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Best of Barney Vinson

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Barney Vinson's World: Boxmen Get the Boot

8 November 2003

Vegas casinos are at it again, chopping down trees to plant a forest. This time, it isn't change personnel who are getting the boot, but the boxmen at the crap tables. For those who don't know what a boxman is, let alone how to shoot craps, the boxman is the casino supervisor who oversees payoffs, signs markers, orders fills, and does all the other mundane tasks at the table that the floor supervisor is usually too busy to handle. After all, most floor supervisors are now watching two games or more, when they only had to monitor one game in the good old days.

The problem is that table games in Nevada are slowly spiraling into oblivion. According to the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, the 351 dice tables in Clark County generate an annual income of $390 million (or an average gross win per day per table of $3,049), while nickel slot machines alone bring in more than $1 billion!

A slot machine requires practically no human participation, except for a slot technician who comes along once a day and empties it. And the new ticket-in ticket-out machines require even less attention.

Meanwhile, look at the number of employees at a dice table. There are four dealers on each dice crew, a boxman (until now), and a floor supervisor. Six casino employees, each getting free meals, medical benefits, 401 (k) plans, uniforms, and salary are stationed at each of those 351 dice tables in Clark County.

So to save money, and yet offer the games that make each casino a full- fledged resort operation, the powers that be have decided to pare down the help. At a daily salary of around $175, each boxman off the payroll gives the casino an annual windfall of $45,000. Why, that's enough money to wine and dine a highroller for almost a whole weekend.

Casinos have apparently lost sight of the fact that the role of the boxman is to protect the game. Without the boxman, it becomes the responsibility of the floor supervisor, whose shoulders are already heaped with more paperwork and customer interaction than he or she can scarcely handle.

Another problem is catering to the whims and whimsies of table game regulars. Unlike slot players, who have been trained since infancy to use their slot cards for meals and shows, table game players want every amenity in the casino, and they want it now. A highroller with a credit line of more than $1 million isn't going to twiddle his thumbs while the floor supervisor scurries from table to table. He wants reservations for eight o'clock in the gourmet restaurant, and a tee-off time tomorrow morning on the golf course. "And if you don't get somebody over here right now, I'm taking my business across the street!"

Lose just one player like that and there goes all the money the casino saved by unloading its boxmen.

Not only that, but how about all the scam artists who have been ripping and tearing in casinos since time immemorial? These include past-posters (players who sneak bets against the house after the shooter already has a number); claim bet artists (players who try to get paid for nonexistent bets); and railbirds (players who sneak other people's money out of the rail while everyone's attention is riveted on the table). Without a boxmen to oversee the game, these unsavory characters will have a field day. All the casino bosses will hear is one of their best customers wailing, "Hey, what happened to all my $1,000 chips?" To pacify him, the casino will have to — you guessed it — reimburse the player for all the chips he claimed were stolen.

"Give Mr. G $25,000 in yellow chips. Sorry about that, Mr. G."

There goes another half a year's pay for a boxman, who could have prevented the entire thing in the first place.

Megaresorts like MGM, Bally's, and Las Vegas Hilton have already done away with their boxmen. So now what happens at smaller Vegas casinos, which operate on an even smaller profit margin? Chances are they'll say, "Well, if the Hilton is getting rid of their boxmen, we should do the same thing." Eventually, every casino in town will have their floor supervisors doing the work of two people. The boxman will be a relic of a bygone era.

Next step? Why not make the dice tables smaller so that the casino only needs three dealers instead of four? Why not install computerized hardware on each table so that a highroller can get money just by inserting his player number into a computer? That way, they won't need floor supervisors, either.

Trimming the payroll might save money in any business, but by operating with fewer employees the casino industry will find itself in a no-win situation. One old timer put it best when he said, "The casino business is a people business. We don't sell bread; we don't sell shoes. All we sell is service."

Without enough manpower to sell that service, the casinos may find themselves another relic of a bygone era.

Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson

Barney Vinson
Barney Vinson is one of the most popular and best-selling gaming authors of all time. He is the author of Ask Barney, Las Vegas: Behind the Tables, Casino Secrets, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas. His newest book, a novel, is The Vegas Kid.

Books by Barney Vinson:

> More Books By Barney Vinson