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Poker Explosion - A Problem Within

by Warren Karp |  Published: Mar 22, 2005


In the many columns you read regarding the poker explosion, it seems that everything is just fine in the world of poker, right? Well, maybe there's a problem in Pokerville.

The growth of an industry, while always a good thing, doesn't come without growing pains, and in the poker industry, those pains have been felt in the form of a shortage of competent and well-trained floor staff and dealers.

The domino effect occurs when a casino develops a larger customer base – and for many, this has been an overnight occurrence. In response, casino operators have had to scramble. They've made their most seasoned dealers floor personnel, the logic being that any dealer who's been on the job long enough can make a smooth transition to floorperson.

This is hardly ever the case, however, as the very best dealers are the ones who patiently sit there and call floor supervisors to make proper poker decisions. Strictly adhering to those decisions without independent thought as to why they're made is the mark of a competent dealer. That's not to say they're not schooled in the rules (they are, and very well), but when they're in there dealing, leaving the judgment calls to those who are paid to make them is the correct action. These calls are based on an everyday working knowledge of a poker room, and not from being a dealer in the box when the odd situation occurs.

Move to the inner workings of the cardroom itself and the problem deepens. Dealers never needed the knowledge of what games to start and at what levels; they were simply moved to a rotation and dealt the game posted. Working a sign-up board and directing traffic to keep the room running smoothly is as much an art as it is a science. Revenues are based on these factors, and without the steady flow of new and uneducated customers, operators would be screaming for some sanity.

So, if the current dealer pool is being depleted by the need to fill other positions of competency, what happens in a poker room that once drew from this depleted pool and now has twice as many players, or more? In the past, when a tournament came to a brick-and-mortar casino, directors either hired from the outside a group known as the tournament-circuit dealers or, as a last resort, hired "break-in dealers" as new employees. The circuit dealers were a competent bunch, a great crew often taking the worst of it as far as live-game rotation, accommodations, and food, but they got the job done.

While the use of circuit dealers is a great option, using break-in dealers is the worst possible solution. Most have never dealt a hand to someone other than at a dealers school, and others have difficulty with the language. When players complain to the operators, "We're playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars and need competent dealers," the operators respond, "Where else would you put a break-in dealer other than a tournament?" My answer is, in a $1-$2 game with an $8 pot. They often respond with a blank stare that says, "We can't put these break-in dealers in a live rotation, they're horrible." But they're good enough to deal for a million dollars?

I remember working my first World Series of Poker as a tournament director and being assigned a crew for the late-night events. I welcomed them, and they all said, "Thank you." I told them we were going to have a great time working the WSOP, and they said, "Thank you." I asked which of them held steady jobs in other casinos, and they said, "Thank you."

With a job as tough as dealing, which doesn't pay well in the early going, it's very hard to get a pool of only qualified applicants. In this time of extreme demand for dealers, the only qualification necessary is an application form that is filled out and signed.

In a time when casinos are desperate for dealers and poker schools can't get enough applicants, one has to wonder if the quality of dealers coming from those schools has also been diluted. Casinos can no longer rely on the license earned from a dealers school as a ticket to the dealer's chair. The chairs these dealers should be directed to are the ones in the in-house training facility at the casino. Dealer coordinators and trainers should be mandatory every casino, and every dealer should be required to pass an internal test prior to being allowed on the casino floor.

Having incompetent dealers actually encourages poor behavior from new players. When a dealer makes a mistake, players wrongly scream at him – and this teaches new players bad habits. Let's also remember that dealers are the trainers of new customers, and if we want these new players to stay in the game, their first contact – the dealer – should be well-trained to serve them. spades