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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

The Card Dealer

19 November 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Ernie Acevedo had not yet turned 21 when he first walked into Caesars Palace - a wide-eyed UNLV student who wanted to witness the casino's opening day in 1966.

The Roman-themed spectacle, with roving centurions and elaborate fountains, captivated him. A few years later, at a Caesars restaurant, he asked his future in-laws for their daughter's hand in marriage. The couple named their first child after the Caesars headliner, Shani Wallace.

Acevedo was close to finishing his education degree at UNLV when he realized he'd need to attend another college for a course in how to teach the deaf. So instead, with a young family to feed, he quit school and learned to deal cards at the Horseshoe, a high-stakes downtown joint. One thing led to another. He worked in a handful of casinos, sold real estate and in 1993 landed a job at Caesars Palace.

"It was the first place where I didn't mind coming to work," he said. "It was a real pleasure."

At the time, Caesars Palace was owned by Caesars World - a company that had sloughed off the property's early ties to the mob-affiliated Teamsters Union but still operated the property in a way that was different from that of the big corporations of today.

Acevedo says there was less pressure to meet profit goals and a more laid-back attitude toward the peaks and valleys of the gambling business.

"They wouldn't sweat the action by changing the deck or the dealer to try to influence the outcome of a game," he said. "At Caesars you could be paying thousands of dollars to customers and they would know that the game, eventually, would take care of itself."

Dealers, he says, now feel like sacrificial lambs to corporate profit. Managers commonly side with customers who are rude or belligerent with dealers. And employee reviews feel like a kangaroo court, with predetermined outcomes, no one to represent the dealer and no appeals, he said.

Acevedo says it's more than just managing for the bottom line. It's a psychological minefield.

"The idea is to keep compartmentalizing dealers with this idea that we are unskilled laborers and easily replaced. On a normal gambling day, we may have tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of transactions. What other industry would treat its employees with this much responsibility this way?"

Acevedo, 60, says he is making less money now than he was a few years ago, even without a tip-sharing policy like Wynn's.

That's because health insurance premiums have risen by thousands of dollars, while games with less attractive odds have proliferated on the Strip. Those games keep more of the players' money but can mean fewer tips from dissatisfied players, he said.

Acevedo's three children have steered clear from dealing, influenced by their father's love-hate relationship with the job.

"I am speaking out about this because I'm a short-timer. I won't see the benefits of this effort. I'm doing this to benefit future generations of dealers and because I want to see Caesars do well."