August 21, 2011 § 6 Comments

In my first post to this blog I mentioned a friend of mine, Randy Stones.

During his very first night working in a casino, breaking in to be a 21 dealer, something happened causing him to think, “This is my kind of place.”

Randy liked action, excitement, and the adrenaline pump that comes with it.  He still does.

Randy had been on the job for a couple of hours fumbling around with cards and chips trying to get his hands to do what his mind was telling them.

At the beginning of Randy’s shift the casino manager had a player thrown out.  The player was a dealer who had in the past worked in the same casino in which Randy was just starting out.

This player was abusive and a loudmouth and became quite frustrated when he lost his money and would vent his anger aloud, throwing his cards at the dealer, swearing and bothering other patrons.

The disgruntled player returned in a few hours with a pistol.  He shot the casino manager in the stomach a couple of times.  One of the bullets somehow landed right next to Randy’s foot.  That is when Randy thought—This is my kind of place!

The casino manager, a man everybody liked, did not die from the gunshot wounds.  He returned to work but he was not the same and died a year later.


When I was a young break-in dealer and still in the fumbling around stage trying to get my hands to do what my mind was telling them to do, the 21 dealer at the next table to my right had a heart attack.  At the time I thought he was old.  I was 22 or 23.  He was in his 50s, had white hair, so in my mind he was ancient.

He called out the shift boss’ name, “Kenny!” and was holding the deck in his left hand, his right gripping the table trying to keep from falling backward.  I can to this day visualize it.  He collapsed and ended up on his back.

The degenerate players on my game who had seen it all didn’t miss a beat.  They watched the little emergency spectacle and kept making bets and asking for hit cards.  I dealt to them.  It was only a heart attack, after all.

The shift boss called to a dealer who was on his break and motioned for him to take over heart attack guy’s game.  Heart attack guy died a couple of minutes later.  The action never slowed.

Another time a woman was shooting craps.  She was a high roller and was betting it up pretty good.  She had all the numbers covered.  Her son was with her, but he was just watching.  The woman had a heart attack and fell to the floor.

The first thing the son said before he turned to assist his mother was to one of the crap dealers, “How much does she have on the layout?  Take all her bets down.”

First things first, of course.


I wanted to mention that I am making headway with my endeavor to put my novel, The Cheaters, up on Amazon as both an e-reader and in book form.  After uploading The Cheaters, I have been informed that it will take four or five weeks for it to be available to the public.

I would also like to thank my longtime friend Dan Bunker, for his conferring with me and showing such interest in my blog and novel.

Ed Curley.

While Working in Surveillance I Caught a Rookie Dealer Dealing the Second Card.

August 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

During the late ‘80s I was working in a surveillance room—which at one time was referred to as the “eye in the sky”—in a major Las Vegas casino.

The casino employed me because of my knowledge of stealing and cheating.  I had “turned my collar around,” as the saying goes.  I was from a different era, before cameras and video recorders.  The old adage, “It takes a thief to catch a thief,” holds true.  Also knowing the owner on a personal level helped me to get hired.

With the advent of video cameras and recordings it was a smart thing to not try and do the things I used to.  Not that the cameras and video recorders catch anything—it is the surveillance operator that must do the observing and catching.  However, the average surveillance operator knows nothing about stealing, either.

Floor help or a surveillance operator rarely catch cheaters and inside thieves.  They are usually fingered.  It is usually pretty much the same story: a disgruntled ex-girlfriend, ex-friend, ex-wife . . . Some people steal and tell more people about it than need to know.  If you need someone to cash out chips for you, it had better be somebody you know really well and trust.

When I caught this young dealer, a kid really, he was about 22.  I had been watching him for more than a month off and on, as I had other things to do besides watch him.  He was dealing a single-deck game and he caught my attention by making a false move, pretending to deal the second card from the top of the deck.   I was quite familiar with this, as I used to do the same thing.

This false move is done on purpose to “warm up” the floorman, or perhaps surveillance, to this second-card move, so they are accustomed to seeing the hit-card delivered to a player in this manner.  He was also simultaneously moving his deck-hand too much when he was making his false move, a giveaway for a poor second-card dealer.

I felt that he was going to do something and kept watching him.  I wasn’t sure if he was planning on just practicing under live action the way I used to when I was roughly his age.  I used to practice dealing the second card without knowing what it or the top card was.  I was just practicing dealing the second card during live action and getting my confidence level up.  It is one thing to practice dealing the second card from the top of the deck at home in front of a mirror, without feeling any pressure, but it is much different to do it live with real players and the pit boss and floormen behind you.

