I write about politics all the time. I write about workers getting screwed and corporations getting fat. I write about class struggle. If there is one point that is worthy of being driven home constantly, it’s that. Some of my closest allies in real life don’t understand how I can be so consumed by this; most are in their 40’s, and I assume the majority feel like I am just going through a “liberal” phase; nonetheless they probably would rather I stick to sports, or stick to telling bullshit stories about my life, because that’s what I’m supposed to talk about.
So let’s get off course and talk about it:
I recently got promoted to full-time at the casino I work at, which has been a long time coming but also the first opportunity I’ve had (since the tables games department rarely promotes dealers). My first night was December 26th, 2014 at 2:00 A.M., meaning it took me almost four years to go from being part time, working four days a week on average, to getting full-time benefits.
To appreciate this I can’t ignore where I started, which was basically out of nowhere. As a 21 year-old I gambled excessively, not only for a young person but for anyone. My best friend and I were at the casino together almost every night, and oftentimes until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning when I had to wake up at 8:30 to go to work the following day. I can’t imagine that type of schedule now, but apparently the difference between being 21 and 28 is meaningful.
By the time I made it to 22 I was unemployed and struggling to kick a couple addictions. My life prospects were pretty hopeless, if I am being honest. In my head I still always assumed I would be successful in the future, but in reality I never acted to put myself in a position for any success. I kind of just floated around aimlessly expecting something magical to happen, even though I wasn’t putting any of my talent to use. I was fortunate to have parents who supported me, and a best friendship that wasn’t conditional — even while I was going through a losing stage in my life.
I don’t know how exactly to describe myself circa 2012: an underachiever, a loser, a burnout. I’m not sure how to pinpoint it, I just know it was only a fraction of how I felt about myself on the inside.
It was my best friend’s idea that I should become a dealer, which would have been bold if it wasn’t so obvious. Becoming a dealer was not only the perfect option, it was pretty much the only thing that made any kind of sense.
So I started dealer school about a week before my 23rd birthday, in March 2013, and started working at a break-in joint in Coachella a couple months before I turned 24, in January 2014. The casino was Spotlight 29 — formerly Trump 29 — and although there wasn’t a lot of big action the table games department was extremely procedure-oriented. After all a lot of the dealers were brand new like I was, so the casino kept to strict rules to help protect its assets.
I remember when I started, roulette was a game I didn’t know how to deal. So every time it was my turn in the rotation to go on the roulette table, I would have to switch with someone. It wasn’t required of me to know for my audition, but the fact that other people knew how to deal it and I didn’t made me feel like a little kid. As if I needed help from the adults who actually knew what they were doing.
It’s part of a theme in my life, the latent jealousy I feel for people who know things that I don’t. I can trace it all the way back to being a child and having an older brother who was two years ahead of me in school. It wasn’t good enough that I was in kindergarten painting pictures and going to recess; I had to know the second grade multiplication tables my brother had for homework.
So that was that, mostly. I went back to school and learned roulette, and a few weeks later I was dealing it at Spotlight. At the time it was far and away my favorite game to deal, not only as a break from mundane games like blackjack but because it allowed me the freedom to show off. From the moment I started dealing roulette it wasn’t good enough that I knew it, or could go through the mechanics of actually dealing it. I had to be the best roulette dealer in the casino.
The winter months turned into the spring months, and the spring months turned into summer, and I was still at Spotlight. I generally assumed when I started that I wouldn’t be there for very long, just a few months for the experience and then I would go somewhere else that paid better. That particular summer, however, the California economy must’ve sucked, because there was a job freeze. None of the surrounding casinos in the desert were hiring — not Morongo, not Fantasy Springs, not Spa Casino, not Agua Caliente — and my destination casino, San Manuel, required at least two years of experience.
I got stuck for a year, basically. Then one day in November one of my former floor supervisors named Hazel sent me a message on Facebook telling me I should apply at Agua (where she worked). The day before Thanksgiving I got an audition, and I figure I did pretty well since out of everyone who applied and auditioned only two were selected.
