I was stoked at the prospect of working at such a big, new and beautiful casino. During my try-out, I was swamped with 75c bets and had trouble keeping up with the volume and pace. I turned to my immediate supervisor (the boxman) for support. Instead of helping me, this toothless, giggly seventy-something year-old paleolithic relic said, “Look at my cufflinks.” They were shaped like six-shooters. The senile old fart started spinning them, “These is antiques…and shoot real, fake bullets.” I was struggling enough without his distractions. I realized what I was up against and concentrated on my work until he grabbed my arm, “But I can’t show you how it works ‘cause I lost the ammo.” Despite the handicap of his “assistance,” I got hired. I ran to a phone and called my mother. My exact words were, “I just got hired by a REAL casino.” In the end, the Holiday was a grind joint too...except through four months of repetition and the mentoring from some earnest boxmen, I learned my craft.
In my Las Vegas years, (1979-1984), the casino boxman, (the immediate craps supervisor sitting between the dealers and regulating the game) had the widest range of responsibility. Depending on the casino and caliber of the dealers, their job varied to the depths of babysitting newbies (break-ins) or just passing time because the dealers were so sharp.
The dealers were sharp when I dealt craps at the Stardust Casino, (1980-1982). Those boxmen were generally “juiced-in” fossils. That meant that they parlayed their connections with veteran gaming savvy to land (do-nothing) jobs, (a much smaller amount of boxman were young. Overwhelmingly, that group lacked ambition and worked enough to support bad habits).
If I had half a brain, I would have taken notes when those older boxmen told me their colorful gambling stories. That way, my blogs would include better descriptions of their wild adventures (tall tales). I wish I remembered the details of the man who claimed he taught Elvis how to shoot dice. Or the braggart that said he dealt poker in a bar when he was twelve, got arrested and sent to a reform school until he ran away. Another gentleman dwelled on the time he was “in on” a big fix at the racetrack. Or the man who swore he (all American casino workers) were treated like kings before the revolution in Cuba. But my favorite was the man who lived a high life in New Orleans, as a high-stakes craps dealer in a Runyan-esque, depression-era speakeasy…when the rest of the country was starving.
Please don’t misunderstand, not all the old-timers were charismatic or entertaining. Many of these barnacles sat in a catatonic daze on hemorrhoid cushions, some fell asleep on their stool and others never stopped complaining about life’s most mundane topics.
The serious ones were housemen. They were no fun and guarded every casino dollar as if their life depended on it. So even if they had cool experiences, they were too attentive to the job or too reserved to brag about the glamorous women they had, the fortunes they made and pissed away or the heinous crimes they witnessed.
In my Stardust days, I didn’t need to see that boxmen earned a lot less than dealers, had little or no real power and had to maintain a costly wardrobe. Far worse, it was rumored that we were working for mobsters and the boxmen were directly responsible for the (big) money. Even if you were blind to all that it was obvious…ordinary people, (regardless of how extraordinary their skill set was) couldn’t rise up through the ranks and become upper management. So, being a boxman was the ultimate dead-end and therefore, an old-man job. I may not have been particularly wise at twenty-six but I correctly knew, I wanted no part of it.
|THEY SAY, "YOU DON'T KNOW HOW GOOD YOU HAVE IT TILL IT'S GONE." WELL AT THE STARDUST, I KNEW I WAS LIVING A PRIVILEGED LIFE...AND LOVED EVERY PRECIOUS SECOND OF IT.|
I lost my Stardust job in January 1982. I was unemployed for six weeks. The best job I could find was the Vegas Club which was on par, but slightly worse than the Holiday. I toiled at that toilet for six months. The Vegas Club boxmen (of all ages) fit the old casino adage; those who can't deal craps, sit box. So decent employees who had been bad or inexperienced dealers were hooked-up as boxmen. I liked most of them but a lot of the time, I had to help them. I remained stuck in that rut until the flying fickle finger of fate got me hired at the Golden Nugget.
At the time, the *Nugget was a dive…but still one of the top three, downtown craps jobs.
*Six months after I was hired, the Golden Nugget announced its expansion plans. True to its word, the casino experienced a metamorphosis (on a biblical scale) and transformed that shithouse into an incredible, luxurious, worldwide destination. This story however takes place before the big change.
I was informed that the Nugget as part of the hiring policy might use me first as a boxman for a few shifts. Nothing could interest me less but if that’s what I had to do, to get the job, I did it. Soon thereafter, I learned that this ploy helps the casino weed-out undesirables by seeing a potential craps dealer’s personality, knowledge and grace under fire.
On my first day, I learned that despite being a downtown saw-dust joint, the other dealers were experienced men who had fallen from better jobs. I immediately clashed with Stratton (eleven years older than me). His attitude screamed out...just sit there and be quiet. Other times, he treated me as if I was a senile old man trying to supplement my social security income.