One night the kid was standing at a dead game, which means there were no players.   A player walked up to his game.  This player was a regular player in the casino.  I put the kid’s game up on several monitors simultaneously, zoomed in a couple of cameras from different angles and kept a couple backed out.

The player played three hands betting $75 a hand.  I could see it coming.  The kid had a face card up, a value of ten.  He looked at his hole card.  The player didn’t hit the hands he should have.  This player was an experienced player and I knew he knew better.  The kid had to have signaled the player that he had a stiff hand, a bad card in the hole for the dealer.  It’s called “sitting on a stiff.”

The kid had a terrible peek, obvious.  I had an affinity for the kid, but I knew I was going to nail him.  His hands were shaking.  He went for the second card and missed it. He started snatching at it, trying to grab ahold of it.  I knew the feeling.  I could empathize with him.  I actually felt bad for the kid; he was falling apart.  He finally got the second card out and busted his hand.

He took chips out of the rack to pay the player and he was still shaking.  He tried to cut into the player’s chips to pay him off but he was spilling chips, shaking, trying to control himself.

He took a chance and had performed terribly for half of $225 (three times three $75 bets).  The player got up and left.  If the kid had been any good and didn’t get shook up he could have dumped off a lot more money if I wasn’t watching.  In this casino three $75 bets was nothing.

If I were to offer the kid advice before he did this for the first time it would have been to go have a couple of drinks or take a Valium to calm himself.

I reviewed the tapes a couple of times and debated with myself as to whether I should finger the kid.  I knew the owner personally and he had put me in the sky and was paying me to catch this type of thing.  The owner was a really nice guy and had been in this business all his life and was in his early 50s.  I knew he wouldn’t want this kid to go to jail.  He had kids just a little older than this young dealer.  I had a son 18.

The Gaming Control Board fraud agents would have watched that tape, had me explain it in court, and that kid would have gone to jail with the wolves for seven years.  This kid barely shaved.  He had skin like a girl.

I called down to the casino manager.  He was a clean-as-a-whistle guy who had been in the business a long time but didn’t know about stealing or cheating.  He knew the games but that was about it.  He had a couple of teenagers, boys, he was raising by himself.

He came up and watched the tapes.  He was excited to see something like this.  I asked him if he wanted this kid to go to jail and end up being some con’s punk.  I could see his wheels turning.  “That kid isn’t much older than your boys,” I said.

“Shit, what do you think I should do?”

“Go down there and take him aside.  Tell him you just watched him in action on videotape with that player and he was terrible.  Rake him over the coals a little, scare him.”

“Christ, Curley, rake him over the coals? You know it’s a crime not to inform Gaming about this kind of stuff.”

“Quit worrying about your key license.  Tell him that when Gaming agents see that video he’ll be arrested, prosecuted, convicted and end up in Nevada State Prison in Carson City where he’ll be raped for seven long years. Let him plead for a while.  Then tell him you’re going to give him a pass.  Tell him to quit and go on down the street and look for another job.  Tell him he can use you for a recommendation, but he’s going down in this casino as a not-to-be-rehired.  He’ll never forget you and what you did for him”

I watched on a monitor as the two were talking and the casino manager was acting animated and looked like he was doing a good job of chewing this kid’s ass.

The casino manager came back up to Surveillance and told me what the kid had said, that he was practicing some magic tricks that somebody had shown him.

“What did you say when he said that?”

“I told him to shut up, that I wasn’t stupid and I was keeping the videotapes.”

We agreed to not tell the owner or anybody else about this.

I wonder whatever happened to that kid?

Lead Bottoms Were Placed in the Roulette Wheel Head Between the Chrome Frets

July 28, 2011 § 7 Comments

Why? —To cheat a casino at roulette.

A roulette wheel is constructed with a hardened springy wood between the frets at the bottom of the wheel head.  When the roulette ball stops spinning and drops from the wheel head race into the numbers, the hardened springy wood keeps the ball bouncing around from number to number before settling in the winning number.  This springy wood and the spinning wheel head are what make roulette random.

A good friend of mine, a man with the initials R.M. and I found a way—there are others—to overcome the randomness of roulette—lead bottoms.

In an American roulette wheel there are 18 black numbers and 18 red.  There are also two green numbers, 0 and 00, referred to aloud as “zero” and “double zero”.

For the purpose of this explanation only the black roulette numbers are of concern.

Back in the day, roulette wheels did not have a colorless Plexiglas shield encircling the roulette wheel head, as has been standard for many years.  This shield, among other things, is to keep people from reaching into the wheel head and inserting things like lead bottoms into the numbers in-between the metal frets.

