When I got a call from the American Gaming Association last month telling me that they were giving me the Lifetime Achievement Award in Gaming Communications at the AGA Communications Awards at G2E, my first reaction was that I must really be getting old if they wanted to honor me this way.
And make no mistake, this is one of the top honors of my life, so I was as confused as I was gratified.
But then when I started thinking about it, I had to admit that I am old! I began working in this industry before I began covering it. As a dealer at Caesars Boardwalk Regency (now Caesars Atlantic City) in 1979, I got a rude introduction to the casino industry. I worked six-day weeks, nine or 10 hours a day dealing $2 blackjack for the first year or two of my career.
New Jersey at that time had a regulation that casinos had to offer a certain percentage (actually a large percentage) of $2 and $5 tables. So, many of us who started at that time were doomed to deal to the “fleas,” as casino employees still call those low-limit players today. To this day, I can’t even play blackjack because of the bad memories the game brings back to me.
Things began to change when Caesars accepted me into a baccarat class to learn the “elegant” game. The action in the Caesars baccarat pit in Atlantic City in those days is still legendary. It was a time before the cash transaction rule that requires casinos to report any buy-in or payout of more than $10,000. So, we’d see hundreds of thousands of dollars—sometimes a million dollars or more—come across the green felt. And even if you took the baccarat class, you had to be a good dealer to be permitted to work that action.
To escape $2 blackjack, I had to be better than good, and I think I was, since I dealt to the biggest players most of the time. I also got to know many Caesars executives, who have since gone on to become leaders in the casino industry.
After a couple of years, I was recruited by Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget, where I dealt to even bigger money. Like in Las Vegas, Wynn was the big player in Atlantic City, and attracted all the attention from the high rollers. And of course, I got to meet Steve Wynn, one of the legends of our industry.
But in all that time, I never got promoted. I saw dealers who I had taken under my wing to learn about the Caesars “way” or the Golden Nugget “way” get promoted ahead of me. Much later, I realized why. I had a big mouth, which has served me well during my post-casino career, but was a deal-killer if I wanted to reach the management level in any of the casinos I worked.
But I wanted that job so bad. So after Steve Wynn left Atlantic City in a buyout from Bally Manufacturing (which also ran Bally’s Park Place—now Bally’s Atlantic City), I took one more shot at a promotion. One of the shift supervisors at the Golden Nugget had gotten a job at the newest casino in Atlantic City at the time, Showboat. He told me that if I came to Showboat as a dealer, he’d get me promoted to a floorman less that two months after the casino opened. So I jumped.
Big mistake. Showboat was a disaster. It was very poorly organized and failed to attract the big players I had become accustomed to. And to add to the horror, I wasn’t even dealing baccarat full-time; they had me back on blackjack games.
So I decided the time had come to get out. Even before leaving Caesars, I had begun working part-time for a newspaper published for the casino employee. The publisher offered me a small salary (less than half of what I was making as a dealer), if I sold advertising, too. But despite my big mouth, I am the world’s worst salesman, so I made virtually no money doing that. It was a struggle to support my family, but we made it.
The course of the rest of my life was set, and it’s a career that I have enjoyed (and plan to continue to enjoy for many years). I’ve had lots of support, a few mentors, and a tremendous amount of luck. But if you want to hear what happened during those years, you’ll have to come to the Communications Awards ceremony at G2E, Wednesday, October 3 at noon. Hope to see you there!