The first thing we need to understand when talking about poker dealing today is that dealers are not generic items — they differ greatly in training, ability and desire. Incredibly, most casinos do not train their dealers. This betrays a lack of respect for their employees and their customers. Casinos must take responsibility to train dealers -– and protect them from abuse. Imagine Chrysler putting a people on the assembly line without training them. Imagine McDonalds putting a person in front of a stove without training. Yet these multi-million dollar businesses do just that. The casinos rely on dealer schools, which, to say the least, don’t teach dealers what they need to know to do their job.
The first responsibility of a dealer is to “run the game.” Those words don’t even seem to be spoken at these self-accredited schools, which often are nothing more than a rip-off. They do an adequate job of teaching relatively unimportant skills (how to shuffle, pitch the cards, drop the rake), but do virtually nothing to prepare a dealer for the “real world” of a poker game.
Another issue to be faced is the fact many new dealers have limited English skills. With the exception of most higher-stakes games with all experienced players, the single most important tool a dealer has to do a good job is their voice. This goes back to running the game. If a higher-stakes game runs smoothly on it’s own, a dealer should just “dummy up and deal.” But a game with any glitches (a player who’s had one too many, a novice who never is quite sure whose turn it is, a bully, an angle shooter) needs a dealer who will speak up and keep things moving smoothly. Someone who can’t clearly understand or speak English simply isn’t qualified to do a job where “English only” remains the rule.
Sadly, the large number of semi-incompetent dealers leads directly to increased abusiveness from players. Dealers get paid minimum wage and are thrown to the lions. Some crybabies complain because a dealer dealt them a losing hand. This is just foolishness that dealers need to ignore, and casinos need to police so it doesn’t get excessive, but other dealer abuse stems directly from poor performance — a result of the cumulative effect of poor work done by some of their fellow employees.
So what can be done? First, players need to bring pressure on the casinos to train their employees. Second, dealers need to ask for training, and police their comrades. Nobody wants to deal at a table left chaotic by the previous dealer. Third, most importantly, and by far most controversially: unionization. It’s time to bring poker dealers and casino employees into the 21st Century. A union like the Teamsters or the Service Employees International Union needs to be persuaded to organize these unorganized laborers.
Unionization will inevitably lead to greater casino accountability which in turn will lead to better training, more stringent standards, an almost sure reduction in kickbacks and extortion payments… and finally a higher base wage. The higher wage will certainly be passed along to customers in the form of a higher rake, but that will reduce or eliminate the propriety and need to tip. These days the responsibility for keeping good dealers working is entirely on the players! Excellent dealers won’t deal if the “stiffs” cause their income to drop to the point it isn’t worth it. (Funny how the stiffs tend to be the biggest whiners about dealer quality.)
The effects, the branches, of unionization lead in many directions — almost all in everybody’s long-term interest. The absurd minimum wage-based triangle of (player) abuse, (company) no-responsibility and (dealer) incompetence simply cannot endure the test of time. A change is gonna come. For all our sakes, let’s work to make it “sooner” rather than “later”.