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Best of Barney Vinson

Gaming Guru

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My First Job in Vegas

20 December 2003

I'd been in Las Vegas for less than three weeks. In that time, I spent $175 to enroll in dealers school, another $20 a night sleeping in a motel room that didn't even have a private bathroom, and gone through most of my remaining bankroll learning how not to play blackjack.

That's when Arnold, the owner of the dealers school, called me into his office. The money I gave him was probably counterfeit, I was thinking glumly as I followed him inside.

He settled behind his desk and cleared his throat. "The Pioneer Club's looking for a shill. I told 'em I'd send somebody down today. You interested?"

"Sure," I said. "What's a shill?"

"A shill's a . . . well, a shill's a . . . a shill's a shill! It's somebody who acts like he's gambling so other people will gamble."

"Is that legal? Could I get arrested for that?" Then again, what did I care? At least, I'd get a free place to live and three squares a day.

"Of course, it's legal," Arnold said. "All the downtown places have shills." He leaned forward. "But you won't just be a shill. Artie-—he's the guy you want to see-—Artie says he'll let you deal whenever it's slow. You'll get some hands-on experience in a real casino."

Hadn't I read something like that in the Yellow Pages?

I thanked Arnold and walked down the crowded street to the Pioneer Club. Over the casino stood the monstrous neon-lit figure of a cowboy wearing a ten-gallon hat and waving a mechanical arm in the air. "HOWDY PARDNER," boomed a voice from a loud speaker. It almost scared me out of my wits until I realized the voice was coming from the cowboy 30 feet up in the air. I learned later his name was Vegas Vic, and he was the Pioneer Club's mascot.

Walking inside, I stopped in my tracks. Did I once say that the Nevada Club was the sleaziest gambling joint I'd ever seen? Well, the Pioneer Club had it beat hands down. There was stained carpet on the floor at the Nevada Club. There was no carpet on the floor at the Pioneer Club. And the sound was deafening. Slot machines were rigged with flashing lights and eardrum-rupturing sirens that went off whether you won or lost. Every crank of every handle and—-WOOPWOOPWOOP. Over it all, in the background, the rumble of Vegas Vic: "HOWDY PARDNER."

"Is Artie around?" I shouted to a bored dealer.

"Change?" he smiled.

"NO! I'M LOOKING FOR ARTIE!"

He pointed me toward the snack bar where a man was standing at the counter. He was impeccably dressed in a green suit with diamonds sparkling on every finger. A jet black toupee, done up in a 1950's-style pompadour, perched on top of his head like a dead bird.

"Are you Artie?" I asked him.

"Yeah?"

"Arnold sent me over from the dealers school. Said you were looking for a . . . shrill."

"Oh yeah. Did he tell you what it was?"

"Yes sir."

"Well, the job don't pay much," he said, dumping five packets of sugar into his coffee. "Eleven dollars a day." He paused to see if I was going to bolt out the front door. I just stood there waiting.

"The thing is, you'll get a chance to deal every once in a while, and that alone is worth the money." Now I wasn't sure whether I would be paid $11 a day or pay him $11 a day.

Artie took me over to the crap table and introduced me around. I met the dealers, the boxman (who was the person in charge of the table), and another shill named Diane. She checked my finger for a wedding ring, then smiled and offered me a limp hand. The boxman told the dealer to give me a stack of $5 checks. Then came a little on-the-job training.

Diane would stand at one end of the table; I would stand at the other. She would bet $5 on the pass line; I would bet $5 on the don't pass. In other words, if she won then I lost, and vice versa. At the end of the shift, the $5 checks better come out even, or the one with the short stack would be in big trouble.

So that's how my new career got underway: standing at the end of a dingy crap table in a filthy gambling joint, the noise level at about a million decibels, acting like a gambler, making $11 a day, no permanent place to call home, $63 to my name, and starting to get the glad-eye from a homely woman named Diane who was probably in worse financial shape than I was. Life just wasn't fair, godammit.

By now my stomach was starting to grumble. I hadn't eaten since—-hell, I couldn't remember the last time I ate. Thank God casino workers got free meals, or we'd all starve to death. When I got tapped out for a break by another shill, I asked him, "Where do we eat around here?"

"Anywhere you want," he answered.

"I mean, where do the employees eat? Do we have a lunch room, or do we eat in the coffee shop, or what?"

"This dump doesn't have a coffee shop," he said with a smirk. "We eat anywhere we want and we pay it for just like everyone else. The only thing free around here is the air."

What kind of place was this? I went searching for Mop Top, my fists clenched at my sides. He was talking to two change girls, regaling them with some kind of funny story. Probably the one about the break-in dealer from Texas who just started working there as a shill.

"Excuse me. Artie, could I see you a minute?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm trying to find out where we eat and someone said we don't get our meals free. I thought all the casinos fed their help."

"Yeah," he sighed, straightening his hairpiece. "Well, we're just a little mom and pop outfit, working on a shoestring. I've tried to get better working conditions. You know, free meals, profit-sharing plan, medical benefits. But for now the only thing we've got going is free refreshments at the snack bar. Hey, I've got to pay for my meals, too, and I'm the assistant day shift boss."

I got a hot dog at the snack bar. Not at the Pioneer Club snack bar, but at one across the street. No way was I putting any of my $63 in their hands. And I was very careful crossing the street. I certainly didn't want to get hit by a car, now that I didn't even have medical insurance. What a bunch of rotten bastards.

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