Lead is soft and absorbs the bounce of a roulette ball, which is in direct contrast to the springy wooden material between the frets.

We constructed molds the same shape as the area between the frets.  We then melted lead and poured the molten lead into our molds to a depth of approximately one-eighth of an inch.  We did this until we would have 18 pieces of lead the exact shape as the area between the roulette wheel frets.  We then spray painted the lead bottoms black.

As you can see in the illustration, one lead bottom by itself will stand out as is apparent in the number 13.  It was imperative to get all 18 bottoms in so all the blacks looked the same.  Notice the wear between the frets in the other black numbers from the ball striking the area repeatedly.  Manufacturing the bottoms was the easiest part.  There was still a long way to go to “get the money.”

The next step was to find a casino, usually on a slow graveyard shift, that had a roulette wheel closed.  The wheel cheques and chips would be covered and locked.  However, the wheel head was exposed, vulnerable.

In readying ourselves to put in the lead bottoms, my cohort and I, would coat the underside of the lead bottoms with a heavy pressure-sensitive adhesive, a type of glue similar to that on post-it notes but much stronger.

We then taped aluminum foil to the underside cardboard of a legal tablet and stuck the bottoms to the aluminum foil.   The pressure-sensitive adhesive had a dual purpose: to keep the lead bottoms stuck to the underside of the tablet, for easy access, and when inserted between the frets they would be in there solid in the event somebody got curious and touched one.  It would not do for a dealer or boss to reach in and touch a bottom and be able to move it.

When we were ready to put in the bottoms, we would enter the casino behaving like a couple of sucker tourists.  We would walk up to a roulette wheel that had been closed along with the whole pit of gaming tables.  The bosses might glance over at us and one of us would be studiously writing on the top page of our legal tablet.  To anybody glancing at us we appeared to be writing down the numbers.  In the event somebody approached us we would have drawn a circle on the tablet and be writing down the numbers in the same position as they were in the wheel head.  We were purposely behaving like we were developing a system, which any casino person knows that you can’t beat roulette with a system.  A boss might look over at us occasionally and dismiss us as a couple of sucker tourists trying to figure out how to beat the wheel with a system.

While one of us were making our notations, the other would be watching all over the casino.  If everything was clear, nobody watching us, the “watcher” would say “go ahead.”  If I had the pad, I would reach to the aluminum foil, take a bottom and put it in a black number.  He would keep saying, “go ahead, good, good . . . hold it.”  When he said “hold it,” I would again begin making my notations until things were clear and he’d begin again saying, “go ahead . . . We kept this up until we had all 18 lead bottoms in.  If everything went the way it was supposed to we would be done in a minute or two.

The next step was to have somebody come in to “win the money.”

The take-off man would bet the limit on black.  The take-off person had to have some big brass cojones to stay there and keep betting.  There was definitely some heat with the bottoms.  The bosses would have a strong suspicion they were getting screwed because so many black numbers kept hitting.  The last time we did this I was working in a casino as a 21 mechanic on the graveyard shift.

It was downtown Vegas on Fremont street.  The owner of the casino that I worked for had bought the casino next door and was expanding.  The new addition was a few days from opening.  There was a roulette wheel sitting in there completely open and there was an opening in the wall one could walk through, that the construction people used as an exit and entrance to perform their remodeling work.

I was working in this casino and felt that if I were to enter the side under construction while on a break to put in the lead bottoms, another dealer on a break might wander in to look around too, and see me with the lead bottoms.

I phoned my partner, R.M., in the lead bottom gaff.  It was three in the morning and he was in bed sleeping.  He was there in 30 minutes.  He came in with his wife.  They walked into the construction area, stood at the wheel and put in the bottoms in less than a minute.  I was sitting at the snack bar having a cup of coffee.  I had chosen a seat that afforded me an angle, looking through the narrow entrance to the construction site, to watch them put in the bottoms.   A week later the new addition opened.

All the table games and slots were rearranged and the roulette wheel with the lead bottoms was put in the main pit where I worked.  The maintenance people had worked all night moving the equipment.  Of course working on the inside and being a trusted employee who cheated players for the casino, I was considered one of the good guys.

I was told they were going to open the wheel at eight a.m.  My shift ended at ten when the dayshift 21 mechanic came in.

The takeoff guy showed up when the wheel opened at eight.  He was the only player.  The limit was $200; he bet the limit.  Once our take-off man got a few thousand ahead, the shift boss told the wheel dealer to not give the roulette ball a long spin.  It made sense that the odds being in the house’s favor, the more spins the dealer got out the better the chance of winning back the money. It didn’t work out that way.

