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Poker News | World Series of Poker | WSOP2009 | The Works

Day 34 – Unhappiness In Dealer Land

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Come to the World Series of Poker long enough and the faces become more familiar and people are more willing to talk to you. That's been the case with me this WSOP as I've found more and more people come up to me out of the blue or join in on conversations I'm in the middle of. One thing I've learned this year is that not is all as rosy and happy as it seems, especially in dealer land. Now take the following for what it's worth... unhappy dealers telling me what they are unhappy about. If there's one thing I've learned in the poker world, people seldom have anything negative to say when they are running good and have everything negative to say when the opposite is true. When people run bad, or are having a tough time, stories tend to get exaggerated... but when I've heard the same thing from multiple sources this summer, it's definitely something that merits mentioning.

In the middle of the poker boom, there was little for dealers to complain about. They were making good money and they knew it. Lately though they have faced pay cut after pay cut. According to several dealers the amount they make now is more than 50% less than what they made just a couple years ago. One dealer told me that he barely breaks even at the WSOP because dealers have to pay their own expenses. Yes, that's right, if you want to deal at the WSOP, you don't get your hotel or travel paid for, it comes out of your own pocket. Many dealers have to take jobs dealing at other venues like the Venetian Deep Stack events. I know this to be true because I've played several Venetian events and have seen those same dealers at the Rio dealing at the WSOP.

In the past, dealers who were lucky enough to be given the privilege of dealing at a final table were given what is called a double down. Essentially a down is the way they keep track of the number of shares of the tip pool a dealer receives. If a dealer works a shift of 8 hours, for example, they might be credited with one down. The experienced dealers who had worked hard to get to the top of the dealer heap and deal at the final table would be credited with two downs.*  Nothing wrong with this in my opinion, most businesses in this world reward their best employees in some shape or fashion. However, dealers who weren't getting selected for these prime gigs complained and a change was implemented and final table dealers were no longer given double downs.

Some of the final table dealers now wonder what is the incentive to deal at final tables? They are under more scrutiny from not only the players and their bosses, but from poker fans and media. Yet they receive the same pay as someone who can hide in the corner of the Amazon Room dealing poorly in a $1,500 Donkament. One floor man that I talked to said it was a bad change and that he does everything he can to reward the final table dealers, but that it's still not enough.

I'm on good terms with a number of floor people... the majority of them are great people who are very easy to get along with and talk to. However, according to a number of people I've talked to the floor people have gotten a pay raise this year. Where does the money come from for this pay raise? Out of the pockets of the dealers. The share of the tip pool that the floor receives was increased while the share the dealers got was decreased. However, unlike the dealers, the floor gets paid based upon title/job description. For example, someone who oversees the final table might get one share, someone who oversees the 2 p.m. restart might get two shares, a floor supervisor might receive three shares, and someone like Jack Effel would receive the most shares. The total floor person share is then divided based upon the total number of shares and distributed. The dealers complaint is that the people responsible for making the decision to give the floor people a pay raise are also the people that benefit the most from this decision.

Another problem that I've been made aware of regards one of the people who is responsible for overseeing the dealers. According to several dealers, this person runs a dealer school and guarantees dealing in the WSOP if they pass the school. Many students from this school have been getting into the WSOP this way for a number of years. In previous years, however, this person was not in charge but now is the main person a dealer has to answer to. This, the dealers say, means that if you were fortunate enough to go to the school then, you are given the best spots in the dealer lineup and the veteran, more experienced dealers are often given time off and have to sit on the sidelines.

There are other things that I've been told, but most of it is unverifiable and harder to prove. It all appears to be common knowledge though but because people are afraid to lose their job and there is a sense of nepotism/family where upper management has all known each other for years, a lot of the scandal/wrongdoing that goes on is never reported nor taken care of. In this struggling economy, even though the dealers know they are making 25% less than they did the previous Series, it's better than nothing and they are afraid of losing their jobs. When I asked one dealer why he continued to work the Series even though he was barely making any money after paying expenses, he told me, “it's better than sitting at home, not having a job or making any money at all.”

This year I've seen more errors made by dealers than I think I've ever seen in my years covering the WSOP. This is only going to get worse if dealers continue to get the short end of the stick because there will be no incentive for the best dealers to come here to deal. They'd be better off sticking with their home casino dealing cash games where they get to keep their own tips than coming to the WSOP and getting a miniscule share of a steadily decreasing tip pool. The dealers are clearly unhappy and if something isn't done about it, soon we'll be having laid off black jack and Pai Gow dealers being the only ones willing to deal at the WSOP. Dealers never get respect and are always given fluff (granted, sometimes rightfully so) for the work they do. It's probably time that started changing. Harrah's and the WSOP staff need to recognize this now... not later.

*Editor’s Note:  Clarification of a down, the length of time a dealer is at a table, dealing a game or sitting at an empty table with chips in the player’s seats.  The normal down is 30 minutes and each time a dealer sits down, they sign a ‘down’ card to track where they have dealt.  With breaks during an 8 hour shift, a dealer normally will deal 12 to 13 downs if they are dealing strictly tournament, that amount will vary if they are dealing through live tables. 

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