Two of the other dealers on that crew were rednecks. They were sweaty, in their own world and hyped-up on whatever drugs they were doing. One was named Christopher Dean. I started my short (only) conversation with him by asking him about his nametag that read, “COWBOY.”
He said, “The name’s 'Cowboy' Christopher Dean, out of Lusk Wyoming. Maybe you heard of me, I was a rodeo star for ’bout ten years. Been on TV a million times but I kinda fell on my head a lot…had to give that shit up.” My mistake was saying, “So they put 'Cowboy' on your nametag because Christopher wouldn’t fit?” He said, “Heh?” I thought I was being clever and said, “Well if Christopher was too long, they could have just put ‘CHRIS…'” In a bi-polar reversal he went off on me, “Call me Cowboy goddamn it! Or call me by my Christian name, Christopher!” He was really upset and was muttering the harshest obscenities when I had the urge to say; Christian Christopher would be like me being called Jew Jewie. I’m so glad I didn’t say it.
|AFTER THE EXPANSION, THE NUGGET BECAME A GREAT JOB. AS YOU CAN SEE, I GOT BACK MOST OF MY MONDO-BOFFO STARDUST SWAG. PLEASE NOTE THE SMALL SPACE ON THE NAMETAG, SO I WASN'T AN IDIOT WHEN I REMARKED THAT "CHRISTOPHER" WOULDN'T FIT ON IT.|
Luckily, Cowboy found a quiet place in his hyper-active stupor and took his attention off me. But later, I had a direct clash with Stratton. It involved him indirectly robbing a player out of one dollar, (and using it as a tip for the dealers). When I stopped Stratton, he got in my face. I rebutted, “Look, this is my first day. I don’t know the good guys from the bad guys…but management is watching me. I need this job, (tip income there varied from five dollars/hour during the week to eight on weekends). I’ll double what I made at the Vegas Club, (which was still less than half compared to the Stardust). I don’t want to be out on my ass again.”
Stratton sympathized with me and we got along for the rest of the shift. The next day, I sat box again except I was with the jet-set crew. Their leader was Fillmore Theodore Cunnynghame IV (his nametag read TEDDY). *Teddy was super laid back and even though he and I never actually became friends, I admired him. He was a true Renaissance man, a genius and the coolest person I met in my thirty-six years in the gambling industry.
*Teddy was the main character in my Romeo and Juliet-like short story, “ROOTERS.” He and his girlfriend Ariel Mott (a blackjack dealer at the Nugget) were star-crossed lovers who met on Halloween, at the Exorcist steps in Washington DC. Both of their wealthy family’s disapproved of their relationship, (he was from a staunch Episcopalian, republican, old money clan, living in a Chevy Chase Maryland mansion. Her's were devout Catholics, democratic, nouveau riche and living in a gated sub-division, in Arlington Virginia). When their parents blamed their children’s shortcomings on the other family, the couple ran away and became casino dealers in Las Vegas.
|THE "EXORCIST" WAS FILMED ON LOCATION IN THE GEORGETOWN SECTION OF WASHINGTON D.C. NOT ONLY WERE THESE STEPS EERIE IN THE MOVIE BUT THEY ARE JUST AS SCARY IN PERSON.|
During a lull, Teddy, who resembled actor Gabe Kaplan, pointed out which bosses were hard asses.
Teddy also told me that “Cowboy” Christopher Dean was addicted to pain-killers. But he was completely out of control when he mixed alcohol, speed, cocaine or whatever into a psychopathic cocktail. Teddy was specific, "DON’T mess with him or his two toadies. They're bullying thugs, desperate for money, drugs and attention."
On my third day, I finally dealt craps. During that shift, I found out that Nick Tucker (a fellow student of mine) from the New York School of Gambling also dealt there, (Tucker had an entire blog dedicated to him on June 30, 2014 called, "NICK TUCKER: A PUZZLE THAT WOULD BAFFLE BOTH CHURCHILL AND FREUD." Nick and I developed a friendship and I was taken into his clique, (he shared Teddy’s opinion of the bad bosses and of “Cowboy” Christopher Dean).
Through Nick’s influence, I worked almost exclusively with him and my new friends. We dealt on the high-limit game which meant that while the others were breaking their backs pushing twenty-five cent chips around…we were standing-dead and bull-shitting for hours at a time. The other dealers recognized the unfairness of our special treatment but Nick (and more so another dealer on my crew Mateo) had so much pull that we were golden and couldn’t be touched.
In the months that followed, it became obvious that the “Cowboy” had a vendetta against Teddy. On at least two occasions when Teddy was alone, he was accosted by the brutal three-headed monster. Yet each time, through mental manipulation, Teddy talked his way out of a certain beating. Even when the rowdy trio crashed a private cocaine party at his house, Teddy used some incredible double-talk to subdue the leader and quickly and quietly get them out the door. I never knew what verbal tactics Teddy used until one night while I was waiting to clock out.