I stood there in the pit along with the dumb bosses and pretended I was bleeding money like they were.  They were dumfounded.  It was all I could do to not smile, maybe laugh out loud.

There was nothing they could do.  They couldn’t put me in there to get the money because the only way a player can be cheated in roulette is to short pay them on a complicated payoff.  Our man was betting eight $25 chips at a time so there was no chance of short paying him.

The walls were practically melting there was so much heat.  The owner came in around eleven and came downstairs to watch for a while.  He and I talked.  We were friendly.  He was the one who had hired me as a 21 mechanic in the first place.  My demeanor was one of ignorance.

My shift had been over for an hour but I was still hanging around pretending to bleed for the casino.  The real reason I was staying was I wanted to know exactly how much our take-off man was cashing out.  There is no honor among thieves and it is common for a take-off person to cash out and claim they cashed out less than they really did.  There is an old cynical saying, “We’re partners fifty-fifty—I count the money.”

He was going to get half for playing the money and riding a lot of heat.  If he had been arrested he would definitely go to jail because of the hard evidence.

The owner told me he was going to have the wheel examined, something was wrong.  I gave the prearranged signal to the take-off man to cash out and leave, now!

He cashed out $21,000.  This was a lot of money in 1967.

While our guy was cashing out, the owner had the wheel head brought up to his office.  On the way up the stairs the maintenance guys turned the wheel head sideways and one of the lead bottoms fell out.  The take-off guy made it out the door and down the street in the nick of time.

The case of the lead bottoms made the newspapers; it was a big article, detailed. The word was out.  The lead bottom gaff was over.

There were three other wheels in casinos in which we left the lead bottoms.  The plan had been to take them out after a play, but it was easier to make more bottoms.

I wondered for years about those other three wheels, but didn’t want to go back, as I had been the take-off man on those games.

Dealing to a Peek.

July 20, 2011 § 3 Comments

In the previous post I wrote about dealing the second card.


Why would a dealer deal the second card from the top?  Why is the dealer saving the top card, and who is it for?  How does the dealer know the value of the top card?

In this post I am including a couple of self-explanatory pictures of how a 21 mechanic peeks.  In the example of the “heel peek” there should be no doubt in the readers mind as to which of the two cards the player will receive from the mechanic for the hand she is doubling down.

A real casino with a gaming license would never let a mechanic use marked cards.  Their gaming license is too valuable to lose.  If there were casinos that let mechanics deal reading “juice” or “paper” —euphemisms for marked cards— I didn’t know about them and no mechanic I knew personally, did either.  Bear in mind that I am writing about the past.

We dealt to a “peek.”  We had to peek at the top card, or the top two cards, to know what card(s) were coming next.  It’s easy to catch a mechanic if his peek is obvious.  The most common peek is the bubble peek.  The bubble peek when the dealer (lets assume a right hand dealer, a dealer who holds the deck in their left hand) is when the dealer “bubbles” the top card at the front of the deck when paying a bet or moving chips in the rack.  This can easily be spotted by the players if the mechanic is sloppy, as the players are sitting just a couple of feet away directly in front of the dealer and able to see the front of the deck.  Not all players are suckers and this always has to be kept in mind.

I doubt if any of the demonstrators of second-dealing on YouTube actually ever worked as a 21 mechanic in a real casino.  Most of them probably cheat in games played in somebody’s home.

I’m not making disparaging remarks about the demonstrators, but “whacking out”—or “going for the money” or whatever the euphemistic terminology—is much more complicated than just dealing seconds—and it takes nerve.  One has to act calm, although inside one might be nervous.  A good mechanic will deal the game correctly “and” cheat the players.  The mechanic should deal in the same manner as the regular dealers.  A mechanic should not appear to be using dealing moves that the regular dealers do not, like implementing phony stalls that somebody who really understands how the game is dealt would wonder about and be suspicious.

It can be nerve wracking with many things to think of when going for the green.  Most likely there would be one big player the mechanic will be focused on.  The smaller players, at the time, would not be important because the mechanic is concentrating on the big bettor.  A good technique is to concentrate on setting the big bettor on a stiff, a bad hand.  I would, for example, “carry” on the first go-round, pitching cards to the players, a six or a five for the big bettor as his first card.  Then on the second go-round, I would drop a card short in front of a player before I got to the big bettor.  I made this look like I didn’t control the card correctly, didn’t pitch it far enough.  This gives a mechanic the opportunity to turn his deck-hand upside down to shove the player’s card all the way to her with his index finger and simultaneously peek at the back of the deck to ascertain the value of what the next card or cards are.  “Carrying” cards for the big bettor is taking dead aim at him or her.  If all the players are betting about the same amount, the mechanic will concentrate on his own hand, trying to show the players 20 every hand.  Nobody can beat a dealer making 20 or 21 every hand.

