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One Time, Dealer: The Filthy Felt

by Dealer Chick |  Published: Jun 05, 2019


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a dealer on the circuit grind? Have a question about behavior, etiquette, or anything else related to running a poker game? Do you want to know what dealers really think about while they’re pitching cards? What it takes to become a dealer? How you should treat dealers? Are dealers people, too?

Send your questions for The Dealer Chick (TDC) to, and read on for more advice, adventures, and real talk about life on the road for a traveling poker dealer.

The Filthy Felt

Hi Dealer Chick,

I saw a player touch chips and then eat food with his fingers. He kept doing it. I don’t think casinos wash their chips, ever. It was so disgusting. What’s the grossest thing you’ve seen on the felt?


I Just Threw Up in My Mouth

Dear Mouth,

I wish I could say that your uncouth table mate’s eating habits excelled as the nastiest example of objectionable conduct I’d ever heard of in a poker setting. Alas, they pale in comparison to the atrocities that I have witnessed and heard about from reliable sources.

As you said, it starts with the chips. At least once a week a player says, “I wonder if they ever wash these things? They’re so gross!” That comment leads to a discussion about the guy you mentioned. The one who licks his fingers clean between every shuffle of his chip stack. That guy is in every casino, every day. He’s the same guy who jumps up from the table to go take a leak and returns so fast that there’s no way he washed his hands. Even if it wasn’t about to be his big blind, those hands weren’t getting washed. We know it. He knows we know it.

In seven years, I’ve seen one occurrence of a casino that attempted to take chips out of play to wash them. The shift supervisors sat at an empty table with bleach wipes tending to each chip with care. I think the effort lasted for about one and a half shifts before the suits got bored and the project set aside. I can’t testify under oath that chips never get washed, but I’ll take the under on the number of times you want to guess it happens.

Now that we know the chips are coated in more infectious germs than a Walmart toilet seat, let’s talk about the felt. The term “brush” in a poker room was coined because it referred to the person who carried a large brush to clean the felt between games. The rail would get lifted, and any debris that had collected during play would be brushed away. The “debris” consists of crumbs of food, but so much more. The cocktail waitresses at Choctaw are known for dipping the Corona bottles in enough salt to cure an entire ham hock. While dealing there, I once attempted to brush a table with my hand because I thought the pile of white flaky stuff was salt. I lifted the rail, reached over and thankfully looked down first. I saw enough skin to convince me that someone had left their face behind.

Then there’s the black spot. Dealers either keep their nails trimmed or get manicures with polish to hide all the black dirt that collects under them. The black spot, beneath where the dealer usually shuffles, is an area so worn down and caked with grime that it acts like glue. Cards stick. If you peeled off a thin layer of the black crud you could probably use it to plug a leaky tire.

But let’s talk about the most disgusting thing in the poker room: the people. Ah, yes, aside from lick-my-fingers-guy and can’t-find-the-soap guy, there’s poop-my-pants guy, pee-in-a-bottle guy, and haven’t-brushed-my-teeth-in-days guy. These regulars are everywhere. They can’t leave the table long enough to take care of basic human needs related to self-care. These guys don’t even make a seasoned poker person squeamish anymore.

“Hey, seat five crapped his pants again,” a dealer might say as he passes a suit on his way to break. He’ll laugh about it as he tells the story to his fellow dealers, but it won’t phase him.

One time, as I was retrieving folded cards, I noticed a chunk of something stuck to one card. I thought it was a large piece of the black crud that had rubbed off a chip. I used my finger to wipe it away. In that moment, the seriousness of what I had done dawned on me. As the players contemplated action, I stared down at the tip of my finger. On it sat the biggest, greenest and slimiest booger I’d ever seen. I quickly brought my hand under the edge of the table. I stared at it, blankly. I couldn’t fathom how my life had come to this. Me, sitting in the box, having to decide how to rid myself of someone else’s booger without being noticed. In the span of four seconds, I considered digging through my dealer pack for a tissue but nixed the idea when I realized I had only one hand—the booger hand—to dig with and the offending greenery might end up in my pack. I briefly thought to call the floor to bring me a tissue, but they were busy.

In the end, I reached as far under the table as I could and wiped it off. I spent the rest of the down staring at players trying to decipher who the nasty bastard was who picked his nose and left his remains on his cards. Shortly thereafter, I was dealing in Las Vegas when I noticed another chunk on a card. This chunk was orange. I recalled how seat five had wiggled his finger in his ear during the prior hand. But I had learned. This time, I retrieved a tissue first.

I had to call the floor once because a player, while eating Cheetos, left a spit-encrusted line of orange dust from one corner of his card to another. We had to replace the deck. He was warned to start wiping his hands. From seat ten, with a mouthful of Cheeto chunks covering his tongue, he said, “Oh, you just want some of my Cheetos! Here, have some!” He wiggled his orange-stained, still-damp fingertips in my face. I politely declined.

But Cheeto-guy, along with all the others, does not compare to what my boss declared as his worst nasty experience so far. He banned a player for “excessive picking of his scalp” saying, “I’d warned him once, but when he dug at his head—then brought his hand to his mouth and ate whatever it was that he had retrieved from his flaky scalp—I’d had enough. He had to go.”

The finger-licker looks pretty good now, right?