During my 10 years of work as a part-time casino dealer, I earned enough money to pay off my first mortgage.
I worked at the Leelanau Sands Casino in northern Michigan, dealing blackjack, roulette and some forms of poker. The $14 per hour I earned between my base rate and tips in 1993 is the equivalent of $23 per hour today, according to the BLS inflation calculator.
Most of my co-workers loved their jobs. Many are still working there (or at a nearbycasino with the same owners) 17 years after I quit, and they tell me that they now make over $20 per hour, plus have decent benefits. Some have even moved to management positions.
Have you considered choosing a career in casino dealing? It’s a profession that pays decently and doesn’t require a college degree.
Could You Be a Casino Dealer?
Do you have what it takes? It helps to be friendly, but you also have to be able to politely handle rude customers. People get upset when they lose, and will sometimes even accuse you of plotting against them (sadly, I’m not kidding).
Fortunately, when they’re winning, they’ll often act like your best friends and share their good luck with you in the form of tips.
Is your body ready for work as a dealer? You’ll spend most of each shift standing, although poker dealers typically get to sit. You also need at least a normal amount of manual dexterity to deal blackjack, poker, roulette or craps. And you’ll need to be willing to work in a smoky environment, although that’s becoming less important with better air filtering systems, fewer smokers and more regulation.
Naturally, you’ll have to be able to count to 21 to be a blackjack dealer. Most people don’t have too much trouble quickly adding up the value of the cards as they’re dealt out, and players will certainly correct you when an error is not in their favor. However, if you make too many mistakes, you’ll likely lose your job.
Other dealing positions often require more skill. Poker, for example, involves keeping track of many players and several rounds of betting. Craps is such a fast-paced, high-energy (and high-stress) game that I quit before I even finished training.
Why Become a Casino Dealer?
Here are some of the reasons people choose to work in a casino:
- Minimal training required
- No degree necessary
- Decent pay
- Good benefits
- Fun environment
- Plenty of places to work all over the world
That last one is nice if you are uncertain about where you’ll end up later in life, or want to work while you travel. The American Casino Guide lists casinos in 42 states, and there are 111 in Canada, according to the listings in the World Casino Directory. As a casino dealer, then, the odds are good that wherever you choose to live, there will be a place to work nearby.
There’s also real variety in the types of casinos where you might like to work. Perhaps you would prefer a small casino in the north woods (like the place I worked), rather than a big place in Vegas. Or you might want to work on cruise ships. If you don’t want to stay out at sea for days on end, you can apply to work day-cruise operations, like the Big M Casino in Florida. Their cruises last six hours, and you only deal when out in international waters, which is less than five hours of each trip.
It’s fun to work in a casino if you like a fast-paced environment where thousands of dollars can come or go in minutes. Where I was employed, the craps dealers in particular loved their jobs, perhaps in part because they work as a team.
How Much Can You Make?
An average Casino Dealer makes over $50,000 their first year based on a 40 hour work week. Casinos that allow Dealers to keep their own tips have been reported to make over $100,000 per year. [sic]
That may be a biased source, since they are selling training. Here are some of the factors that determine how much you make:
- The type of casino you work for
- Whether you keep your own tips
- The particular position you get
- How well you treat the customers
Since the bulk of your pay comes from tips, a busy casino means better paychecks. Most casinos make dealers pool their tips, divide the total collected by all labor hours for the pay period, and then add the resulting hourly “tip rate” amount to an employee’s base rate. That’s fair for reasons that will become clear, and you can do well if you work with good people and the casino isn’t overstaffed — when there are dealers standing at empty tables, it drags down that tip rate.
Some casinos let dealers keep their own tips; you can learn about these on a casino employee forum. This policy sounds good, but your paychecks will go up and down dramatically from week to week. I once made thousands of dollars in tips in a single shift dealing high-stakes blackjack — I wish I could have kept that for myself! But I also once made just $2 in tips working the “money wheel” — that day, I was glad we were splitting tips.
Clearly, if you keep your own tips, it matters where you’re assigned. You’ll almost always collect bigger tips at a $500 blackjack table than at one with a $25 maximum bet. And the empty table in the corner? Just imagine the arguments about who gets which assignment when every dealer knows one table will likely produce $10 in tips for the night and another $500. You can see why most casinos now have a tip-sharing policy.
Of course, in any tipped position, how you treat customers is crucial, so be good to them! But no matter how good you are, their luck will affect their tipping habits: gamblers tend not to tip as much when they lose, but if they win, they tip more, and even get superstitious. I loved to see players putting out a tip on every hand when winning, believing that if they stopped, it would jinx their “lucky streaks.”
You might also earn more through advancement opportunities. Many of the people I worked with have become supervisors or “pit bosses,” and most of them didn’t have a college degree. Government statistics show that the average wage for gaming supervisors is $48,940 per year. But depending on how good your tips are as a dealer, that promotion could mean a pay cut.
I was trained onsite for two weeks before starting, for free. It’s becoming rare for casinos to provide training, although it still happens occasionally. For example, facing a shortage of dealers a couple years ago, the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland trained dealers. But most of the time, you’ll have to pay for training before getting hired.
The cost and time to complete training varies from school to school. The Table Games Course at The Casino Institute runs $2,000 and takes about 12 to 14 weeks. At Nick Kallos’ Casino Gaming School, you can learn to deal blackjack with 80 hours of instruction and it costs just $299 for the four-week course. Of course, the biggest cost might be getting to the school, so check a list of gaming schools to find those within commuting distance.
How to Get Casino Dealer Jobs
All of the schools offer job placement help, but none can promise you employment. And even with that certificate saying you have what it takes, you’ll still have to prepare for your casino job audition.
Unless you already have a strong preference as to which games you want to deal, start with blackjack training. In the casino where I worked, there were two roulette tables, two craps tables and twenty-four blackjack tables. That’s where the jobs are. Once you’ve shown yourself to be a good blackjack dealer, your casino might train you in other games as well.
Here are some of the places where you can find posted casino job openings:
Small casinos often advertise locally as well, so you might try local newspaper classified ads or Google “blackjack dealer position” plus the name of your state or city. Of course, if you paid good money for training, ask for job placement help.
Your Turn: Would you consider dealing blackjack, roulette, poker or craps in a casino?