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WSOP -- A Day in the Life of a Dealer

An Inside Look at the World of Dealing at the WSOP


Hundreds of dealers come to the Rio each summer.They come from all over the country and even overseas. Hundreds of men and women flood into the Rio every day, not to play in a tournament and to dream of winning a big score, but to work. They are the backbone of the WSOP. They are, of course, the dealers.

However, in a stressful time such as the World Series — where millions of dollars are on the line over the course of a few hands — tempers can rise. There have been a number of altercations, both verbal and physical, at the World Series this year between players and dealers, where disgruntled players wonder about the experience of the dealers and dealers express their frustration at the maturity level of the players.

In this feature, Card Player goes behind the scenes to explore the hiring process of the dealers for the WSOP, how much they may make in a given summer, and the major issues they face at the World Series.

Hiring Process

Survival is not guaranteed at the World Series. Whether it is the stress, the work load, or the pay, many dealers quit long before the main event ever begins. Because this is a yearly trend, Harrah’s adjusts its hiring process to ensure that it has enough dealers by the time the main event arrives.

“We typically lose 15 percent to 20 percent of what we hire within the first couple of weeks of the World Series of Poker said Jack Effel, WSOP tournament director.

The hiring process begins months before the first hand is ever dealt at the WSOP. First, Harrah’s contacts all of the dealers that left in “good standing” the previous year to see if they would like to return again. Of the 720 dealers who completed the 2008 WSOP, approximately 600 returned for 2009.

“Then we went out searching for another 400,” said Effel.

Harrah’s set up an online application, looking for at least six months experience for each dealer. If they fulfilled that requirement, Harrah’s granted the applicant either a live or phone audition.

“If we had a person who works at Bellagio, we’re not going to waste their time to come down here to show off their technical skills,” said Effel. “We know they deal all the games that are played at the World Series of Poker.”

In a phone audition, dealers are quizzed specifically in their proficiency in pot-limit Omaha, seven-card stud eight-or-better, and deuce-to-seven triple draw — some of the arguably more complicated games that are offered at the WSOP. Harrah’s judges their knowledge on a 0-100 scale.

“If they got below a 70 on the phone audition, it was, ‘Try again next year,’” said Effel. “If they got between 70-80, we (invited them for) a live audition. If they got above an 80, they were definitely in.”

Of the new hires, Effel says that 60 percent make it from the phone audition alone, while the other 40 percent are offered jobs after live auditions.


Poker players often wonder how much dealers make during the World Series, especially when considering tipping after a significant tournament cash.

Effel says that it’s not as much as some people think it is.

“They don’t make as much as people perceive them to make because they’re traveling from all over the country and even the world, and it’s expensive to live here,” said Effel. “It varies depending on the dealer. I’ve heard some of them make as much as $10,000 for the two months, but that’s before tax, and everything is taxed. But these guys have to pay for a place to stay, they have to feed themselves, and there are travel expenses, too.”

WSOP Communications Director Seth Palansky gave the specifics when it came to dealer pay.

“Dealers get paid $6.85 an hour plus toke and tips,” said Palansky, defining ‘toke’ as the amount of money taken out of a tournament prize pool for the dealers. In any given World Series tournament, a percentage of the total entry pool is reserved for tournament staff.

For the $10,000 main event, the $50,000 H.O.R.S.E. tournament, and other premiere events, tournament staff receives 1.8 percent of the total entry pool. So, since the main event garnered $64.94 million in entry money, that means that $1,168,920 — or 1.8 percent — was set aside for and to be spread out amongst the tournament staff. If one assumes that there are about 1,000 tournament staff members, and that the pay is spread equally, that means each member of the tournament staff would make approximately $1,169 in toke for the 13-day tournament.

For smaller events, the percentage taken for the tournament staff is higher. For an event such as the $1,000 Stimulus Special, 3 percent of the total entry pool is reserved for tournament staff.

This is separate from the entry fee that Harrah’s takes. For example, in the main event, Harrah’s takes an additional 4.2 percent of the total entry pool for entry fees (making up 6 percent combined rake). For the Stimulus Special, 7 percent of the total entry pool is reserved for entry fees (making up a 10 percent overall rake).

Of course, dealers don’t work a normal 9-5 workday. They get paid based on the number of “downs” they complete, otherwise known as a 30-minute shift in the dealer box.

Lisa Spencer*, a third-year WSOP dealer, says that dealers make approximately $20 a down in a tournament, while acknowledging that they can make more in a cash game. Still, she said it pales in comparison to what she’s used to.

“The money’s not worth it. It gets worse and worse every year,” said Spencer, who has dealt an underground game in Texas for nearly 20 years. She says she only deals at the World Series so that if the Lone Star State ever does legalize and regulate poker, her experience at the WSOP will give her a step up. “Unless you live here, it’s not financially worth it for most of us, anymore.”

While Spencer says that this will likely be her last year at the World Series, other dealers such as Adam Wilson* say that while there are some problems, it is worth the occasional headache.

“It pays to be a dealer. I like what I do. For me, this isn’t work,” said Wilson, who is employed by a local Las Vegas casino as a dealer during the year. This is his fourth summer he has spent with the World Series. “This is going to pay for my vacation.”

However, he admits that there are times when he struggles putting up with the players.

Dealing with the Players

Wilson has served in the U.S. military for 11 years, completing two combat tours. He’s experienced the horrors of war, as he and his comrades fought for a common purpose. And he’s swallowed his share of pain, as he carried away the body bags of men and women who didn’t make it out of a firefight.

So, forgive him when he gets a little frustrated when players can’t remain respectful and courteous when he’s dealing a poker game at the World Series.

“It’s not all of them, it’s just some of them,” said Wilson. “Listen, I’ve seen the worst in life. Just relax. It’s only a game.”

Abuse from players is one of the major issues dealers cite when asked about their lives at the World Series. Most of the time it comes verbally, when a player makes a disparaging remark after a bad beat. But there have been at a few reported cases of actual physical altercations at the 2009 WSOP.

“Why on earth would you ever touch the dealer?” asked Spencer. “One dealer had his hand broken by the player. A female dealer had a bottle of water thrown at her because of a bad beat. We call this ‘adult daycare’ for a reason.”

The World Series and the Rio has given penalties and even banned players from the casino for a certain amount of time for some of the incidents. Some of the dealers, however, wish they would do more.

“The floor (supervisor) isn’t necessarily protecting dealers the way that he should,” said Spencer. “We’re treated like red-headed stepchildren.”

Wilson said that it’s almost as if players forget that they’re human beings sometimes.

“We have kids, we’re married, we have moms and dads. We’re going to make mistakes,” said Wilson. “Just treat us with courtesy.”

Of course, it’s not as if every poker player acts immaturely. Wilson describes the problem players as “knuckleheads” and makes sure to clarify that there are a lot of respectful players out there. Clearly a fan of the game, he points out Mike Matusow and Phil Ivey as two pros he “had the privilege of dealing to.”

“It was cool; they talk to you and they are respectful,” said Wilson. “It’s not so much the big-name pros who are the problem, it’s the wannabe pros who think they’re pros or who are friends of the pros.”

As the main event rages on to form the newest November Nine, Wilson just hopes that players remember that dealers are just trying to make it to the next day, just like them.

*Names of the dealers have been changed at their request, for fear of consequences for talking to the media.