Sitcom characters and a million stories in the baccarat pit

Funny Situation

When I was working at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City in the early 1980s, I was convinced that the baccarat pit crew would have made the perfect blueprint for a situation comedy.

Remember that during this period, the prototypical ensemble sitcoms ruled the television airwaves: Cheers, Taxi, WKPR in Cincinnati and many others. The formula was pretty simple. Invent some quirky characters, throw in some zany customers and stir it together with unlikely plots, and you’ve got a hit TV show.

The great thing about the Golden Nugget baccarat pit in those days was that you didn’t have to make up anything; it was all there just by observation.

The one problem, however, might have been the character of the casino owner. I’m pretty sure Steve Wynn wouldn’t have allowed himself to be portrayed on a sitcom, and we probably couldn’t have called it the “Golden Nugget” because of obvious copyright reasons, but I’m sure a good writer could have come up with something. I was never a comedy writer (I leave that particular talent to our editor Frank Legato), so I don’t have any answer, but because there was a Steve Wynn (and his rival in those days, Donald Trump), any literary license taken by the writers in inventing a casino owner would likely have been accepted.

But the cast itself didn’t need to change at all. Starting with Bruce, the Birkenstock-wearing casino manager, and Tom, the fatherly soft-spoken pit boss, the list of characters was impressive.

And the dealers were a hoot: Irene, the strong single woman always looking to find solid husband material, but failing; Mary Jean, the gritty Filipina with a Brooklyn accent, who was always tardy; John, the foppish gay Italian—really Italian, complete with the accent; Eric, the lady’s man, who thinks he’s the center of the universe; Gail, the conflicted married woman with a heart of gold; George, the entrepreneur who always has a scheme; and Jack, the moody but devastatingly handsome dude who just wanted to be left alone.

And of course myself, I was very normal. I wrote for a casino magazine on the side, but dreamed of being a rock ‘n’ roll star. There were a dozen other dealers who could do cameos in various scenes and had equally quirky personalities.

The supervisors were equally interesting, and could be used as foils in any situation: Martina, the unlikely high-brow working woman who owned a ladies’ shoe store with her husband; Bill, whose nickname (which I will not recount here) only hinted of the depths of his depravity; Deborah, the impossibly beautiful new-age hippie with the serious side; Kenny, who took brown-nosing the bosses to Olympic levels; and Amy, the girl-next-door who was everyone’s friend.

But the cast only got better when you added the players: Rocco, the Boardwalk pizza parlor owner; Bobby, the degenerate horse player who was the ringleader of the players; Harry, the happy-go-lucky retired gentleman who played simply for the entertainment; Si, the grumpy friend of the casino owner who tortured the employees with his unreasonable orders (get Charles Laughton to play him; they looked exactly alike).

And let’s not forget the set. No need to build a new one, just use the actual baccarat pit. At the Golden Nugget, they had two games (the big ones, thank you; ran like a craps game with two base dealers and a stickman). The tables had seven chairs on each side (no number “13,” so 14 spots). At the end of each side was a “ladder chair” up on a pedestal to allow the supervisors a better view of the game. There were also four high-limit blackjack tables, and if you were scheduled to deal there, you hated it. Oh, the possibilities for funny situations were endless.

And when you come to the plots, there’s a million stories in the baccarat pit: The one where John laments he can’t marry the love of his life (remember, this is the 1980s); the one where George almost makes a million but the scheme falls apart at the last minute; the one where the casino owner brings in the crooner to film a TV commercial in the pit; the one where the big high roller comes in and loses several $10,000 cash bets in a row and the casino manager tells me to drop the money without counting it. Yeah, every episode is a scream.

Of course, this sitcom was never written or produced. But if anyone who has the necessary TV connections thinks it’s a great idea, I can be your high-paid consultant. And by the way, all the names or the plots were not changed to protect the innocent, so I apologize if I wasn’t able to flesh out your real character in approximately 700 words. Those who were there will immediately know the depth of every personality in the pit.

Roger Gros

Author: Roger Gros

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.