Las Vegas poker dealers are players, too

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Poker in Las Vegas has many unique aspects, some more controversial than others. One of the most talked-about policies in Nevada poker rooms by visitors from outside of the state is the allowance of poker room employees to play in their cardrooms.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board is unique in that it allows poker dealers to play in their rooms’ games whether on or off the clock, upon management approval. It’s then up to the room management to decide the specifics in that allowance. Standard regulations include they not be in uniform and they are not permitted to drink alcohol while clocked in. Many rooms add restrictions such as employees aren’t eligible for jackpot promotions (though they pay the same jackpot as every player), or they’re not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages even if they’re playing when off the clock.

Despite the rather liberal allowance by the NGCB, casino operators use their discretion at how to handle dealers wanting to play. It’s really a double-edged sword in the minds of many in management.

On one hand, allowing employees to play helps build games and contribute to the house drop. Employees are customers, too, and forcing them to play elsewhere (when they’re going to play anyway) is the equivalent of sending you’re most dedicated and loyal customers out the door.

On the other hand, the bread and butter of every poker room is the players, which greatly outnumber the employees, and if the players are uncomfortable playing alongside someone who may have just dealt to them, they may opt to not return to that poker room in the future. This creates a delicate line that management must walk alongside when deciding the house rules when it comes to employees who want to play.

Reading Internet message boards and listening to tourists at the table complain about dealers being allowed to play in the game, I begin to wonder if the person has any idea how poker is different from the pit.

Chances are if you’re reading Ante Up Magazine, you’re a poker player. Though you may never have played poker in Las Vegas, we as poker players have one basic understanding of the game: It’s players vs. players.
Unlike blackjack, roulette, keno or slot machines, there’s no house edge in poker. We, as players, are basically renting the table and the dealer from the casino to play poker. The profit margin on poker is low for a casino because of this, and at one time, the poker rooms in Las Vegas were leased out from the casinos and run by independent individuals.

Times have changed, of course. Casinos have come to realize that not only the individual house rake comes into play when it comes to profitability, but so does the marketing aspects, player loyalty and ancillary profits from the players by way of restaurant, retail and extracurricular gambling that the poker players and significant others participate in while on the property to play poker. But one thing has not changed: It’s still players vs. players, and many dealers are players, too.

Being a poker dealer is no easy job. Dealing cards to players 40 hours a week and depending on their voluntary per-hand tips can be a tough living, especially if your room is slow or the game is full of stiffs (those who don’t tip). Plus, the most poker dealers in Las Vegas are “Extra Board” meaning they’re not full-time employees and aren’t guaranteed hours each week.

Just because one is assigned to an eight-hour shift does NOT mean they’ll be dealing for eight hours (the equivalent of 16 downs or rotations into a game).

There are breaks, tournament rotations, chip running and a host of other activities that prevent a consistent number of hands from being dealt all day. Adding this to the fact they must deal with poker players every day (who often are not the most pleasant people), at the end of a shift, they often want to sit down and play. Nevada casinos are unique in that they are welcome to do just that.

Players who constantly complain that a room allows employees to play are often just looking for a scapegoat for their losses.

The reality is the more players a room has, even if they’re employed by the cardroom, the more games will be offered. With so many poker rooms desperate for players, banning employees from playing is not only bad customer service, it’s bad for business. Thankfully, the Nevada Gaming Control Board understands this and allows employees to play where they work.

— Michael Hamai (a.k.a LasVegasMichael) resides in Las Vegas and is content manager and editor of AllVegasPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter @LasVegasMichael or email him at Michael@AllVegasPoker.com.