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Coming of Age in Vegas

15 September 2003

After less than a week at dealer's school, I was dealing craps like I'd done it all my life. The camaraderie I felt with the other students was hard to explain. It was almost like going to summer camp, being away from home for the first time. We were all pals, all allies, all out to become Las Vegas dealers.

We'd take turns dealing the game and working the stick, then we'd become regular players, trying to stump everyone else with some screwball bet. "Gimme a horn high ace-deuce for a nickel," I would bark, tossing a fake chip to the fake dealer.

The instructor would grin and say, "Book it, Danno. That's a legitimate bet."

And I would stand there with a smug look on my face, proud as an eagle. The only problem I encountered was handling the chips. They kept falling out of my hands when I tried to pay a bet. Here I had the payoff all worked out in my mind ($12 six pays $14), then I'd try to pay it, dollar chips in my left hand and $5 chips in my right. Suddenly gravity would kick in and the damn things would go scattering all over the table. "Where'd this come from?" the dealer on the other end would ask. "That's mine," I'd answer with a sigh. "Roll it back over here, will yuh?"

The instructor took me to one side. "You're gonna be a good clerk," he said in a confidential voice. "But you can't cut checks worth a crap. I want you to go over to the Nevada Club. Buy yourself a $5 stack of 25-cent checks. When you get home, spread a blanket or something on the kitchen table, and practice cutting checks. Ninety percent of the game is cutting checks, remember that."

There's another one I'd have to stick in the old memory bank. Tourists called 'em chips. Dealers called 'em checks. Don't ask me why. They just did, that's all.

The Nevada Club turned out to be about the seediest gambling joint I'd ever seen. The carpet, if you could call it that, was held together with spit, and stained with every kind of blotch and smear you could think of. Hopefully, it wasn't blood.

The place was crawling with drunks, hookers, and down-and-out grinders. It was almost like being inside Ripley's "Believe It or Not." The food for the help must be pretty good, though. Every dealer in the joint had a stomach out to here.

I edged cautiously to the casino cage, on the lookout for pickpockets and serial killers. The cashier pushed me a stack of quarter checks that were so worn a seeing eye dog couldn't tell what they were worth. I hefted the checks in my hand, feeling some kind of power from deep inside. Here came gravity again and one of them went rolling toward a blackjack table. As I picked it up, I glanced at the table. One of the seats was empty. The occupant must've gotten the DT's or something.

You know what? This could be some kind of omen. They say everything happens for a reason, so just why did my 25-cent check land at the foot of a blackjack table with one empty seat? Yes sir, my guardian angel was working overtime, telling me it was time to make myself a quick double sawbuck.

I stuffed the checks in my pocket and dropped a twenty on the table. "Change," the dealer called over her shoulder to a bored pit boss who was either doing paperwork or reading a racing form. "Go ahead," he said, never giving me a second glance. The dealer, 80 years old if she was a day, pushed me $10 in iron and two $5 checks. At least I could read the writing on them.

Four hands later I was down twenty bucks. I busted every single time. I learned one thing, though. You don't say, "Hit me" at the blackjack table. You scratch on the table if you want a card, stick the cards under your money if you don't, especially in a joint like the Nevada Club. Say "Hit me" in there, and that's what was liable to happen.

Out came another twenty, only now my heart was starting to pound. No one liked to lose, but not everyone was carrying his life savings around in his back pocket, either. The dealer gave me four $5 chips this time. "Change," she called. The pit boss didn't answer. He was probably having his own problems at Santa Anita.

This twenty went just as fast as the last one, and just like that I was down forty big ones. Maybe if I struck up a conversation with the dealer she'd take pity on me. At least, I might be able to break her conversation and get her off that winning streak. "So where you from?" I asked her, digging in my wallet again.

"Here and there."

"How long you been a dealer?"

"Too long."

"Well, you sure are lucky, I'll say that."

"Hey, I just deal the cards, Mister. I don't care who wins."

"Yeah? Well, I'm gonna be a dealer myself. Soon as I get out of school, I'm gonna be a crap dealer."

"Change!" she hollered, scooping up another of my twenties.

Nothing from the pit boss. Not another word from her, either. Here came the cards again, and I finally won a bet. I decided to double up, and let the whole ten ride. Wrong move. It was the same old song and dance; she got the gold and I got the shaft.

By now my mouth was so dry I couldn't swallow, which was just as well. I hadn't seen a cocktail waitress in this flea trap since I sat down.

To make a long story short, I lost $150 that afternoon, and the $5 in quarter checks to boot. It was like watching a horror movie on the big screen. I was the knight in shining armor. The dealer? She was Dracula.

It was a long ride back to the motel. I'd never felt like such a loser in my life. And let's face it, that's what I was—a loser. Everyone knows you can't buck the casinos and come out on top. Who paid for all those lights and all those high-rises anyway? We did. The losers of the world.

Every store I passed seemed to have a sale going on. Stereos: $150. Men's suits: $150. Caribbean cruise: $150. Leather sofas: $150. Sterling silver dinnerware: $150. New television sets: $150. I could've bought any of those things for the money I threw away at the Nevada Club. I could stay in the motel another week for $150, with money left over for other luxuries. . . like food and the next payment on my Mustang, which was already past due.

The worst part of it all was trying to fall asleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw playing cards. Sixes and sevens, aces and face cards, spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds. Then the dreams started, and in those dreams I was winning every hand. The checks were piling up in front of me, and soon a crowd gathered to watch my phenomenal run of luck.

I woke up and for a moment I thought I did win. For just a tiny instant my heart soared and my spirits lifted. Then I opened my wallet. Sixty-three dollars. That's all the money I had left in the world. Sixty-three lousy dollars between me and starvation. Suddenly I felt the bile churn up in my stomach, and then I was kneeling in front of the commode, heaving my guts out.

I never gambled again.

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