The recent closings of casinos in Atlantic City and elsewhere made me recall the camaraderie that you feel when you work in any casino. While I’m sure all jobs—retail, food and beverage, service, manufacturing, whatever—contain some kind of closeness and kinship, casinos seem to ramp it up to the next level. There are so many disciplines in a casino, so many unusual customers, and frankly, so many different goals of each department, that a casino is like a living, breathing organism.
I worked for three casinos in my days in Atlantic City—Caesars, the Golden Nugget and Showboat—and each one of them had a different vibe.
I was an original dealer at Caesars in 1979. Very few of us had any casino experience, so we were all newbies. We were learning something new every day. Our “guides” were old-line Las Vegas gaming veterans whose idea of customer service was to get a player an extra drink. It took us a while to understand what it was all about, but when you were working nine- or 10-hour shifts, six days a week, you got up to speed before too long.
We had a “dealer’s council” at Caesars, which was something they never did in Vegas. We’d ask questions like “Can we grow a mustache?” The answer from the casino manager was “Yes, you can, when you see me wearing a mustache.” The council wasn’t very productive.
But it was an exciting time, lots of bonding, making lifelong friends.
It was different at the Golden Nugget. I was coming into an established situation in the most successful casino in town. And as a competent baccarat dealer, I was accepted quickly, and learned the pride of working for Steve Wynn and the standards he set. We dealt to the highest of high rollers, did it with style and panache, and earned a great living.
When the Golden Nugget became Bally and the Atlantic City Hilton, and finally the Atlantic Club, many of those high rollers departed, but the family feel that employees brought to the tables never completely evaporated.
And as an original dealer at Showboat, I was a bit jaded. I was one of just a few dealers with experience (being lured to Showboat by a former Golden Nugget executive with a promise of a quick promotion to supervisor). As such, I was required to squire some of the break-in dealers through their early days, making sure they understood procedures and the process. So I guess I became something of a mentor early on, but it didn’t last long. When the promised promotion never materialized, I set off on my writing career and never looked back (except in my nightmares, where I’m dealing an endless game of blackjack).
But every time I walked through any of those casinos, memories came flooding back of fellow employees, cranky customers or peculiar executives. The experiences I developed in those properties serve me to this day. That’s why it’s so sad about the recent closings, but it’s not the end of the world. Anyone with Atlantic City experience is valuable in other gaming jurisdictions.
Of course, not every casino employee who lost their job will want to leave Atlantic City. The city, county and state are trying to help people find jobs, but it clearly won’t be in the casino industry since the loss of so many jobs will severely limit the available casino jobs.
As I look back, the relationships I developed during my casino days continue to endure. Just last month, I got pinged on LinkedIn by someone I was friends with at Caesars more than 30 years ago and haven’t spoken to since. He’s already retired from the industry, but had a good life working for several casinos during that time (notably outside of Atlantic City).
These are the connections you make. How many fellow employees got engaged, married, had kids, went through divorces, bought homes and cars… all the things that make up a full life. Now I run a small company. I have a small circle of fellow employees, and I can talk to any one of them at any time during the day. In a casino, with thousands of employees, you may see someone every day, but not even know their name. And then some work-related event pulls you together and you realize that this person is very talented or extremely effective at their job. And you become friends.
So losing a casino job is a lot more than simply losing a paycheck. It’s losing a lifestyle with friends, activities and connections. It’s a tragedy but always remember the good times, and that they can be recreated by furthering your career in another good gaming company.