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Player's Advantage: CCAC course teaches ins and outs of casino dealing

| Sunday, July 2, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

As class ends at 1 p.m., 13 students at CCAC's North Shore campus clean up after their four-hour stint of instruction and hands-on training. They gather playing cards, stack gaming chips and collect dealing shoes before placing everything in a locked storage area monitored by a surveillance camera.

Their class, titled “Blackjack/Banked Games,” is not a typical field of study. Instead of student desks or lab equipment, their classroom in the Community College of Allegheny County library holds five blackjack tables, two roulette tables, two craps tables and two poker tables. Students who complete its 100 hours of instruction and pass an audition before Rivers Casino professionals will become eligible to deal in casinos throughout Pennsylvania and in some other states.

Depending on the student, learning to deal could be a pathway to earning extra money or the first step in a career with an industry expanding throughout the county.

“You always see great success stories of individuals starting out as a part-time dealer with a desire and a skill set to … work themselves up the ranks,” says Bud Green, assistant general manager at Rivers. The casino partners with CCAC to sponsor the Casino Dealer Training School, sanctioned by the state Gaming Control Board. The blackjack course, which costs $595, and a separate course to train poker dealers are open to the public. The school occasionally offers courses in roulette, craps and other games, but enrollment in those is limited to Rivers employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the median pay for dealers nationwide is $19,290 a year.

Base pay can be minimum wage or less, because dealers make much of their money from tips. Generally, tips from all table games except poker are pooled and divided proportionally among dealers who worked during a specified period.

Green and instructor Stephen Keener, a former dealer who is now a supervisor at Rivers, say an outgoing personality is essential to anyone thinking about becoming a dealer. Basic math skills – quick, what's the payout for a blackjack on a $70 bet? – as well as accuracy, attention to procedure and an understanding of the game are vital, too. So is multitasking; dealers must do all that while talking with customers and keeping an eye out for cheating.

(Answer to the payout question: A blackjack gets paid at a 3-to-2 rate, so a $70 bet gets $105, or four green chips and one red one)

Dealers follow a variety of anti-cheating procedures not necessarily obvious to players. They “walk the game,” subtly changing position to keep every playing spot in view all the time.

They may never cross their hands or put their hands behind the table. And, of course, they often clap their hands after handling chips to show they haven't palmed one.

“It becomes second nature once you do it all the time,” Keener says.

Like any other job, dealing has its negative aspects. Casinos are the ultimate 24/7 employer, which means working holidays, weekends and during big events. Keener knows he will work every Christmas “until the end of time,” for example, and Green works every New Year's Eve.

The job requires standing in one place for an hour or more at a time. In Pennsylvania and some other states, casinos are one of the few workplaces where smoking is allowed. “I tell my doctor that I smoke two packs a day because I work here, even though I don't smoke at all,” one dealer told me.

Some players get nasty when they lose, blaming dealers for their own bad luck or poor decisions.

“You can only have people calling you a filthy rotten this on a daily basis for so long before that starts to get to you,” a former dealer confided. “You have to be resilient.”

Keener says the flexibility and opportunity of a dealing job draw many people, and he adds one more attraction: “It's fun. You spend eight hours a day playing a game. For the most part, you have a good time doing it.”

Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review's gambling columnist. Reach him at PlayersAdv@outlook.com

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