To get the job, I told the Operations Manager I was in school learning craps. When he asked how much longer I had to go I said “probably a few more weeks.” In reality I hadn’t even started. I dangled the carrot of being in school for it in hopes that I would be able to prove myself on the other games — like blackjack, Pai Gow, and roulette — and get the benefit of the doubt for only being in school for craps.
Whatever I did worked out, and I was lucky for that. I got my first dealing job by crashing an audition that I wasn’t supposed to be at, and I got my second dealing job by essentially lying about being in school for craps. I don’t know what any of that says about my character, if anything, but I don’t see the point in letting minor details get in the way of progress.
Ecstatic that I had a new job, one that figured to pay roughly double what Spotlight did, I realized begrudgingly that I actually did have to start learning craps. After a couple weeks worth of feeling smug, I finally began making trips back to dealer school to learn craps — a game that would eventually change my life.
I don’t need to get into the specifics of craps, in part because it’s a complicated game and also because I doubt you really give a shit. To make a long story short: the game humbled me. Whereas with blackjack and roulette and ultimate texas hold ’em and crazy 4 poker and three card poker and pai gow and spanish 21 and mississippi stud and let it ride I was kind of just going through the motions, with craps that wasn’t an option. I had to be present, and I had to know my shit. Anything less and I would get absolutely eaten alive.
On March 13th, just a few months after I got hired at Agua, I was scheduled for the first time to deal craps. In the movies you usually see a full game featuring a packed house of players; everyone is talking and yelling and throwing money around. On my first day, I only had like two players on my side of the table and it was extremely overwhelming. My hands were shaky when I handled the chips, and my brain would shut down over the most routine of payouts. And just like that I knew: I had to get better. For the first couple weeks I could do nothing but think about craps; I would go over prop bets in my head and work out the math; I would try to think of more efficient ways to pay the place bets; it was a rush that is hard to describe unless you have been there.
One day, though, I was on the craps table, and the adrenaline wore off. When it did get busy, where there were six or seven players on my side of the table, and it was like how it is in the movies, I just thought of my order of operations. There was no more emotion involved, no more worrying about fucking up or making a mistake. After all the schooling and practicing on live games, I had finally arrived to being a real craps dealer.
Just like with roulette at Spotlight, by the time I was comfortable dealing craps I knew it wasn’t going to satiate me. I wanted to be good enough to earn respect from the people who had been dealing it for as long as I’d been alive. Which really was the smartest approach I could have had. I think, more than anything, I went into craps with the right attitude. I let all of the older heads know that if there was something I was doing wrong, or if there was a way to improve upon something, that they should just tell me and I would fix it. Craps is a team game and I needed these people on my side, and I figure the worst way to go about my business would have been to show up as if I didn’t need any guidance or instruction.
The last few years, basically since I have been at Agua, have been some of the happiest of my life. I’ve made some really good friends, I’ve gotten to deal kids games to adults, and I’ve made enough money to be able to afford just about everything I could conceivably want (within reason). It’s hard to go more than a day without thinking about how fortunate I am, especially when I look back on the sad and confused 22 year-old who as a blackjack player couldn’t see his future even while it was smacking him in the goddamn face.
It’s always going to be important the people who were with me then, who dragged me like an anchor through a point in our lives where it would have been easy to give up. We have these unshakable bonds that, regardless if we like it, are never going to leave. They picked me up when I needed them, just the same as I picked them up when they needed me. We could get lost in translation what with all the bullshit that consumes us regularly, but from my position nothing has changed. Time passes, some feelings fluctuate and some feelings remain intact, but you won’t be able to deny the history any more than I can. We can either go our separate ways indefinitely, or we could do right by each other and make amends over an issue much less serious than what originally drove us apart.
Two heads are supposed to be better than one, which was our original philosophy all those nights spent winning and losing. You figure if we go in together, we have twice the shot at making something good happen. This is true in casinos and in life, and it will remain true whether or not we can cure this division.