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Barney Vinson's World: Getting a Job in Las Vegas

11 August 2003

It's easy to get a job in Las Vegas today. All you do is call the hotel's Human Resources office and get a recorded rundown on which jobs are available. If the tape mentions a job you're qualified for, then you hustle down to Human Resources and fill out an application. Your name is then forwarded from Human Resources to Internal Security, and Internal Security runs a complete background check on you and sends the results back to Human Resources.

If you're clean—no outstanding bench warrants, no bankruptcy filings, no skeletons in the closet—then Human Resources schedules you for a drug test. If you pass that, (and I wouldn't trust anyone who did), you just might get the job. Then, if you pass the 90-day probation period, you're a full-fledged casino employee! See, I told you it was easy.

It wasn't quite that complicated when I moved to Las Vegas about 150 years ago. In those days, getting a casino job was all about juice. If you knew someone, or if you knew someone who knew someone, then you could always get a job. Of course, you had to know how to deal, and the only way you could do that was by going to dealer's school.

They were all listed in the yellow pages of the phone book. Casino Gaming School, Nevada School of Dealing, Dealers Training Center, Casino School, Las Vegas Dealers School. "Learn to deal in casino style surroundings." "Hands-On Training." "Learn at your own pace." "Day and Evening Classes." "Job placement assistance." My mind raced as I ripped the page out of the book. Not only could I learn everything I needed to know, but these people would help me get a job when I graduated.

The next morning I drove downtown. Behind a noisy slot joint called Honest John's was a dingy, gray building with a faded sign: "Nevada School of Dealing." I parked my Mustang in the Honest John's parking lot ("Customers Only" the sign read) and headed for the casino, the parking attendant watching me warily. As soon as I got inside, I ducked out through a side door and headed for the school.

The owner, a lanky man with a permanent frown on his face, introduced himself as Arnold. He showed me around, talking incessantly while elbowing students out of the way. There were three blackjack tables, a crap table with a worn layout you could practically see through, and a roulette wheel with a chipped "El Rancho Vegas" logo on it. It was probably worth a fortune as an antique; the El Rancho had burned to the ground almost 15 years ago.

"I can teach you any game in the casino," Arnold told me. "It's a hundred and seventy-five a game, and I suggest you learn at least three games. It'll make it that much easier to get hired somewhere."

I swallowed. "Uh, maybe just one game to start with. I was thinking about learning blackjack."

Arnold made a face. "I could teach a monkey to deal blackjack. You oughta learn to deal craps. Crap dealers are worth their weight in gold. Everybody wants crap dealers."

I swallowed again. "Gee, I don't know. It looks so complicated."

"Come on back to the office," he said. "I'll give you all the stuff you need to get started." Eyeing me over his horn-rims, he added, "You got the money, right?"

"Yes sir," I answered, handing over a crisp hundred dollar bill and four twenties. In an instant, my bankroll had been depleted by almost a third. I was full of questions as I followed Arnold into his office. How long was the course? When did classes start? How would I get a job when I graduated? I learned then that this wasn't an actual institute of higher learning, like a regular college. You showed up whenever you felt like it, you practiced on the table with the other students, and Arnold would tip you off if one of the downtown casinos decided to hire a break-in. That's what we were, break-ins. In other lines of work, we'd be called gofers, or flunkies, or interns. In Vegas we were break-ins.

Arnold gave me some mimeographed sheets of paper and told me to memorize everything. One look at the pages and my heart sank. The first one was about the pass line and the don't pass, and "odds," whatever that was. The next page was about come bets and don't come bets, then came another page on proposition bets and an ominous something called "hardways." That figured. This was turning out to be a hard way to make a living.

"I've got to memorize all this stuff?" I cried.

"It's not that hard," Arnold shrugged. "Just think of everything in units. One unit pays a certain amount, the next unit pays twice that much. You'll get it down in no time."

I went through the pages again. "I don't see anything in here about how the game is played. Don't you have a text book or something?"

Arnold laughed. "You'll learn all that in class." Again: "It's not that hard." He looked at his watch and then brushed past me. "Why don't you go meet the others and I'll see you when I get back from the bank."

I wandered around the place for a good two hours, but Arnold never came back. I found out later from one of my classmates that Arnold didn't go to the bank with a new student's tuition. He went to a downtown casino and "invested" it at the tables. When he lost, he didn't come back. Maybe that's why he was gone most of the time.

By the end of the first day, I was getting the hang of the game. It was called "craps" because the shooter lost if he rolled a craps number on the first roll — a two, three, or a twelve. There was a man with a stick called a stickman, and two dealers who took everybody's chips when the shooter didn't shoot what he was supposed to shoot.

And that was another thing I learned. All the players took turns shooting the dice. You didn't have to shoot if you didn't want to, but it was kind of what held the whole thing together. Besides, it was like being in the limelight for a couple of minutes. Everyone watching you, everyone counting on you, everyone smiling at you when you rolled one of their numbers. Heck, I thought it was more fun being the shooter than being one of the dealers.

It was still a lot more complicated than blackjack, but I was starting to get the general idea. Of course, I still didn't know what a lay bet was, or a come bet. But one of these days it would all fall into place. I just had to study harder, that's all.

I also started making friends with some of the other students. A group of us ate lunch together in a downtown casino, where I got a whole sundae glass full of shrimp (and lettuce) for a buck. We didn't talk about our hometowns or anything else of a personal nature. We talked craps, and I could feel the excitement bubbling in my veins. It was the same feeling fighter pilots must experience after a bombing run over enemy territory, or how a major leaguer feels after he pitches a no-hitter. We were all going to be dealers someday, and Vegas would never be the same.

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson