|WHERE TO LOOK
Finding information about casino gambling on the Internet can be a little tricky given many of the seemingly informational sites are just fronts for online gambling. But one place you can trust is good old reliable Wikipedia, which provides a nut-and-bolts description of just about every game of chance ever.
If you’re looking for a more sociological perspective, UNLV’s Center for Gaming offers an amazing amount of information, from casino statics for every gambling state in our fair union, to a complete visual catalogue of every neon sign on the Las Vegas Strip.
If you’re looking for a casino gambling blog, check out Two Way Hard Three: A Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog. It’s not so much an opinion blog as an aggregator of everyone else’s opinion about all things casino.
But when you’re ready to get off the couch and do some real researching, Robb Conner recommends auditing a dealer school. “You can read about it all you want,” he says dismissively, “but just go to the school and do a little of what they do. It’s almost like precision driving. Every move they do has a reason that they do it.”
While schools can tend to be helpful, casinos might not be as easy to deal with. “It depends on the size of the casino,” claims Conner. “The smaller casinos, probably, but the larger casinos, probably not because they prefer anonymity. They pride themselves on that ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’ atmosphere.”
Written by Denis Faye
Robb Conner’s career as a craps dealer began when he was run over by a dump truck. “I was on my way to a college class when it happened,” explains the student-turned-dealer-turned-actor-turned-technical-advisor. “My little Ford Fiesta is now a Ford Tortilla.”
While recovering, he decided to attend dealing school, thus launching a fruitful career that starting at the Atlantis in Atlantic City and eventually landed him a table at the beautiful Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Eventually, Katrina-induced hard times combined with his increasing disenchantment over the corporatization of the gaming industry caused Conner to set down his dice stick and seek his fortunes in Hollywood. Here, he quickly found work on the NBC show Las Vegas. When the producers discovered they were dealing with an extra who actually knew his way around a table, they quickly signed him on as a technical advisor – a gig he continued when working on the short-lived Viva Laughlin.
Conner took time to chat with Technically Speaking about casino culture and how Hollywood portrays it. Who would have thought the mafia were actually the good guys?
What does Hollywood get right about gambling and casinos?
Very little. They’ve got the games down, the actual tables, but a lot of times, they don’t even have the chips right, but that’s what they bring us in for.
What about the stories, the characters, the narrative stuff?
With the stories, they’ve got a lot of it pretty down pat. The character on Las Vegas, the one James Caan played, he was modeled after a real guy in Vegas who has the entire black book, over a 100,000 names, memorized by face. Back in ‘89, when I left, he was charging $125,000 a casino. They’d take a picture of a guy with surveillance, send it to him and he’d say, “This guy is such-and-such. Get him out of your casino,” and they’d get rid of him.
And all the mob stuff you see in movies about Vegas?
The difference between mob-land Las Vegas and corporate Las Vegas was that the mob had a soul. They knew how to treat people. Now, they’re being muscled out by the corporations.
I guess corporations are their own kind of mob.
Really. It’s like when Steve Wynn owned the Mirage. His philosophy on the buffet was an actual cost, that’s utilities, wages, food. It’s actually about $2.58 per person to put on a buffet, so if you’ve got a guy at your table who’s lost a couple hands, throw him a buffet. It’s nothing but free, good publicity for me, and I get to write off $20 because that’s what I charge for it. Then, corporate comes in and at MGM, every department has to make a profit. If you’re not betting $25 a hand, you’re not even being rated.
Back then, the buffet was supposed to lose money.
What has Hollywood gotten right?
They nailed it pretty well in the Oceans pictures. They worked pretty hard to get everything accurate.
What about all the superstition, like in The Cooler?
There is an incredible amount of superstition in casinos. The most superstitious people are the craps players. That was my forte.
They had their people who they thought give bad luck. They have their dealers who have a tendency to take people’s money. But there’s no cheating or anything like that. It’s just chance. They’re not doing anything to the cards; they’re just putting this one guy at the table who usually ends up being a miserable person.
The only reason they do that is because the pit-bosses bonus is tied to his pit-win.
What would you like to see in a movie about gambling?
I would like to see one that’s about the dealers. There’s 10 times more soap opera going on in that dealer’s pit than most people have ever seen on television. In the movies, they seem to think they’re just people standing there flipping cards. There are all kinds of soap operas going on, from the dealer sleeping with one of the high rollers to the many different ways that dealers have tried to steal, that they know of, because nine times out of 10, if that’s going on in a casino, there’s a dealer involved.
You’d get fired for sleeping with a high roller, wouldn’t you?
It depends on how big of a high roller.
I’ve never thought about the dealers, but you’re right. On TV and in the movies, dealers are just people standing around with white shirts. Are they involved in all the drama you see in shows like Las Vegas?
In Atlantic City, we had a pit boss who would take us down to a private game in Maryland once every 2-3 months where we got paid $250 a night plus tips, and we never made less than $1200. All legal fees paid, we just had to keep our mouths shut. I never saw so much cash in my entire life.
Do you have any advice for a writer working on a gambling movie?
Remember that the dealers are integral to most plots, so flesh them out a little more. There were so many behind the scenes soap operas going on at the Beau Rivage where I was at that it could have sustained a series forever – and that’s not even including the stuff the bosses were doing.