Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Month in the Life of a New Casino

There have been a number of good points for me to write this post. But at no point was there really a time where something earth-shatteringly interesting which demanded to be blogged. So, here we go: A rambling, disjointed post with dozens of marginally interesting points. Good luck.

When last I wrote, I had finished my first day of actual dealing, dealing mini-baccarat. (I've since read that Wikipedia article, and apparently the version of baccarat in North American casinos is the least interesting version. Go figure.) At the time, I thought dealing baccarat (which we generally call "bacc" (sounds like "bock") or "mini-bacc" rather than baccarat) would be an occasional thing, since I had spent umpteen weeks learning dice, and a day and a half learning baccarat. Wow, was I wrong.

To date, I have dealt almost exclusively mini-bacc. With an hour here, two hours there, and a relief string another day, you can add about a day and a half of blackjack to that. Finally, about two weeks ago, after good-naturedly complaining to a number of people that I'm theoretically a dice dealer, I talked to our shift manager, who is for most of our time there, the highest-up person at the casino. Other people tell me he's about the best shift manager they've worked for, and I don't disagree, but he's "not my type of person," which I'm not really sure what I mean by that. In any case, he agreed with me when I suggested that I needed to get on dice damned soon, or not at all, before I just forget it all. So I've now been on dice a grand total of a day and a half.

That could have been a lot worse. There are procedural things I did wrong, but nothing too serious; I only made one serious money mistake and that got fixed. On "base," though I was far from flawless, I was as smooth as I remember from class. On "stick," I controlled the game well enough, and booked my bets more or less right, I'm more than a little fuzzy about paying some of the center bets (the ones that are basically combinations of the 2, 3, 11, and 12). But with multiple people at the table, it's easy enough to ask for help. I'm scheduled for dice again this morning, and I'm not as nervous as the last time.

When I see dealers at other properties (mainly the Blue Chip) dealing bacc, they seem to hate it; their whole being seems to say that they wish they were anywhere other than with these stupid bacc players. But truly, I don't mind it. I have regulars, who 70% of them are actually pretty decent people (or seem that way, when I can understand their accents). And I get to sit down, which is a bigger deal than you'd think (did I mention that I'm fat?). My biggest problem with dealing bacc is ass sweat; our dealers' chairs are leather (or leatherette), and don't breathe at all. Now I know why I see so many poker dealers with either towels or ass-pillows to sit on: It's to keep down the ass sweat.

In our high-limit area, we have a couple of baccarat tables, as well (actually, that's all baccarat and blackjack), and they're labelled as "midi-baccarat," with a "d," to distinguish from mini-bacc. It's the same game, exactly, except that the players themselves get to flip over the cards. And many of them are totally nutbar about it; they crimp and crush the cards every which way in order to create the most drama for themselves about what the cards are, or maybe they really think they can change what the card is by turning it ninety degrees and crimping it again a different way. Needless to say, the cards are retired off that game after a single time through the shoe.

The most annoying thing about dealing bacc is that the players take a looooong time to place their bets. Ostensibly, they're looking for patterns in the past hands to determine what the next hand will be. I suspect that most of them know just how foolish that is, but do that because the social situation at a bacc table demands that they pay attention to it. I also know for a fact that some people really believe their analytical powers can determine the next hand based on the preceding hands, and study like they're trying to decipher the Rosetta Stone. But more often, they're waiting to see which way everyone else bets, or, if the table is divided into more than one group, socially, then the way their social group bets. If the latter happens it is usually between white people and Asian people. (I assume that the Asians are mostly Chinese, because they all assume that anyone else Asian, understands their language. Vietnamese is the only other likely "universal" language, and it doesn't seem that would be all that universal.)

I probably mentioned large bets with my opening-night report. Bacc players tend to bet pretty obscene amounts of money on, essentially, flips of a coin. I've taken, now, three or four bets of $2000 or more ("Orange [chips] in action!"), the largest being (I think) $2655. (Quick, without a calculator, what's $2655 less 5% commission?) A couple of days ago I also had the experience of giving out nearly $10,000 in two hands; a player was making large bets on long-shot propositions at the bacc table (a "bonus" bet, and the tie), and hit a couple of them in a row. It's fun to yell "orange out," I've gotta tell you. Once I even sent a grey ($5000) chip out when a player colored up, the first time I'd even touched those chips despite them being in the racks of the high-limit tables. Last night I had my highest blackjack player (remember I've not dealt much blackjack), playing two hands at $500 apiece. Unfortunately, I utterly destroyed her, and all the rest of the blackjack players I had tonight.

