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for people who care about the West

Dummy up and deal

 

(Card) dealers are reminded many times … that they are on the bottom of the food chain, where they have to feel fortunate to gather up the crumbs that fall off the table. On the other hand, where else can a person without a high school diploma earn forty to a hundred thousand a year just by turning over cards and remembering a high roller’s name? The casino is a world of opposites in operation — hope and despair, generosity and stinginess, kindness and cruelty.

— H. Lee Barnes, Dummy up and Deal

Here’s your chance to eavesdrop on a casino dealers’ break room. In Dummy up and Deal, H. Lee Barnes collects the dishy anecdotes he heard during his 17 years as a casino dealer and game supervisor in Las Vegas. This isn’t straight reporting — Barnes says his stories are "true to memory" — but the result is a vivid picture of casino dealers’ daily lives. There’s plenty of meaty stuff here. We learn why dealers have never successfully unionized (HCN, 4/24/00: At your service: Unions help some Western workers serve themselves), why sexual politics remain so powerful in the gambling industry, and how the countless forms of cheating affect casinos, dealers and players.

Barnes helpfully supplies a glossary of casino slang, which turns out to be as fascinating as the stories: "Georges" are big tippers, "sweaters" are bosses and dealers who worry about losing the casino’s money, and a "flat house" is a casino that cheats its players (as in, "When I first went to work for the Sands, it was flatter than an aircraft carrier deck."). Most importantly, however, Dummy up and Deal gives voice to people most often valued for their quick hands — and closed mouths.

Dummy up and Deal, H. Lee Barnes, University of Nevada Press, 2002. 160 pages. Hardcover: $22.95.