Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 2000 / 3 Teves, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- MY WIFE and I are not what you would call "Las Vegas people." We really don't get there all that often but whenever we do go, we are amazed at how much that town has changed -- and continues to change. On a recent overnight trip to Las Vegas it dawned on me that casino dealers are getting younger all the time. What was once a profession populated by the mature "river boat gambler" type has became "youth oriented."
Where have all the sophisticated, debonair, gray-at-the-temples, Clark Gable-ish dealers gone? And who are all these kids who have taken their place? Their little hands can hardly hold a deck of cards. Why aren't they at home where they belong, studying for finals, making that science project or going to T-ball practice? Do their parents know where they are? Don't they realize they'll be grounded if they're out past 11:00 P.M.?
My father was a dealer in Las Vegas for a short time just after World War II. He really looked the part, too -- a big handsome guy with dark hair, bushy eyebrows, and a pencil mustache. And he knew his way around a deck of cards better than most people know the back of their hands. Back then most dealers learned their craft from growing up in the streets. Many came out of poor, rough neighborhoods where they felt more comfortable with a pack of cards and a pair of dice than a schoolbook and a three-ring binder.
There was a small smattering of women dealers then -- but not many -- and most of them tended to be somewhat on the tough side. At that time it was thought unbefitting for a lady to take up such a calling.
I don't know when things first started to change. I can tell you that all through the sixties and seventies, whenever we'd come to Vegas on family trips, dealers still looked like dealers -- not like ride operators at Disneyland.
As a young man, when I walked up to a casino table a dealer would often require me to show ID before I could sit down, let alone play. Now when I sit at a gaming table I'm tempted to ask the dealer for HIS ID. When I approach a Twenty-one table and look at the person standing behind it, I'm not sure whether to buy a stack of chips or a Big Mac and an order of fries. I doubt if many of today's kid-dealers are even able to shave yet. In the old days, all the dealers could shave -- even the women. I told you they were tough!
I miss the crusty guys, the sharpies, the men with that know-it-all glint in their eyes. They really had to know how to deal cards then. They were good. The way they shuffled, cut and dealt, you just knew you were watching pros who took pride in their craft and honed it to perfection. They had their own gambler charm and character and an awful lot of patience with beginners, too.
Most of the old-timers are gone, although once in awhile you'll still catch one hidden way in the back of the casino -- a survivor who's managed to keep a low profile...and his job. I hunt for those guys and those are the tables I gravitate to. I'll usually get a quick wink and a grateful head nod as I sit down at his table. If I'm lucky and it happens to be a quiet moment, he'll proudly go through his dexterous card shuffling routine, as if to remind the world what a professional card dealer was once all about.
His hands move like those of a well-trained magician or juggler -- fast, certain. He cuts, he shuffles, spreading them out, turning them over, more cutting, more shuffling. It's a full show in all of about 30 seconds. Then he'll look up with a slight smile and another wink as he puts the deck of cards away and picks up the game cards -- the decks that will be the ones we'll really play with, the ones to be used with the shoe. Being dealt Blackjack from a shoe isn't as much fun as the old-fashioned way, but the old-fashioned way is, well, old-fashioned -- just like the veteran dealer himself. And this is, after all, new Las Vegas.
I think of my father and old Las Vegas, the Vegas he loved so much. I wonder what he
would think if he could see the new casinos today. Would he have liked playing Blackjack with
a twenty-something dealer young enough to be his granddaughter? Well, maybe. After all, my
father always loved
JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.
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