The views expressed here are from an ex-poker dealer that could step back into the box at any point in time — or not! Sometimes funny, sometimes cold and cutting, sometimes just tossing out a little bit of wisdom I learned about myself while pitching tickets and playing poker for over 30 years, this is an ongoing walk-through of what it's like to sit in the poker dealer's chair.
What is included in the job duties of a poker dealer? That is a question that has a few basic answers, like:
- Show up for shift on time.
- Show up for shift sober and rested.
- Competent customer service skills.
- Average dexterity required.
- Poker knowledge and skills to RUN a game.
- Ability to say "thank you" regardless of the size of a tip.
- Honesty and integrity a must.
- Work as a team with other dealers to protect players and game integrity.
- Cleanliness and hygiene a must.
- Fill multiple roles, i.e. run chips, man the list, do cash outs, brush up the tables.
- Leave personal attitude and ego at home.
Being a poker dealer really isn't any different than any other profession with one BIG exception; in every hand — unless it's a chopped pot — you are going to push one person's
rent money chips to another player! That's one way to watch some loon go over the deep end! Even if they smiled at you when you tapped the last dealer out, and exclaimed loudly, "She's my lucky dealer!"
As soon as your luckliness runs off to another player and the loon is getting ready to throw his drink across the room as you pushed the last of his chips to another player, you just became the bitch from hell with a deck laced with poisonous, hate barbed bad beats growing out of the palm of your hand.
But what you really need to know about dealing is how to deal with yourself as you deal your way through a sea of cards, chips, players, emotions, and the raw side of darkness for those who can’t handle their lives and the game of poker is their stage.
The fun begins when your shift starts.
If you work in a small poker room, you’re playing to a fairly regular cast of characters, much more so than if you deal in a high-limit room or if you travel the tournament circuit. No matter where you deal, you’ll eventually run into players that you’ve dealt to before and if you play your cards right (in that emotional deck inside your head, not the tickets in your hand), you’ll be on terms with yourself enough that if you had a bad encounter with them previously, you can slip right past the tension and emotion and just do your job.
No matter where you deal, the norm is that you wear a uniform – the terminology in most dealer talk is ‘black-and-whites’ – and a name badge. Some states require that you wear your dealer license also. You could be thinking, “Who is going to sneak into a poker room and try to deal without a license?” Some years ago THE prominent Vegas poker room let an occasional, down-on-their-luck player deal a few hours when the room was screaming with action. Yes, that would be the Mirage. Is it still done anywhere? That’s possible, but with the focus on gaming regulations running around the U.S. today, my thought is that it’s unlikely.
My first experience with black-and-whites was dealing the last Grand Prix tournament at the Golden Nugget in 1987. I made the trip down from Montana and auditioned to deal specifically that tournament and then headed for home after it was over. We wore tuxedo shirts, a tie, an apron, a fanny pack, a name tag and a badge advertising the Grand Prix tournament, black slacks or skirt, and black shoes. It would be fun if poker dealers around the country or in other parts of the world sent me an email describing their dealer uniform – a picture would be even more fun. info(at)pokerworks.com, if you’d be so kind.
Dealing in Montana was a lot more relaxed, no uniform required, and fright-night started at my first Vegas poker tournament. Mostly a field of players that were very familiar with the rules and played higher limit games, and in those days, very few of them were dealer friendly were playing the 30-some tables set up in the pit for that tournament. They may have been much warmer to dealers that dealt the Golden Nugget room as a regular, but they were ready to tighten the bowtie until it choked out a dealer with no experience on the Vegas scene. That was me.
The worst of it for me was, that coming in from a small town poker room, I only had the customer service skills I had learned from that area. Players and dealers were normally friendly without getting into bed with each other (although some of them did that too). Saying hello to a player was expected, and if you knew them by name, it was considered appropriate to address them by name. When I hit Vegas, I found out the hard way that many of the
old, hardnosed assholes players didn’t even want a dealer to look at them, let alone know their name and use it.
As I ramble through my dealing history with poker, bits and pieces will fill the puzzle with the picture of a dealer’s role in poker, in no particular order or scheme. There’s a million miles of poker hands floating around the galaxy and I managed to be a part of some of them so check back for more.