Dropping cards short or moving chips in the rack, allows the mechanic to move his hands in front of his eyes.  A good mechanic will never move his eyes to the deck.  It is not natural to keep glancing at the deck while waiting for somebody to ask for a hit-card.  It is natural to straighten up a players bet and simultaneously peek at the next card.   This way the mechanics moves his hands in front of his eyes.  This is not obvious and is natural.

A card purposely dropped short allows the mechanic to shove the card that was dropped short, toward the player with the index finger of his deck-hand moving his deck-hand in front of his eyes and peek at the next card or two coming.  Hopefully one of them will be a nine or ten, maybe and eight, and that card would be ‘held” as the top card, while the mechanic continues on the go-round and carrying that nine, ten, or eight for the big bettor.  The mechanic would know what the value of the big bettors hand was. If he had saved and carried a ten for him, he would know the big bettor had 16.  Next, he would search for a card with a value of six or more when the players were asking for hit-cards.  When a player busts her hand, this is the perfect time for the mechanic to move his hands in front of his eyes to peek at the cards coming.  If the big bettor asks for a card, the deck-hand should drop down to the layout—the felt table-top— and very slowly give him the top card so the high roller can see very plainly see he is getting the top card, not a second.  If the big bettor does not want a hit-card the mechanic just needs a card for his hand that would make a hand of 17 or better.

Another trick  I used to use was to announce out loud that I had 20 or some pat hand when I really did—knowing the big bettor had 16. The players would look at me when I said I had 20 and I’d tell them that I really did have 20.  After doing this a few times, they were believers when I turned over my hole card and they saw I was telling the truth, I had a pat hand, the hand I had told them.  But, you see, I was saving a bust card for the big player.  He’d hit his hand and bust.  Then I’d turn over my cards and the big player could see I was his friend, trying to help him to make a toke (tip) for myself.

When I was working as a Mechanic, a mechanic could do or say whatever he wanted, as the bosses behaved like they didn’t know anything was going on and pretty much ignored what the mechanic was doing.  If the mechanic got caught the bosses could cower and say they didn’t know what was going on.  However, there were some bosses that really had some nerve and would belly right up on the game to enjoy watching me, and talk to the players while I was working them over.

The “heel” peek was my favorite although I did use the bubble peek, too. The heel peek is when the mechanic peeks at the card at the back of the deck.  Assuming a right handed dealer again, the mechanic will turn his hand upside down many times while dealing.

Reader, yes you.  Pick up a deck of cards and hold the deck in your left hand.  Turn it upside down and notice the numbers on the card are located under the heel of your thumb.  With a lot of practice you can learn how to squeeze the deck to make the top card, by the heel of your thumb, pop out to ascertain if you want this card for yourself or to give to a player.  Usually, when dealing seconds, the second-card is always for the player, as the mechanic is saving the top card for himself.

How does the dealer know what he has in the hole?  Remember the “go-round?”  If there are five players sitting at the game the mechanic, on the go-round, will have to deal 11 second- cards and the card he was holding for himself making it his hole card.  It doesn’t matter what the dealers up card is because he/she knows what the hole card is.  This is when the dealer will begin peeking at cards.  Example, the dealer has six up and knows he/she has a ten in the hole for a total of 16.  The mechanic will be looking and, ideally, find a five, but settle for a four or a three.  The settling depends on how many players are going to be asking for cards.  If the mechanic can see that four people are going to be asking for cards, and he/she finds a card right away with the value of three, he/she will hit the player with that three, and chance it that he will find a card of a higher value.  Say subsequent to the three the dealer sees a four or a five, he will “hold” that four or five and begin to give players their hit cards.  The players will now receive the second card from the top, as the mechanic is holding the top card for himself.

When it is time for the mechanic to give himself a card, the mechanic should drop his deck-hand down low to the table top and very slowly so all the players can see, take the top card for himself.

Players’ are confused as to who gets the second card.  They don’t realize the notion of the mechanic dealing the second card is one of saving the top card for himself.  Players might watch for a second card when the dealer hits his own hand because they don’t understand that all the second-cards have already been dealt.

When I couldn’t find a card in time that would give me a strong hand and I had a ten up and low card in the hole, I’d save a face card or ten to switch my hole card with.  Switching the hole-card is a very strong move and will certainly get the money.

