Las Vegas Through A Dealer's Eyes
“How many times have you watched someone lose their life savings before your very eyes?”, I asked the man. “I try not to think about it,” he replied as he pushed a tower of red and green chips into a bin. For a Las Vegas Craps dealer, seeing people lose thousands of dollars in a sitting is part of the job. We are led to believe it is all a scam and “the House always wins” but why is it that millions of people continue to play? There must be a method to the madness. I had to get the information straight from the horse's – or in this case, the dealer’s - mouth.
Walking into a Las Vegas casino is overwhelming. Flashing lights followed by bells and whistles on repeat. The cool air and windowless walls create a cocoon to keep players awake and unaware of passing time. There are several games to play which makes it easy to stay for hours on end. There are people everywhere either cheering or crying. The most commotion, I found, came from the Craps table. Craps is particularly intriguing to me because betting is an essential part of this game. Other games like blackjack or poker could be played without putting down a single cent – in theory -- but Craps would not be a game without wagers. The stakes are high. Not to mention, it is all entirely up the roll of the dice. Dice have a bad habit of defying expectations so relying on strategy is useless. You can build a skill set for poker or blackjack through practice, but in Craps, you win by luck. This was truly madness, with no method in sight.
The game of Craps has been played for centuries by the bourgeois and proletariat alike. The only equipment required is a pair of dice and something to bet, which makes Craps easy to play in formal and informal settings. The game is simple: make wagers on the outcome of the roll of the dice to win the money. The rules, restrictions, and strategies that have accumulated through hundreds of years of playing make the game unique, and exciting.
James Bucknell has been dealing Craps for 23 years. “I learned a lot of it from my father and then attended a dealer school at the community college.” I wondered what kind of classes you would take for this unique profession of playing games. “There is an entirely new language you have to learn, just like any class you would have.” He rattled off a few key Craps phrases such as, “Garden” which refers to the field bet, and “Any Craps” meaning a bet that the next roll will be 2, 3 or 12. As a novice, I asked for his best advice. James said, “The key is to prioritize the safest bets on the table. Your risk is already high with the house edge, you have to minimize your risk,” James obliged. But what are the safest bets? “The simplest, most fundamental bet in Craps is the Pass Bet. That pays even money, so you essentially get back what you put down.” If you have a massive bankroll and can stand to lose loads of money for the thrill of big wins, bet high-risk to your heart’s content. You need to know the rules to have any chance of success.
The phrases you are not allowed to say at the table are even more interesting. “Never say the word ‘seven’ at a Craps table.” Considering this game involving many numbers, I could not understand how this was avoidable. “Craps players are highly superstitious. You don’t want to roll a seven because everyone loses, and most people bet the Pass Line – a wager made on the roll in which you are betting that the shooter will make the point.” You should either call it the “S-word” or “Big Red.” This simple rule could save you from getting booted off the table with a black-eye. You have been warned.
"Never say the word 'seven' at a Craps table"
I have been visiting Las Vegas since I could walk. My parents met and got married at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino and have brought my brother and me back every year since. I’ve stayed in every hotel, went on every thrill ride, went to several clubs, and I thought I had seen all that Vegas had to offer. But I had never bothered gambling. Introducing myself to James was the first time I approached a table. The scene felt archaic and intimidating. Like it was a place frozen in time. Rolling the dice repeatedly. Moving chips to and from various players. The cigarette waitress floating around the floor like a dazed bumblebee. People sitting around a green felt table for hours on end, waiting for a miracle that never comes. Craps seemed to breathe new life into the casino floor.
I noticed that this game required a lot of trust in the other players at the table compared to other casino games. “Do they ever blame you for losing their money?”, I asked. James sighed, “That’s the worst part of the job.” Many Vegas-goers -- myself included -- often forget that this is a job for dealers. They are not on vacation, this is how they make a living. When you stumble back through the casino from the club at 4 AM bellying up to the Craps table yelling “Let’s GO! Vegas baby!” there is a strong chance that the dealers will not like you. It would behoove you to be courteous to dealers even in an inebriated state. They know this game better than anyone and could make or break your game experience. “I would encourage people who don’t gamble often to play. It is a hell of a thrill. Just know when to walk away.”
After speaking to James, I see this scene through a new lens for what it is: a game. A game to bring people together to feel connected. Las Vegas is a place where people go to let loose. There are not many other places in the world that have this effect on people. A spirit of freedom and confidence has lived in that desert land for years, and it draws visitors back for a taste again and again. Travelers be wary. As the great Las Vegas legend Frank Sinatra stated, “Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks – it says, Goodbye.” Good luck!