“Now every gambler knows, the secret to surviving, is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep!” So sings Kenny Rogers, in his classic 70’s hit The Gambler – and Rogers is right, of course. But the secret to casino survival isn’t just about knowing when to fold your cards, or when to press your bet. It isn’t only about blackjack strategy or understanding the house edge. For a black belt in casino survival, what you really need to do is avoid irritating the dealer.
Your dealer is probably working her third sixteen-hour shift in a row, and she’s not sure when she last got more than five hours’ sleep. She went to the pub next door at 9 o’clock, when the day shift ended, and downed two large glasses of wine in an hour, before coming back to work the night shift. Now she’s standing on blackjack, dealing to you, when what she really wants to do is go on a break and shovel down some Shepherd’s Pie. She’d also like to go to the toilet, and smoke a cigarette – and when does she gets a break, she’ll do all this in less than twenty minutes, because that’s how long she’s got.
You can trust me on this, because I was that dealer. For over a decade, I worked in various London casinos, dealing blackjack, roulette, poker and punto banco. I was often on a double shift, I habitually had a hangover, and I was typically very tired. I know that most of the other dealers were too. So, no matter how brilliant you are at basic strategy, or how accurate you are at predicting the section of the wheel on roulette, if you want to win, you need the dealers on your side. Their capacity for patience and goodwill is already threadbare at best, so unless you want the hive mind of the gaming staff hoping you lose all your money, make sure you don’t do any of the following…
EATING AT THE TABLE
“They’d eat chicken wings with their mouths open, and when you took their losing bets off the layout, their chips would be stuck together with chicken,” says Ed. “They’d have sweet and sour sauce on their fingers and they’d get it all over the table,” he adds, sounding traumatised. Jack recalls noodles and shark fin soup getting all over the layout, and Paige is pained by punters spitting food across the table. “They eat fish goujons – the stink of them!” she says, “genuinely, it’s vile!” But it’s not just the smell, or the flecks of food in her face, “it’s the mess!” she says, thinking of the greasy lamb chop lollipops (ie meat-on-a-stick) dripping all over the baize. “The cards and the chips get stuck together. You have to separate each chip and clean them with tissues,” says Paige, “it holds up the whole game!” But drinks are alright, right? No. Do not put your drink on the gaming table – ever. “A woman spilled an entire glass of wine over my table once,” says Jack, “there’s nothing nastier than soggy felt!” So keep your drink away from the layout, and eat your triple-fried chips in the restaurant. Just because you can eat at the gaming tables, it doesn’t mean you should.
SPREADING SALIVA AND SPAWNING MUCUS
“He used to cough greenies up into his espresso cup – it was f****** vile!” says Sophie, remembering the habits of a regular punter. Jack, who witnessed similar behaviour, recalls with loathing, “the ones that make horrible snorting sounds when they’re going to spit - then they spit in an ashtray or a cup holder. It’s awful!” But at least this saliva was landing in utensils. Tim once had a punter sneeze on his arm, as he cleared the layout on roulette, and Curtis, a casino manager at the time, had a player spit in his food, as he sat in the restaurant. Another player spat in Sophie’s face, across the blackjack table. She says, “he was known for it. I find it repulsive behaviour.” It is repulsive behaviour. I can pretty much guarantee that unless you look like a member of Ocean’s Eleven, no one in the casino wants your saliva anywhere near them – and nor do they want to see it swimming about in cups and ashtrays.
CRYING TEARS OF SELF-PITY
Yep, tears are another bodily fluid we’d like you to keep to yourselves. I used to deal blackjack every night to a guy who’d well up when the cards didn’t fall in his favour. “It’s just so unfair!” he’d declare, wet-eyed. My friend Tim would stand at the next table, waving a box of tissues about in my peripheral vision, while he hummed The Streets’ song Dry Your Eyes. Sometimes he’d shove a box of tissues onto my table, murmuring the tune to the chorus: “Dry your eyes mate, I know you want to make her see how much this pain hurts, but you've got to walk away now, its o-o-o-o-ver.…” I’d be almost bubbling over in my efforts not to laugh.
So was I unsympathetic in the face of this man’s tears? Quite frankly, yes. He could afford to lose more in a night than I earnt in a year. Asking the dealer for sympathy is bit like pulling up alongside a man who’s standing by a burnt out Skoda, and telling him you’ve got a scratch on your Mercedes. Mate, he doesn’t care.
WEARING THE SAME CLOTHES UNTIL YOU STINK OF DEAD DOG
I used to deal punto banco to a woman who stank like the contents of a pig’s colon. In her crease-free slacks, she looked alright from across the room, but up close, she smelt like the maggots had moved in. Sometimes she’d stay for nearly 40 hours straight and we’d have to set the fire alarm off to get her out. Ed, who feels my pain, says, “I remember a couple of guys whose B.O. was so bad, all the other punters left the table, and the dealers refused to go on there. The stench was so pungent, they almost induced mass vomiting. The managers drew straws, and the loser had to tell them to leave because they smelled.” Paige has also been there. She recalls, “we had one manager who’d tell punters straight out to go home, clean themselves, and change their clothes before coming back, but the new managers don’t have the balls to do it. So I sit there, loudly discussing the smell with my friend Sheila who’s on the next table, hoping they’ll get the hint.”
Samantha Rea is a London based journalist and former croupier. She can be found tweeting here