Between dealing seconds, switching the hole-card and running up hands the players didn’t have a chance.

A mechanic or cheater who is excellent at home or while practicing with friends, but panics when under the gun in live action is sometimes referred to as a “gymnasium fighter.”  The term gymnasium fighter is a disparaging remark about a person who is an excellent prizefighter in the gym with a sparring partner, but when it’s time for live action in the ring against a real prizefighter coming after him, he can’t cut it.

There is Much More to Cheating Players than Dealing the Second-Card from the Top card of the Deck when Working as a 21 Mechanic, but I Will Begin with Dealing Seconds.

July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

One can go online to the Internet or to YouTube and search using the terms “dealing seconds.”  There are various video demonstrations of people dealing the second card, from under the top card of the deck.

Most of the second-dealers on YouTube are moving their deck-hand way too much, using misdirection, and are obviously moving the top card out of the way with their thumb to get to the card below it—the second card.

There are many who can do clever things with cards when not under pressure.  Cheating for the house in a real casino against real players who will become unglued and liable to do bad things to you if you’re caught—is not for the faint of heart.

There is a seconds-dealer on YouTube, Yiannis Sampalis, who does a very good job of dealing seconds.  However, I think he’s a magician and not a 21 mechanic.  He does have excellent dexterity, and as they say, good hands.  If he was an active cheater, I doubt he would be demonstrating his acumen on YouTube.  Sampalis strikes the thumb of his deck-hand with the thumb of the hand with which is taking the second card, and deals the second card face down.  He deals with a “dead-thumb.”  He is a dead-thumb-dealer, which means he does not use his thumb to feed the cards off of the deck to the fingers of his right hand.  He pulls them off with the thumb of his right hand, his non-deck hand.

Beginning at approximately one-minute and twenty-five seconds into Sampalis’ video, he slows down, or slows the video, so the viewer can see him striking the thumb of his deck hand with the thumb from his right hand.  He deals the second-card extremely well.  Apparently he is making it easier for the viewer to see what he’s doing, as he is using cards with a border.  It would be much more difficult to see if he was using cards that did not contain a border.

Click on the below link to watch Sampalis in action:

However, Sampalis does not demonstrate—which I’m sure he can do—the method for second-dealing a hit-card.

The hit-card, given to a 21 (blackjack) player by the dealer when the player asks for another card in addition to the two cards the player has already been dealt, is not done by striking ones’ deck-hand thumb with the thumb of the other hand—it’s done with a finger from the other non-deck hand.

For those of you who have played single deck 21 in a real casino, you will recall that a hit card taken from the top of the deck and given to a player is done in an entirely different manner.  It is grasped with the fingers and thumb, and in an overhand motion placed in front of the player’s chips, face up.  A second-dealing hit-card must be done in the same manner, but striking the thumb with a “finger” first, not the thumb, and grasping the second card with a finger and then the thumb, placing it in front of the player’s chips face up.  I myself was—and I emphasize was— also a dead-thumb dealer in live action in real Las Vegas casinos.

In the demonstration videos we see on YouTube, the second-card dealer develops a rhythm, keeping the same grip, or frame on the deck.  In the real world, the second-dealing rhythm is interrupted quite frequently, as the mechanic has to actually deal the game, changing his deck grip constantly, and has to be able to regain the correct frame, or grip, to be able to deal a second card, instantly when required.

When a player goes busted, for example, the mechanic must pick up the chips and cards just like a regular square-john dealer.  This causes the mechanic to have to change his grip on the deck.  While he is picking up the cards and chips, putting the cards in the card- rack and the chips in the chip-rack, the next player is already asking for a hit-card.  There can be no stalling here to re-obtain the grip needed to deal the second-card.  The mechanic cannot take the time to carefully place the deck—with the non-deck hand—in his deck hand, moving it around until it is just right.  He has to get his grip back immediately.  This re-griping is usually done by the mechanic pushing the back of the deck against his abdomen to set the deck in his hand the way he needs it, getting his thumb and fingers into the correct position.  This is something you do not see on YouTube.

Dealing a real casino 21 game is much different from dealing in a home game.  The dealer of a professional casino game, mechanic or not, has to keep the game moving—players are impatient and want speed.  I’m slipping into present tense here, but I am writing about years past.  The boss who knows you are working as a mechanic wants the mechanic to look like he’s performing like all the regular dealers who follow a specific format for dealing the game: Cards are turned over and chips are picked up in a sequence that conforms to house rules.  A good mechanic has to deal like a regular dealer and incorporate the house rules into his moves for cheating the players.

