Why do Blackjack Dealers Always Win? The Life and Times of a Vegas Dealer

The life of a Vegas blackjack dealer
Meet Justin Bryan, our man on the casino floor, for tales of bizarre superstitions, mean ol’ men and violent high-stakes midgets.

Ever fancied the life of a casino dealer? Good pay, generous tips, and because you’re playing the with the house edge, you always get to win! Here’s our man on the casino floor, Justin Bryan, who has put in shifts at some of the biggest casinos in Vegas and, along the way, met some very, very strange people.

What are the best and worst things about being a professional dealer?

Some folks I know who were or still are dealers really liked interacting with the people. That was never my thing. I always considered that a negative. Too many drunks, or “dude-bro’s-Vegasbabywooooooo,” or the folks who thought it was my fault that they lost their money. Oh, and the cigarette smoke. Hate that stuff.

On the other side of the people coin, every now and again you would hit it off with someone or a group of people and it would really be a lot of fun. I think the rarity with which that happened was more a fault of my own then the job, though. The money is really good when compared to the amount of time and skill it takes to learn. In fact, I look at the money/job as a really great thing for a young person (early twenties) to do as long as they can save some of it. I didn’t save any…

How long does it take to train? 

Training takes anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. That depends on how quickly a prospective dealer learns the physical skills needed to move the cards, dice, chips, etc. I myself actually took a college class at my local community college. It wasn’t a life goal or anything, I was just tired of working crap jobs and was finally 21 and legally allowed to be a dealer. The class actually had an interesting policy: if you got a job somewhere as a dealer, they would automatically give you a B and you didn’t have to come back to class.

What’s the biggest winning streak or run of luck you’ve ever witnessed?

I’ve heard stories of hundreds of thousands and even a few millions but I have only personally seen someone win and lose over $15,000 in the course of a day. A guy managed to win $15,000 during my shift and when I came in the next day he was still there chasing it, trying to win it all back, and ended up losing something like $10,000 of his own money.

Do you ever think, “Wow, this guy really needs to call it a day?” 

I have wished people would stop playing. I dealt to a guy once who said he was actually playing with his mortgage money. I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but I don’t know if he wasn’t either. He was not doing well and I really wished he would stop playing. He was very drunk as I recall. He didn’t stop.

Do blackjack dealers get hit on a lot by the opposite sex? 

I got hit on a little bit, most likely due to being in the prime of my youth and the free drinks and all that. I’m sure the lady dealers had it much worse than I did, however.

What are some of the strangest superstitions your customers have?

I think this is pretty well known but it’s still strange to me. During certain times of the year, many Asians will come to Vegas, usually during Chinese New Year and Christmas. The ones I saw love to play Baccarat, mini-baccarat or the various flavors of Pai Gow. The ones playing Baccarat would slam the table with the flat of their hand and shout “BONG!” or “Monkey!” It was so weird.

Who was the worst customer you ever dealt to?

When I dealt at the Orleans Casino, there was a man who was a stereotype of a “Mean ol’ Man.” Nothing was ever satisfactory to his standards and he would complain about everything: the drinks, the dealers, his luck, etc.

He was also pretty verbally abusive. He would consistently play a couple hundred dollars a hand over several hands and he was a regular; he would come in a few times a month. Because of this, the pit bosses and the rest of management would overlook his demeanor and language and continue to let him play. The dealers called him “The Shaker” because he very clearly had Parkinson’s or some other ailment that caused him to shake uncontrollably. Not a nice nickname, to be sure, but he was not a nice man.

Have you dealt any real high-roller games? How much were they betting per hand?

When I was dealing at the Monte Carlo I saw a guy in the high limit room playing blackjack and he was winning pretty big. By big, I am talking about upwards of $100,000 to $200,000. This was also one of my first experiences dealing in the high-limit room so I was pretty nervous about getting in trouble (needlessly so) for “losing” so much money. I think the most per hand at that game while I was there was something like $20k and he was playing two or three positions at the same time, so about $40K to $60K per hand.

Is there anyone who thinks you’re an “unlucky dealer”?

(Laughs) Sure, everyone who lost at my table! Some thought I was nice, others thought I did it on purpose or because I was a “ringer” sent in to stop their winning.

What’s the biggest tip you’ve ever received?

That high-limit game I mentioned a few questions ago. That guy tipped me $5k as I was leaving for my break. Unfortunately, we split our tips up across all three shifts, so I didn’t get to keep it all but it was by far the best tip I have ever received.

Have you ever suspected someone of cheating?

I’ve had card counters at my table several times. It’s not cheating but most casinos will figure out that it’s going on and ask the player to leave. I once had a guy walk up to my table while there were no players there, a dead table. He was dressed as a tourist and said, “What are those worth?” while he quickly reached into my chip rack and tried to grab some of the $100 chips, the ones in the middle columns.

I slapped the chips he grabbed out of his hand and he ran/walked off into the casino. That would be theft, not so much cheating, but I was impressed by the brashness of the guy. Only time I ever got to physically hit a customer too and didn’t get in trouble either.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen happen in a casino?

So this is one of my favorite parts of being a dealer: recalling all the weird shit I’ve seen. I posted this to Reddit once in a typical “interesting stories” kind of thread, so I am going to paste it here.

I was working swings and it was something like one or two in the morning. I was stationed at a pit isolated from the rest of the main pits. Things were slowing down so they were closing tables. Mine was one of the last ones.

Now, at my table, you have the usual smattering of tourists but there is one guy, I honestly don’t know if he was a tourist or a local, but I hadn’t seen him before and the bosses were treating him pretty well. He was betting $25 a hand on one or two hands at a time. For the place I was working, this was a virtual high roller.

Well, as I said, they want to shut the pit down. My table is the last one open and the shift boss makes the call to have everyone from my table moved to a table in the main pit area where there was one reserved for them. They just had to move and things could pick up where they left off.

Well, $25-A-Hand Guy wasn’t having it. I don’t remember the specifics of what he said, it was a long time ago. But I do remember that he started to swear at the floor man. The floor man was trying to be polite and accommodating but $25-A-Hand Guy is cursing up a storm at this point. The rest of the table has left by now. Floor man calls pit boss, who calls shift manager, who calls security.

Now there are four security guys at my table. I’ve got three bosses behind me trying to reason with this guy and finally the decision is made. I’d like to think that some kind of solemn signal was sent to security but I have no idea what really passed between them. Regardless, security suddenly bursts into action and they have a guy on each limb and are now carrying this guy away from the table.

At this point, I feel I should mention that the guy, Mr $25-A-Hand, was a midget. A little person. Four full grown men, one per limb, carried this guy horizontally away from my table and presumably off to casino jail or whatever. I just remember standing there, kind of stunned. I was still relatively new at that point and didn’t know what to do. The floor man just tells me to start counting down my rack and just, as suddenly, everything is business as usual. Vegas is weird.