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Life Changer

That free dealer training might just be the ticket

Life Changer

It was a turning point in my life when I got accepted to dealers school at Caesars Atlantic City back in 1978, although it put on the back burner my goal of becoming a professional musician. That was, after all, kind of a pipe dream, to be honest. I couldn’t read or write music, my band only played varieties of rock or pop songs, but mostly we played original music.

Imagine, if you will, a casino lounge act that in the late ’70s could only play a few Beatles, Stones and CSNY tunes, and the rest would be songs you never heard of before. Yeah, you get the idea.

At the same time, my partner and I had our second son, and supporting them moved to the top of my priority list. Up until then, I used the typical Atlantic City hustle of working your rear-ends off during the summer running a gas dock and collecting unemployment for the winter. It wasn’t a bad life, but it turns out I had some ambition.

Last month, I read a report out of Chicago announcing that Chicago City Colleges would get involved in dealer training for the new Bally’s hotel casino that will rise there over the next several years. That’s what happened with Atlantic Community College. My advice, if you’re at loose ends—take full advantage of it.

Even if you never rise above the level of a dealer, where else could you go to school for free and come out the other end with a $50K-a-year position at least? Chicago seems to be just as interesting as the Philadelphia/South Jersey area is, and I can attest that I met some very interesting people amid some very unique circumstances.

And that starts with the instructors. Caesars, back in the ’70s, didn’t draft some egghead professors to teach you the games. They employed the people who knew the games the best. And yes, while there were some former dealers from Caesars Palace, most of the teachers came from the illegal gambling towns across the Northeast, South and Midwest.

Take Ramon, for example. He had worked in the Cuban gaming halls of Union City after emigrating from Havana, while his archnemesis, Ray, came from the Puerto Rican gambling houses on Long Island. Or Big Steve from Stuebenville, Ohio, who loved the phrase “dummy up and deal.” Then there was Mark, a low-key former Caesars dealer, who came to Atlantic City on the promise he’d be promoted to deal in the corral at Caesars Palace where the tips were the best—and the Rainman played. Took him five years to get back to Vegas.

When I went to dealers school, all dealers had to take blackjack as a first game. I remember asking the casino manager, Jess Lenz, whether I should take a second game, something other than blackjack, that would make me more valuable to the managers. He told me that it wasn’t necessary, that there would be plenty of work for everyone.

He was right. I worked six-day weeks, 10 hours a day, but I was buried in the $2 and $5 blackjack pits every hour of every day. Later when I took baccarat, my life changed again, because I got noticed, because I was needed. And it turned out I was a pretty good dealer, after all.

So it wasn’t only the art of dealing you were learning. You heard all the tall tales and all the horror stories that these vastly experienced instructors could pass out, giving you at least that secondhand knowledge. And you also learned how to groom yourself. Some of us were just out of high school, so the idea of dressing to the nines often came down to the latest fashion in disco or a mini-skirt. But since those fashions didn’t cut it in those day with the greatest generation, it was important that non-uniformed executives cut a sharp figure.

For those of us who had that extra ambition, Caesars offered management courses, and to say those classes weren’t much more valuable would be a lie. I never took advantage of those courses in the casino. It seems my big mouth disqualified me from getting promoted, while some of my more reasonable colleagues broke through that ceiling. But what I learned during those years benefited me greatly as I began to write about the industry.

My instructors were excellent. Little did I know that Jess Hinkle was one of the first Native Americans to attain an important role in the business even prior to IGRA. Or that Bill Downey Sr. would pass on to his sons Bill Jr., now a top gaming attorney, and Chris, one of the top slot executives in the country, his expertise. Maybe I would have paid closer attention.

So anyone who thinks that dealer training or free management courses are useless should think again. For those of us who couldn’t afford a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, it might just be the ticket.

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