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Best of Barney Vinson

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Hustling

28 November 2004

When I was breaking in at the Mint I must've been the hardest-working chump in Vegas. Forty hours a week dealing craps, working double shifts on weekends, and doing a disc jockey show Saturday and Sunday mornings at a radio station.

The show ended at noon, which was when my shift started at the Mint. So every weekend there I was, racing across town, knowing I would be late, knowing there was nothing I could do about it. I'd told the other guys about my part-time radio gig, so they always covered for me. Unfortunately, they told other people, and the next thing you know it was all over the joint. "He's got a job on the radio. He's a disc jockey. He uses the name Johnny Holiday."

Then again, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing after all, everyone knowing I was a deejay. My skills as a dealer weren't developing that rapidly; I was still making a lot of mistakes. Let's face it, I was terrible. This one boxman, his name was Duke, would get so nervous when I was dealing that his hands would shake more than mine did. In fact, the pit boss once suggested they put seat belts on the stools so the boxmen wouldn't go flying off the table every time I paid a bet.

The boxmen couldn't hurt you, though. The floor people could. They had the power to hire, and the power to fire. If one of them didn't like you, you were history, simple as that. There was this one floorman named Joe Caruso who was tough as nails. The rumor was that his dad was a crime boss back in Chicago, and that Joe had been sent to Vegas to escape a murder rap. Like I say, it was just a rumor, and maybe Joe started it. But hell, he even looked like a gangster, wearing silk suits and flashy ties, and he was Italian to boot.

He used to give me a hard time, always standing right behind me when I was dealing, shaking his head when I made a mistake, shaking his head when I didn't. And coming up with little snide remarks all the time like, "Don't buy anything on time, kid." Or: "You've got hands like a sturgeon."

Then Joe found out I was doing a radio show. Suddenly I was a star in his eyes. A dealer at the Mint, working on the radio! "Hey," he whispered in my ear. "You think maybe you could dedicate a song to me on your show this weekend?"

So I did. Not only did I dedicate a song to Joe Caruso, but I dedicated songs to every boss at the Mint I could think of. From that moment on, I was okay in their book. I had a job for life. That is, as long as they stuck around.

I was learning more and more about this crazy racket. And you know what? Dealing was only a small part of it. The big part was making friends with the players, sizing up who might be good for a toke, and the other 99 percent of them who wouldn't throw you a life preserver if you were drowning in the middle of the frigging Atlantic Ocean.

We needed tokes. We relied on tokes. We lived on tokes. Without tokes, we were just common laborers, living from paycheck to paycheck. And if you didn't get out there and hustle, you weren't going to make any tokes. Just fourteen lousy dollars a day, and after taxes you were lucky if you got anything at all.

The problem was that husting wasn't allowed. If a boss caught you hustling, it was the end of the line. So you were in a spot. If you didn't hustle, you wouldn't make any money. If you did hustle and got caught at it, you wouldn't make any money, because you wouldn't be working there anymore.

Hustling was an art form, and I learned from the Michelangelos of the Mint. When a new player stepped up to the table, the first thing you did was check out his appearance. Was he well-dressed? Was he wearing an expensive watch or any other nice jewelry? Was he drinking? Was he from the South? Add all these things up and you had yourself a potential George, our slang for a good tipper.

Was he from a foreign country? Did he have dirt under his fingernails? Were his clothes so filthy that he left spots on the table when he made a bet? Was he drinking beer out of a bottle? Add these together and you had yourself a stiff, our slang for someone who wouldn't give you a toke if their life depended on it. You might as well throw in females, young people, really old people, and anyone from the East Coast except New York, because they were just as bad.

Then, when you had a potential George on the table, you went into surgery. "Come on over here next to me, sir," you'd say, your voice as soft as maple syrup. You'd help him make his bets, make sure he had his odds, make sure he had a fresh drink at all times, two if possible. Then, when he started winning, here it came. "Put a chip down there on the pass line, next to yours," you whispered.

"What for?"

"For the boys," you whispered.

Here it came. And you'd have a bet on the pass line as long as he stayed, and you made sure he stayed all day.

I finally broke the ice with a woman player one day. "Where are you from?" I asked her. That was another thing. You always asked a new player where he or she was from, just to get some friendly conversation going that might lead to a toke. "California," she said. "I love California," I said. You loved any place the player was from. Reason? More tokes.

She was only betting $5 on the pass line, so things didn't look good. But the dice were running hot and after an hour she had about $300 in the rail. I couldn't stand it any longer. "Put a $5 chip behind your bet for me," I whispered.

"Okay," she said brightly.

Boom, winner four. I paid her $5 for her pass line bet, then paid myself $10 for the odds. "Thank you," I said, scooping up $15 and chunking it to the stickman.

"Hey," she said. "How come you got more money than I did?"

"I was taking odds," I explained patiently. "Odds pay more than the pass line does."

She replied, "Well, from now on I get the odds and you get the pass line."

"Okay," I said, biting my tongue. "You got a deal."

Life couldn't get any better than this.

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