In the casino as a whole, things continue to seem more than a little disorganized. Our "toke" (tip) rate seems low compared to what I expected, but this seems to be because they're still scheduling too many dealers compared to the play they're actually getting. While this is better than the reverse, they need to do a better job of forecasting how much play they'll get. I assume this will come with time, but the scheduling office itself has been in disarray since we opened, with a revolving door of people working in that office. Lately the rumour is that the people who've had so much difficulty getting our paychecks right, have put in to move down to scheduling. If they consider that it will be less hassle, they're wrong.

Some of the things that were left unfinished when we opened, are still unfinished. The best example is that there are (at least) two waterfalls in the building, one in front of the seafood place ("Swimm") and one in front of the high-limit pit. I've seen the one in front of Swimm working once, but then it was turned off because, apparently, it leaks. The one in high-limit wasn't even finished being built when we opened. It is now, but I've never actually seen water running through it. I wonder if it, similarly, leaks. That speaks to poor design, probably, but after a month they should have had that set. And the funniest example of disorganization of all is that we had no roulette wheels at all when we opened. The tables were there, the chips were there, but the wheels themselves were nowhere to be seen. Supposedly they were stuck in customs, which I guess could happen, but it would seem that they would have had the roulette wheels in place, or at least on hand, for weeks before we opened.

Other employees who've opened other casinos (I hear thirdhand) have said that opening those casinos was a blast, but thus far, they say, this one has been a pain in the ass. So the level of disorganization may be unusually high. I've been told, also, that high-limit players tend to stay away from casino openings because of that disorganization. If so, our toke rates can only improve.

I've been asked in Email about how the situation in the poker room is playing out. The answer, unfortunately, is that I don't know. When I get there at 4 AM, there are one to three tables going, and when I leave at noon, there are one to three tables going. Sometimes in between there are no tables at all. Unfortunately all that doesn't mean much; it'd be much more instructive to know how they are doing in the evening, particularly on the weekends, at the room's peak times. And that, I don't know. People who work in that room are adamant that the PokerPro tables are there to stay, but ultimately it's not really their decision. I bumped into Four Winds' room manager at Blue Chip, checking out his competition, and pointed out that the players in the Chip's room are there because they hate the idea of the electronic tables, or, if they've tried them, hated the tables themselves. He said that even so, he had five tables going, and the Chip had two.

When I recounted the conversation to Gil later, he said, "Yes, but how many people were in each casino as a whole? As busy as Four Winds has been, there should have been fifteen tables going there." And I didn't think, at the time, to make that point; whatever I did in fact say seemed to piss off our poker room manager, so maybe I shouldn't bring that up again soon. It's also occurred to me, since, that with live tables Four Winds would have had seven tables and the Chip would have had zero. It really is a nice casino.

I've heard two (contradictory) rumours about the room. One of them is that sometime as of some date in September, they can get out from under the leases on the PokerPro tables. If this is so, it seems to me that this date is too early. Attendance in the room, for most of September, will still be inflated by the number of people who go once to give the PokerPro tables their shot, who will decide they don't like them. In September, those people who will never come back to electronic tables will still be counted among people who play those tables. My own anecdotal evidence, talking to players at Blue Chip, is that there are a lot of those players.

The other rumour is exactly the same, except that the date in question is six months from our opening. This would be good for the casino, in my opinion, because I think (still) that by that time it will be painfully obvious that the electronic tables were a mistake. However, I suspect that the September date is more likely, and that sometime before the six months are up, the casino will have to eat the cost of those tables.

Now, all of that said, there are players in that room. Some of them are there day after day. So there are obviously people who are perfectly okay with those tables. So, it's entirely possible that all of my griping about the tables is simply wrong. But I don't think so. I think, with live dealers, they'd already be talking about expanding the poker room.

There are probably plenty of little stories I'd meant to eventually post, but am not thinking of right now. Possibly, the next couple of posts will be little amusing anecdotes from the last month that I just remembered to post. Also, a friend of mine who also works there, is returning to the blogosphere, and her impressions might be of interest as well: http://www.fireflythegreat.com.

(This might sit a day or so. My internet connection is all wonky at the moment.)