arrived, he took a few packs of crackers, crumpled them up, poured the crackers into the tea cup, and used the lid of the packaging as a spoon while messily eating the crackers. Two players were so grossed out that they left the table.
It was Friday night, dealing to a full blackjack table when the man in the middle opened his coat a tad, revealing a medium size snake wrapped around his neck. I asked him if it was real - and before he answered, the head moved and looked right at me! I couldn’t leave my table, so I backed up a bit and called the floor supervisor (in a rather high voice). He was asked to leave.
I had to review a situation in surveillance where a player folded their cards by placing them under the dealer button long before it was their turn and left the table. The player next to them then picked up those cards and mixed and matched them until he got a hand he liked better. The dealer was a rookie and missed it. The cheating player went on to play the hand and they still lost!
When the cheater left, another player at the table complained to the dealer that he had seen it. The dealer was so nervous about getting in trouble that he didn’t call a supervisor - to my knowledge, that dealer no longer works in the industry.
I was dealing blackjack; two men were sitting drinking beer. One of the men made the other man laugh, and he proceeded to spit beer all over me. They were kicked out. Another time, while dealing blackjack on a non-smoking table, I told a young man he couldn’t smoke on my table. He flipped his cigarette backwards, into his mouth, still lit. He was also kicked out.
It’s not all fun and games – but it’s a great job
Those stories are a drop in the bucket – the strange things dealers see and experience across their careers could fill a library.
But while the job can be demanding and the players unruly, dealing comes with a solid paycheck and the chance to play card games for a living. Those fortunate enough to make it wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It is a job you just do not quit. Moving to Vegas was an eye opener - when New York New York first opened, a million people walked through their doors in a week. I absolutely loved working there.
Asking people where they were from would get me answers like England, France, China, and every state in the union. I dealt to celebrities… worked in high limit rooms and lower table stakes. All were fun.
I had played table games with my dad as I got older, and I had a lot of casino poker playing time under my belt. I thought to myself that I would love it. I was right and then some, and I still love it to this day.
As for the players reading this – hopefully this has given you a little more insight into just how demanding and skilled a dealer’s job really is. They deserve a lot more credit than most will give them.
So, next time you find yourself at a table, remember to toss a tip or two to your dealer – they’ve certainly earned it.
And hey – try to play nice.