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Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Reducto - 02-07-2015

Bob asked me to write a blog post about this, but this will have to do - feel free to edit and repost this info if you like!

For the last couple of years I've been working as a poker dealer, most recently traveling the country from event to event. I work long hours for between 1 and 7 weeks at a time, then take a week or a month off and slowly make my way to the next stop. I get to pick where and how often I work and get paid $30 per hour to do it! It's not a difficult job and I've made great friends among the dealers and players.

First, some background for those who don't know much about poker or have not played it in a casino. With the majority of casino games, you are playing a game of chance against the house. The house always has an edge and will always win in the long run. Poker is different. With poker, you are playing a skill-based game against other people. Players who are smarter and more disciplined can win in the long run. Many people play poker for a living and do quite well. It's also a social outlet for many people. They may be losing players, but it's within their budget and they get to spend all day in a comfortable chair drinking free drinks and making friends. The house takes a small percentage of each pot to pay for staff and floor space, but does not care how much anyone wins or loses. The poker dealer shuffles, deals cards, directs the action of the game, collects bets over the course of a hand, then sends those chips to the winner(s) and starts the next hand. He or she is there to run the game in an efficient and fair manner.

In addition to the normal games that run in a casino every day, many rooms run a tournament series one or more times a year. They set aside certain dates and hold tournaments with larger than normal buyins. These events draw in a mix of local players and others who travel from out of town. A typical series is 10 days long but I've worked at events as short as 3 days and as long as 7 weeks.

Staffing is a big problem for these poker rooms. Smaller events may require 30 extra dealers, larger ones 90 dealers, and for the World Series of Poker (WSOP) they need to hire something in the range of 1500 dealers every year. Most cities simply don't enough qualified dealers who are able to drop everything and work full time for 10 days. This is where traveling dealers come in.

Getting into this line of work was surprisingly easy. I took a 5 week, 25 hour per week class for $200 which gave a basic overview of the procedures and rules for the different games. This particular class is no longer offered and most are not that cheap but they are still quite reasonable. After this I did a quick audition for the WSOP that involved dealing 4 hands, one of each class of game. Most people pass these auditions. I applied for a Nevada gaming license and was hired! I had no relevant experience and a 4 year gap on my resume but they need so many people they are not terribly picky. This got me into the 7 week long WSOP where I made $11k, which came out to $35/hour. This was towards the high end of what a typical dealer makes - I've heard numbers ranging from $6k to $14k. You're often given chances to go home early or take an extra day off and if you do that a lot you will make less but the hourly rate is fairly consistent.

After I finished my second WSOP I started applying to other smaller events around the country. Typically, I apply over the internet and make arrangements to come and work via email and the occasional phone call. I'm responsible for my own travel arrangements and lodging. Every casino I've worked at has a free or very cheap cafeteria for employees so once I'm at a stop my expenses are minimal. Pay varies but the average is around $30/hour and I'm expected to work around 50 hours per week depending on how many players show up. There is rarely any sort of interview or audition. The fact that I finished previous events on good terms is enough. I do generally need to take a drug test at each new casino and need to apply for a gaming license in each state. Some states are very strict about criminal convictions, even very old and minor ones, others such as Nevada are pretty forgiving.

In order to be a good dealer you need reasonably good manual dexterity and the ability to sit upright for extended periods with lots of twisting and reaching. You also have to be able to stay focused and track lots of little details in your head and remain calm with the occasional difficult customer. Truly abusive players are very rare and not tolerated by the casino, but there will be lots of mildly annoying people. You don't need to be great at math or in great shape. I'm certainly not fit and I know dealers in their 70's and 80's who are doing just fine. The math is all very simple and just takes practice.

If you are not ready to commit to taking a class there is an even easier way to get started! The WSOP also needs a lot of cashiers and chip runners. This job does not require a class. You just have to be able to pass an audition which I'm told involves accurately counting chips. There are youtube videos that teach you the proper way to stack and count chips. You can buy chips at any poker room to practice with then return them later for a full refund. Pay is less than it is for dealers but is still quite good. While you're there you can talk to people and figure out if you want to move into dealing, just work as a cashier once a year, or that the environment simply isn't for you.

The WSOP runs every year in Las Vegas from the end of May through the middle of July. Applications are put up around February and if you need to audition you are given a choice of dates to be there in person.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - wagoneer - 02-07-2015

Thank you for the information, was wondering about this very thing. I work as a pawnbroker in San Francisco and know/stake a few poker players.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - HarmonicaBruce - 02-07-2015

Great post!  Thanks.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Van Go - 02-13-2015

I did a little research online, and the figures I found for dealers do not even come close to your $30 per hour. Are you including tips? or do they pay more for tournaments than for full time positions??

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Reducto - 02-13-2015

That figure includes the base rate ($3-8 per hour depending on the state) plus tips and a share of the fees collected for entering the tournament.

Regular full time dealing jobs are a different animal and pay can vary quite a bit depending on how consistently busy the room is. A busy Florida room you could make more, a smaller room elsewhere that doesn't always have a game going you can make substantially less.

With tournament dealing, unless they hire way too many dealers (which does happen occasionally, but not often) you'll always be busy and they have to pay a decent amount to get dealers to fly in from out of town.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Reducto - 02-14-2015

Wow - I just googled "poker dealer pay" and there is some really outdated and flat out wrong information out there. There is lots of stuff mixed in there about table game dealing, which is completely separate from poker dealing. Special event dealers are a different animal as well and they are paid a flat, lower hourly rate. I've heard the number $20/hour a couple of times but don't know how universal that is.

Even the stuff in there about the length of breaks is wrong, and you do not graduate from the smaller games to the high roller games after you work somewhere for a while. Everyone deals everything, and the tips in the huge games actually tend to be lower than they are for the small-mid games.

Most of the sites that show a salary only show the base rate, which tends to be minimum wage or less if allowed by the state. Most pay comes from tips and entry fees.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Mr.LooRead - 02-14-2015

I detest brick and mortar casinos and only play online.

My game is pot limit Omaha hi/low tournaments.

This winter I have made all my basic monthly expenses by just playing a $10+$1 rake 10k starting chips with 10 minute blinds about 4 days a week and a straight Omaha 2000 starting chips 12 minute blinds $3 rebuy with $3 10,000 chip add on about 2 days a week.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Reducto - 03-21-2015

This came across my inbox today from Vicksburg MS- I don't know anything about it but you might want to check it out. I did play at this casino once and the players were tipping very well. Also, Ameristar casinos in my experience tend to have the best employee dining rooms.

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - akrvbob - 03-21-2015

Thanks Reducto!

RE: Making a living as a traveling poker dealer - Paisley777 - 05-23-2015

(02-07-2015, 07:50 AM)Reducto Wrote:  Bob asked me to write a blog post about this, but this will have to do - feel free to edit and repost this info if you like!

For the last couple of years I've been working as a poker dealer,.....

I am just so happy to read about this!  I was a BJ et al dealer years ago and always wanted to learn to deal poker.  It never occurred to me that this was a revenue option! Too cool