A reporter at Travel + Leisure Magazine sent me an email from my school’s website, asking to interview a Blackjack dealer for the “Confessions” series. She sent a few links showing other interviews she has done. Basically the “Confessions” series is a collection of short articles showing a behind-the-scenes perspective of different positions in the service industry. There weren’t any names named and there wasn’t a whole lot of meat to the articles. They were catchy little snip-its and I found them entertaining.
I told the reporter that I hadn’t worked in a casino in a few years, but I had at one point been a Blackjack dealer. I could answer what she needed or forward her contact information to someone else currently in the industry. She sent her initial email to me on Christmas Eve and wanted to speak ASAP, so she said I would do just fine and scheduled a time to speak over the phone. She sent me a few questions in advance, which was good, because being so immersed in the casino world, I forget how outsiders view it. More interesting than my answers were the questions she proposed:
- What type of table did I typically work at?
- Did I ever have any high profile, celebrity guests at my table? Who, and what was the experience?
- Did anyone ever hit it big at the table or lose a fortune? What were the funniest or most shocking reactions I ever saw to a big win or big loss?
- Who are some of the “typical” guests at a high-end Vegas casino hotel? Do I have regulars or identifiable “types?”
- As a dealer, what were my pet peeves?
- Did I ever catch someone counting cards? What happens if a player is caught cheating?
- What are some tips and tricks of the trade? How do I calm a belligerent player or get a player to leave a decent tip even after a loss?
- When I go out, do I play blackjack?
- Overall, what was it like to work in an upscale hotel casino, surrounded by cameras and security and no clocks?
- Can I confirm or dispel some common myths? “Do casinos really pump in oxygen?”
This guide of questions may be quite interesting for a person outside of the industry, but my answers would not be very interesting. I didn’t want to list all of my pet peeves or give a “type” of player, because then I’d just sound whiney and grumpy. Counting cards isn’t the big deal that people think it is. Contrary to Hollywood’s portrayal, counting cards is easy. It doesn’t take a math genius and when we cut two decks off the back it doesn’t really give the player any room anyway. The security cameras are no big deal (Have you seen a surveillance room?) and I always saw a clock in a casino as I wore a wrist watch. Big wins and big losses are completely relative. Winning $5,000 may change someone’s life, but another person may not even blink when winning $500,000. Plus, it’s a table win. I don’t know what they did at the table before they got to me. And then there’s a common question about celebrities. We in Vegas know which celebrities play, who tips well, who is kind, who is an asshole, etc. But this, I feel, is sacred break room gossip. Celebrities are constantly under a microscope, exposed at all times. If they want to catch a flight to Vegas and disappear for a while, I will assist them. I’ll never fess up to a reporter who I saw playing and when.
So, how do I give a great interview? The reporter is calling me in 21 minutes and I’m jotting these things down in this blog post right now in preparation. What can I tell Leisure + Travel Magazine about being a Blackjack dealer that would reflect well on our profession?
I’m not sure what to say yet, but I know that I don’t want to get into talking about tips. I’m constantly asked what the largest tip I ever received was and I have no answer. Was my largest tip from the guy who kept putting me up for a $1,000 bet every 5th hand or so and played for about a half hour? Was my largest tip from someone who just tossed me a few thousand dollars on his way out the door? What about the guy who sat at my table and put me up for $25 on the Pairs Plus of Three Card Poker every single hand for an entire evening? What about the George who gave the Big Bacc dealers so much money that each of us walked with $1,500? George’s tips didn’t get placed in my hand and I never even saw the guy’s face, but that made a difference in my weekly pay and I definitely signed the “thank you” card the next day in the break room.
I don’t think the general public grasps the magnitude of our tips. You know you’re a grumpy, spoiled dealer when you’re a jerk to the guy who is tipping you in purple $500 chips because it took him three hours to put that first bet up. Someone outside of the industry would cringe, and looking back, I cringe. But in that moment, when you’ve been hearing the same jokes all night long and you’re getting stiffed and stiffed and stiffed for hours, you can really lose sight of the big picture. Big picture is that dealers just deal the cards – tips are optional. Tips should all be appreciated. Yes, I cannot let this conversation with the reporter steer to tips, as my perspective is so jaded and flawed.
So, where do I take her? This interview may last 20-30 minutes, but the summary of our conversation when it’s in article form will be about half of a page. What gems can I discuss that reflect well on our industry? What will intrigue people and make them feel warm? What will make the readers of this magazine sit down at a blackjack table and want to tip the dealer? I read a “Confessions” article about a waitress at a high end restaurant. She mentioned being stabbed in the hand with a fork by an impatient customer and ended the article by saying that she has never ever ever even heard of a member of the wait staff spitting in someone’s food. That’s a nice way to wrap up an interview.
Okay, update: I just finished the interview. We were on the phone for 25 minutes and she was quite a good interviewer. She kept the conversation flowing, as if she were truly interested in hearing my stories. Plus, I really liked her, which is truly the mark of a good reporter!
I kept the conversation light, ducking questions about pet peeves, celebrities, player “types,” and anything else that would make me sound like a complainer. I gave her a rundown of counting cards, talked about not taking things personally if a player happened to get upset, and when asked about my “pet peeves” – as the question came up a few times – I just talked about clichés that people tend to run with. She liked: “17 is the mother-in-law hand – you want to hit it but you can’t!” And I agree with her. That one is funny the first time you hear it, but the 80th time isn’t so funny. It’s really not funny when the dealer has a “6” up, as the joke is only good when the dealer has a “10” or an “A” showing. Any other card, and that’s just the player looking for a chance to crack that joke. But that technical description of the dealer’s up-card is way too much for a light and breezy “Confessions” article.
She said this article should be in the March edition and I’ll post the link HERE when it’s out.