I had no direct dealings with the “Cowboy” after our confrontation on my first day. I avoided him and his cronies like the plague. I knew he was a loose-cannon and his servile psychotic followers were trained to obey his hostile whims. This all changed when they spotted me in the alley near the time office.
Just after I punched-out, on a night that I didn’t work with Nick or Mateo, the “Cowboy” snuck up behind me and yelled in my ear, “This is the prick that fucked with my money.” I was in shock. Outside, a group of spectators (none were good friends) encircled us. Everyone was staring at me as Cowboy shouted, “When he fucks with MY money, he fucks with ALL Y'ALL'S money.” I heard people in the crowd calling others over and saying, “There’s going to be a fight.”
My heart was really pumping but I had no idea what he was talking about, (later I found out that he was harboring a grudge over the one dollar Stratton tried to help himself to...for the dealers...on my first day. Without touching me, Cowboy coaxed me towards an alley. While I was back-pedaling I said, “Why are you being such a hard-on?” When the crowd ooh and ah’ed he crowed, “A hard-on? Now I’m gonna really kick your ass.” He pointed to his underlings and cried, “When I’m done, they’re gonna kick your ass. And if you’re still alive…anyone else can kick whatever is left of your sorry ass.” I was still moving backwards into the alley as I said, “You’re crazy.” I tried to walk past him but he blocked my path and said, “Come on try and hit me…it’s gonna be the only shot you get…”
People “encouraged” me by chanting, “Hit him! Hit him!” I made one last attempt to squeeze by but bumped into him. His fist was cocked as a voice yelled from out of the swarming throng, “CHRSITINE! CHRISTINE!” Cowboy’s rigid stance began to relax. It was Teddy. Like a Svengali-like mantra, he repeated "Christine" several more times. By the time he broke into through the ring, Cowboy seemed to be in a trance. Teddy whispered something in Cowboy’s ear and then told everyone, “Go home. There’s nothing to see. It’s over.”
I was standing alone with Teddy as the two lackeys cursed me. They hooked their arms through Cowboy’s and escorted their verbally wounded warrior off. I said to Teddy, “What just happened?” He laughed, “That nimrod can’t stand being called Chris. But I accidentally found out he really hates being called Chris Dean because it sounds like, Christine. Maybe he had issues as a kid because his manhood can’t handle being called by a girl’s name.” I was still confused as my savior added, “Any time you want him off your back, call him Christine…he just falls to pieces.”
# # #
Way before my mother encouraged me to wear a suit at work, a friend (outside the casino business), asked me why I never became a boxman. I told him that I did twice, in 1982 and it almost killed me. I related the story above and added, "But dealers, especially in Atlantic City make more money than boxmen, have far less responsibility and save tons on clothes by wearing a simple uniform." He was nodding as I continued, "My real reason is, being a boxman has been so ingrained in me as an old man job that I can’t help but feel that way, even *now.
Of course if I wasn’t forced to do that dirty job, I would have missed out on the chance to be beaten to death…and share the happy details of my rescue.
*Today, many casinos have eliminated an entire craps salary by making the boxman/floorman into a single, hybrid position. The corporate bean-counters have determined that the economics of a guaranteed savings from less wages paid out is worth the risk of loss to errors and theft.
# # #
To satisfy my curiosity, I googled…without success, “Cowboy” Christopher Dean. I even tried the professional and amateur rodeo circuit as well as his hometown. That’s why I’m using his real name because on top of being an ass-hole, apparently he was full of shit too.
P. S. – I WAS invited to one of Teddy’s cocaine parties. It was he and Ariel’s, “Exorcist-themed” wedding, (the Cunnynghame's and the Mott's were NOT invited). Although I wasn’t allowed into the bedroom during the actual ceremony, I did witness “Cowboy” Christopher Dean and his two-man posse drive their pick-up truck onto Teddy’s lawn. They barged in and caused a raucous until Teddy calmly took the matter into his own hands. Even with tons of help available, Teddy merely called the Cowboy “Christine” a few times and whispered hypnotic words into the low-life's ear. It was magical moment in my life to see this "moron-whisperer" parlor trick work for a second time. Teddy kept it up until he (alone) had prodded them outside to their truck.
The wedding guests included several members of upper management. So the next day, the three amigos were not only fired but were banned from the property, for life. On a suggestion from the casino manager, to insulate Teddy from future reprisals, the Nugget had a restraining order served against the Cowboy's mini-mob that prevented contact with Teddy, his wife and home. Indeed, Chistopher Dean never bothered them again.
P.P.S. - Please note, the whole “ROOTERS” story takes thirty-five pages to tell. Let me know if you want to read Teddy and Ariel's, Romeo and Juliet-like saga.