Poker Dealing Jobs
Millicent Berman, 23, of Pembroke Pines, started out as a player, and says… (Joe Cavaretta/Sun Sentinel )
When it comes to job interviews, some card rooms try out poker dealers the way Broadway auditions singers: You perform well, or you go home.
So even though Millicent Berman has dealt at several South Florida poker rooms, she says there was nothing more difficult than having a potential boss' eyes bearing down on her as she pitched the cards.
"I've dealt a million hands, but these five felt like it was the first time on the job, " says Berman, 23, of Pembroke Pines.
She was still trembling 10 minutes after her audition to be a dealer at Mardi Gras Casino's Big Easy Poker Room.
"Every moment can be critical, " she says.
With 13 poker rooms in South Florida, there are more than 1, 000 dealers and countless others who aspire to the position. But there's no on-the-job training for poker dealers. They attend a dealer school or practice in free poker leagues.
Most, like Berman, love to play the game and would enjoy a part-time job in the card room.
While you're busy trying to check, call or raise your hand, a dealer must make several moves that most players miss because they're focused on their cards. They must ensure all bets are correct, compute and rake out the few dollars the house keeps per hand, and maintain a good demeanor.
David Litvin, the Big Easy's director of poker operations, compares a poker dealer to a sports referee, in that you're only noticed when something goes wrong. In auditions, he looks for people who keep their cool, while being able to quickly pitch cards to the 10 players at the table.
Gambling is a people-driven industry, he says, so it's essential to find an employee who makes a guest feel welcome and part of a family.
"At the end of the day, they could play anywhere, " he said. "We have to do that to be competitive."
Poker room managers say the typical dealer's income has declined in South Florida in the past five years, although job opportunities have grown as poker has expanded. Full-time dealers, who don't pool their tips, used to make almost $80, 000 per year, as novice players routinely overtipped. But players have become more familiar with the game and professional players, who keep extensive profit-and-loss statements, have moved here. (Most people now toss $1 or $2 per hand.)
During an audition in December, Litvin had about 60 candidates vying for 10 part-time spots at Mardi Gras. He sat around the table in a mock game, concocting scenarios involving several players (mostly card room employees posing as guests). For example, he asked some players to go "all-in, " meaning all their chips were on the table — but in varying amounts, creating side pots that a dealer must sort out.
Among those auditioning was Artur Tishchenko, a Nova Southeastern University student who was already working at Mardi Gras as a brush (chip runner). He really wanted a promotion: He hopes to attend dental school after graduating, so he's looking at six more years of college.
But he had auditioned before in the summer.
"There are just so many things to focus on, and your mind can go blank, " says Tishchenko, 20, of Hallandale Beach.
But this time, he got the promotion.
"It beats bagging groceries, " he says.
Very rarely is a dealer hired with zero experience. At the Palm Beach Kennel Club in West Palm Beach, people work their way up from host to cashier to dealing in charity events, which have less pressure.
"The No. 1 thing I look for is alertness, " said Noah Carbone, Palm Beach Kennel Club card room director.
He notes that dealers must juggle collecting bets, making sure the bets are correct and the action is moving, taking in the proper amount of the house rake, and feeding high-hand and bad-beat jackpots.
"If you can't pay attention to multiple things at the same time, you can get yourself into a jam, " Carbone says. "You have to mentally be in three or four places at once."
For Berman, the other candidate who auditioned at Mardi Gras, the good news was that she got hired. She started out as a player, and says her time is split 60 percent dealing, 40 percent playing.
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