Near the 6.5-km stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard that is home to 18 of the 25 largest (and most garish) hotels in the world, I meet Nick Kallos, owner of the Casino Gaming School of Las Vegas.
With a shock of salt and pepper hair, near-white goatee and loud Hawaiian shirts, he’s the kind of guy who only Dustin Hoffman could play in a movie of his life. Kallos is a typical self-made American who is still proud of his Greek family roots and builds and restores antique cars in his spare time.
He started out as a porter at Caesar’s Palace in the 1960s before breaking into casino dealing and then management, running casinos for 14 years. Managing made him realize how much he missed working the table. “I should have stuck with dealing,” he says. “I decided to start my own school. That’s how much I love dealing.”
Now he and his lecturers see some 600 people a year graduate from classes in dealing blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat and poker. The school’s tables are packed with people eager to learn and Nick talks as fast as he deals, his hands moving the cards with a quick ease. “You have to keep the deck fully visible at all times,” he says. “Once your hand starts to cover anything a client should see from the front, you’ll open yourself up to accusations of cheating and then you’ll be out of a job.”
Nick recommends that all his students do a ‘foundation course’ before starting at his school by taking advantage of the free gambling classes held in the casinos themselves. “They’re held to get people into the games and know the rules, so take as many as possible. The better you know the game, the better a dealer you become.” He has the same advice for those who just want to play. “Never play games you don’t fully understand, because you’ll embarrass yourself,” he says.
He tells me that a typical dealer’s schedule is 40 minutes or an hour of dealing followed by a 20 minute break, although some smaller casinos may leave a ‘hot’ dealer on the table for several hours if they’re winning lots of money from the players. “The poker rooms are where all the real action is,” he says. “A good poker dealer is worth a fortune.”
A four-week, 80-hour course costs around $800 but Nick points out that the majority of big winners were once poker dealers. His blackjack course costs only $300 but, as Nick says, when dealing poker: “You get to sit down, you get to keep your own tips and you get to work in non-smoking rooms.”
The average full-time dealer earns from $30,000 at smaller casinos to $70,000 at the bigger names but that annual salary includes tips, which are often pooled. Like everyone else, dealers rely on tips, so they actually have an interest in seeing players win as that usually makes them more generous.
Take me to Vegas, baby!