There are various inside euphemisms for working as a 21 mechanic, such as: “going for the green” (money), “whacking out . . . “ And there was some gallows humor, back in the day, jokes like—”Dr. so and so, you’re wanted in surgery”—when the whole joint was flat.  Flat is a term that comes from crooked dice—six-ace-flats—dice that were beveled on the edges so a combination of seven would come up more often in a crap game, which is good for the house

How does the mechanic know what the second card from the top is?

Tomorrow: The Peek.

Breaking in and Learning to Steal

July 5, 2011 § 9 Comments

I moved to Las Vegas when I was 22.  I wanted to be a dealer and to enjoy the nightlife of Vegas, the party life.  Vegas was small back then, a population of 50,000.  The year was 1962.

I began as a break-in-dealer and part time shill.  Back in those days there were shills for the games.  Shill is an old term and the shills in Vegas of old could have just as easily been called “game starters,” as that’s what they really were.  They were mostly old men, some women, who were retired and earned a small wage and a meal.

The young shills were people like me who were willing to work as a shill in order to learn to be a dealer.

When a game was dead, no players, a shill would sit down at a blackjack game, for example, and the dealer would hand ten one-dollar chips to the shill.  The shill would bet only one dollar at a time following specific rules and never busting a hand.  If a real player came to the game, the dealer made the decision whether or not to take the shill out of the game.  If the real player asked for the shill to stay in the game, the dealer would oblige the player.  The shill could let the real player see their hand and most players like that, as they felt they could make better decisions if they could see more cards.  If another player or two sat down the dealer would then take the shill out of the game, taking back the one-dollar chips, dismissing the shill.

In those early days one did not go to a school for dealers.  I remember there was one such school at the time, but did not know one dealer who went to a dealing school. We all learned the same way, becoming shills and break-ins first.

A young person would go to work as a shill with the agreement that the casino bosses would break in the shill to be a dealer.  The journeyman dealers would teach a young shill, such as myself, how to shuffle cards, deal craps or roulette.

After sufficient practice at home shuffling cards and pitching them and if there was a dead game on a slow night at the casino, the dealer would trade places with the shill/break-in-dealer, sitting at the game playing hands.  The shill would now be the break-in-dealer, but dealing only to the dealer who was training him.  I say “him,” as back in those days there were no female dealers in Vegas.  The dealer sitting in the shill position would play several hands, splitting hands, doubling down . . . so the break-in would have some practice.

If a player came along and sat down the dealer would quickly switch places with the break-in who was dealing.  When the break-in reached a certain level of efficiency, the dealer would remain playing the shill role, allowing the break-in to deal to the “live” action of one player.  Of course the dealer watched closely.  Many players seemed to enjoy being in on the process.  Many did not, as the break-in was too slow and would want the real dealer to deal.

My first night of being an actual dealer came as a surprise.  It was a Friday night and one of the regular 21 dealers had not shown up for his shift.  I heard a floorman tell the shift boss that this dealer was drunk again and had called in.

The shift boss beckoned to me and told me I was dealing 21 that night.

“But I’m not ready yet,” I said.

“Just get in there, you’ll be okay,” he said.

“But . . . “

“Just get in there—now.  The floorman will help you, the players will help you.”

This was a weekend night and the minimum bet was two dollars.  They put me on a back game and my hands were trembling.  I was dealing to a full game.  In my mind I was not ready.

This was a casino for locals, The El Cortez, which was located downtown.  The players had a good time coaxing me along, correcting me when I made a mistake even if it benefited them.  I was a baby faced 22 year old and they were all older, probably 40 or more.

After a few hours I had gained confidence.  At the end of the shift I wanted to deal every night, but I had to wait until somebody quit or was fired.  In another month I was promoted to a dealer position, but at a much lower wage than a full-fledged dealer.  The shift boss would give break-ins a raise every couple of months as he improved.

After a few months I applied at another casino where the tokes (tips) were better because of the better clientele.

This is when I began learning about stealing.  Other dealers who had agents broke me in to working with agents.  An “agent” is a player who sits at the game and works with the dealer, the dealer “shoving” chips off to him or her.  There are various ways to do this.  This casino did not have an eye-in-the sky so the simplest thing to do was just pay the player, win or lose.  It was referred to as “paying in the blind.”

In those days, 21 dealers didn’t leave the cards on the layout–the table top–until they were through paying winning hands and taking chips from the losing hands and then picking up the cards after everybody’s bet had been attended to.  This method was referred to as “leaving them lay” and is to this day the way it is done.

