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One Time, Dealer: Poker Rooms Are Hospice For Assholes

Traveling Tournament Circuit Dealer Answers Your Questions About The Game

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a dealer on the circuit grind? Do you 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 does it take to become a dealer? How should you treat dealers? Are dealers people, too?

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


Hi Dealer Chick,

I was playing in my local card room in Las Vegas last night. When I said, “Hi,” to the cocktail waitress who happens to be a friend of mine, she shook her head and said, “I hate working in here. The poker room is always the saddest part of the casino.”

The comment stuck with me during my session. A few hours later, a new dealer sat in the box and said, “Hi, how is everyone doing?” I said, “Great, how are you?” His reply was, “Wow! You’re the first person in hours to even answer me!” That comment also stuck with me.

I love poker, but often, I hate the environment in the poker room. Most people seem unhappy and get angry at dealers and fellow players. Do you agree with this, and if so, what are your suggestions to make the game and the environment more enjoyable for all?

Signed,

Sad Poker Face


Dear Sad,

I once heard poker rooms referred to as, “Hospice for Assholes,” which certainly makes them sound like sad, angry places. This moniker applies for three reasons: failed expectations, desensitization, and an apathetic attitude from casinos towards poker.

When people ask what I do for a living, I say, “I crush hopes and dreams.” My comment elicits chuckles, but it also refers to the majority of players I deal to: the losers. I don’t mean the “L” on the forehead loser, but rather, those who can’t book consistent wins. Maybe 10 percent of players make a profit by year’s end, and even they will suffer through depressing bouts of losing to do it. Still, most players enter the poker room expecting to crush it.

As their hopes and dreams deteriorate with every trip to the ATM, a blanket of sadness falls over the room. On table five, seat one turned a $200 buy-in into $3,500 over the past 18 hours, but just lost another big pot. He’s down to $2,700. If he gets back up to $3,500, he’ll leave. But his kings lose to a drunk who shoves 6-2 offsuit, turns a boat and now he’s down to $1,900. Damn, it stings, but he wants that call everyday. One more winning hand and he’s racking up. But that hand doesn’t come, and now he’s angry. An hour ago, he had a week’s worth of wins booked in one session. Now, it’s gone.

Even worse is the guy that can’t leave until he gets stacked. He doesn’t know how to book a win. He doesn’t care about the win. It’s not the win that gets him off. He lives for the sweat. As long as he has money in front of him, he’s going to risk it for the sweat. Adam Sandler’s character, Howie, in Uncut Gems, is a jarring portrayal of this guy. The energy off of both these players bleeds onto those around them.

There’s so much money on the table, but everyone in the poker room is desensitized to it. New dealers sit in the box, eyes wide, and push pots bigger than their paychecks to a guy who tosses them a dollar. At first, the tip is greeted with a smile and genuine gratitude. Eventually, the dealer gets sick of pushing pots that could get him out of debt for a lousy buck. Sure, it all adds up, but damn, he pushed four pots on his last down to the same guy who stiffed him every time.

Then the guy cashes out almost $10K and hands the waitress $100. Is he breaking his back so a fake blond in a push-up bra who can’t even get an order right can steal his tip? If the guy in seat one had won that last pot, he’d have another fifty in his tip box. If the floor hadn’t screwed up the string, he wouldn’t have gotten rerouted off the juicy $5-$5 PLO table where all the whales are tipping big. Making $300 in an eight-hour shift used to be enough. But now, all he can focus on is what he could have made, and the thousands of dollars that players made because of him. It doesn’t help that casino management treats him like an easily replaced necessary evil. He’s angry, and his energy permeates the room one table at a time.

For most casinos, poker is like a colonoscopy. Everybody needs it, but nobody wants it. A poker manager once said to me, “F*ck these players. Poker only brings in $500,000 per month. One bank of slot machines would triple that number. I wouldn’t have to deal with players, dealers, payroll, nothing. F*ck poker.”

Poker is treated like the red-headed step child of the gaming industry, and yet I don’t see ESPN covering slot tournaments. Live at The Bike! isn’t broadcasting the action off their blackjack tables. Poker is the draw, but the suits huddling in corner offices see it as a drain on their bottom line, which is why customer service in the poker room is virtually non-existent. Most cocktail waitresses assigned to cover poker prefer to hide in their service well and countdown the minutes until their shift ends. Only the smart ones hustle, learn names/table numbers and make money.

Here’s the irony about poker: it’s the place where you will find the best and worst humanity has to offer. If treated well, most poker players will respond in kind. There is an air of despondency that hovers below the surface because these players are paying a rake to lose more often than they win, and they’re being treated like crap while they do it. Although no one can make a player play better (sharks need chum to feed), the industry can do something about how players are treated. The way to combat the hopelessness is to make the experience about more than just money. It takes a village to get a losing player to leave happy.

When that poker manager admitted his apathy towards poker, I pointed out that while slots and table games equal more immediate profit, the poker room is where a casino builds its reputation.

Poker rooms are always tucked way in the back. I have yet to find a winning player who can make it from the poker room to the parking lot without stopping by their table game of choice. They’re gamblers at heart. They spend most of their time in the casino playing the only game without a house edge, but most of them won’t leave without putting money back in the casino’s pocket. The wad of bills stuffed inside a slot-loving grandma’s bra is less than that which is secured by a rubber band, tucked into a poker player’s front pocket, and so is her circle of influence. Poker players talk on forums, and they travel. A casino’s reputation lives and dies by their word of mouth.

If casinos treated poker rooms and the players and staff who inhabit them like valuable assets, the atmosphere would improve dramatically. Although the gambler’s sadness is the nature of the beast, the poker rooms that show they care, that really listen and follow through, the ones that take accountability, pride and ownership in a job well-done, are the ones succeeding in keeping the negativity in check. The ones that don’t are just providing long-term care for the assholes they’ve created.