Until “leaving them lay” became mandatory, the 21 dealers did what was called “Pick and pay,” which was a method of picking up the cards as soon as the dealer paid or took the chips from the individual hands that had been dealt.  As soon as each individual bet was attended to, the dealer picked up the cards.

This method was to ensure that the dealer had a better chance of keeping control of all the cards so none would go missing.

The flaw in “pick and pay” was that a dealer could pick up the hand of an agent, not letting the other players see the hand and then pay off their agents bet if they lost.  If the agent really had a winning hand then the dealer would expose the agent’s cards for all to see.

This is how I began shoving money off to agents, “paying in the blind.”

My first agent was a very attractive young woman in her mid 20s.  She used to come into the casino and to the table I was dealing on, wearing hair curlers, a scarf over the curlers, frumpy clothes, and sunglasses, no makeup.  She dressed like this to keep the floormen from hitting on her.  If they did talk to her she would behave in an unfriendly manner, but not rude.  We had hand signals worked out that told me if the floorman was watching or looking the other way.  If the floorman was watching, naturally I took care of her hand properly.

She had a boyfriend who worked in another casino.  We made a deal.  On my day off, I would go the casino in which her boyfriend worked and be his agent.

This is how it all began.

A Night in the Life

June 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

I knew this guy.  I met him a couple of years after I landed in Vegas.  We were casino dealers.

A couple of years later we were both working as 21 dealers in the same Las Vegas Strip joint (casino) and tips were astronomical.

I hadn’t paid any attention to what Randy’s day off would be this week; He was married, I was single.  We had worked together in another joint previously, but at that time we only new each other by name and recognition.  Recently we had become quite friendly. We were a couple of rounder’s.

I was off that night — didn’t know he was.

I had money that was attempting to flip out of my pocket onto a green felt table.

I was bored sitting in my apartment and wanted to get out, get into action. I drove downtown.  I wanted to play.  $2,000 in cash is what I had, and I was going to shoot ‘em up: craps, blackjack, maybe the wheel.

This was not case money.  I had a safety deposit box with a lot of cash in it.  This was playing money, money I had stolen and earned through “tokes.”  Tokes are what casino people call “tips.”  I wanted to have an outstanding adventure firing those bets into craps after I crucified them on blackjack.

It didn’t work out that way.

I had been playing at the Golden Gate and was down to $45.  I walked down Fremont Street to the Horseshoe.  I went in the back to what was called the “Winner’s Circle.” A dark bar located in the back of the Horseshoe.

I walked in and there was Randy Stones.  “What have you been doing?” he said with his Southern twang.

“I’ve been playing and I’m stuck pretty good – almost $2,000.”

Randy laughed, “That’s nothing, I’m stuck $7,000.  You got any money left?”

“$45 in nickel chips.”

Randy gave me that big smile, “Lets go make a lay–down.”

This is when I was introduced to what making a lay–down and “playing fast” really meant.  We walked up to a 21 table.  I bet $15, caught a six, a five, a total of 11.

Randy reached over, took another $15 from in front of me and doubled down the bet.  He smiled, said, “You play the hands, I’ll bet the money.”

We won the bet.  There was now $60 in the bet box.  I wanted to drag off some chips, but Randy repeated, “You play the cards, I’ll bet the money.”  He’s laughing and we’re having a good old time.  We won the bet and now had $120 bet.  We let it ride, stacked it up. The dealer went busted and now there’s $240 in the bet box.  Randy doesn’t flinch.  We’re dealt two face cards so we’re good and we win.  $480 bet and we catch a “snapper,” a blackjack.  The payoff is $720.  We’re playing $25 green chips now.  We’ve got $1,200 out in front of us on the felt off of $45.

The cocktail waitress comes over, Randy knows her.  The waitress says, “Hi, Randy.  How’s it going?”

She takes our drink order and Randy reaches over and picks up a stack of five–dollar chips, a hundred bucks, and sprinkles them on her tray.  I had never given a cocktail waitress more than ten bucks for a drink when I was winning.  I was learning more than just playing fast.

Randy spreads to two hands $500 each.  We win both bets.

Long story short, in less than ten hands I had my $2,000 back.  We kept playing.  I wanted Randy to get back the $7,000 he was stuck.  So did he and he kept betting the money and me playing the cards.  There was very little decision making on my part, as we were dealt one great hand after another.

In less than a half hour we had another $6,000 in front of us, a total of $8,000.  I split it with Randy and left.

My car was parked across the street at the Four Queens, but before I got to my car I made a lay–down on craps in the Four Queens casino and went home broke.

There’s a saying: “You’re not a winner until you’re home and the money is on top of the dresser.”

I saw Randy at work the next night and he had blown back his end, too.

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