EXPERT TO THE CASINOS–
By Marla Santos
What was it like being a dealer back in the day when the Mafia ran Vegas? What about those VIP rooms? Cheating? Best odds? This interview with Vic Taucer, President of Casino Creations, a Las Vegas-based casino educational and consulting company that offers training programs for the casino industry worldwide, reveals the answers to these questions, and the history behind the drastic changes that have occurred in gaming over the last four decades.
Vic Taucer first began working in the casino business during the time when the Mafia was flourishing in Vegas. As time passed, the ownership may have changed hands, but Taucer remained, working his way up the ladder, straight through to the time when corporations took over the casinos. After experiencing the two very diverse methods of casino management at numerous Las Vegas casinos (including Paris Las Vegas and Caesars Palace), Taucer made a bold move into the game of teaching and became a professor at the University & Community College System of Nevada, instructing gaming, wagering, and all matters concerning casino management and operations. He also delved into writing textbooks about all of the casino games. Greatly respected for his vast knowledge of the game and considered to be the gaming/casino authority, Taucer continues to be sought out as a columnist for gaming publications, and is the expert speaker much in demand at seminars and as a consultant for over 200 casinos worldwide.
STRIPLV: Tell me a little about your background.
TAUCER: I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, NY. I left really young, when I had just turned 22, and was kind of at a loss at what to do with my life. I came out to Las Vegas and went to UNLV and never went home. I went to dealing school and got involved in the casino business from 1975 to 1991.
STRIPLV: Did you have a favorite game?
TAUCER: Probably craps. Growing up in western New York, there was a lot of gambling. People had poker games in their houses and it seemed there was always a crap game around somewhere. I wasn’t really a gambler or a player, but I was comfortable around the gambling business. There was also a lot of horseracing back there.
STRIPLV: Tell me about how your career evolved.
TAUCER: It started in 1975, after going to dealer school. I broke in as a craps dealer at a hotel downtown called The Mint, which is now called The Horseshoe. I became a dealer around town at a multitude of casinos from 1976 to 1982. Dealing craps and blackjack back then was very lucrative because of the tips. Then in 1982 to 1983, I wanted to get more of a career in the management part of it, so I went into Caesars Palace at an entry-level management position. After a couple years of that, I started moving up in the casino hierarchy of things. It takes about six or seven years of entry-level experience to start moving up. First level is floor supervisor, then pit boss, then a shift manager, casino manager, and then director of operations.
STRIPLV: At every level up, you’d get more responsibilities and more pressure?
TAUCER: A lot more responsibilities, that’s for sure. In those days, and I’m talking twenty years ago, there was more pressure, but not as much as in today’s world. The casino business then was a lot less corporate than it is today. If you were in with the right people, and they liked you and you liked them, it wasn’t a pressure scenario, but was very beneficial. In today’s gaming world, there’s pressure at all times just to keep your job, just not to get downsized and not to do the wrong thing. The basics for promotion into management are likability, loyalty and trust, more than anything else. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, a lot of people didn’t want to move up the chain, because there was more money to be made as a dealer than there was as a pit boss. The tips during those years were much more lucrative than they are today. A dealer at a casino like Caesars Palace in 1984 probably made $100,000 a year. A dealer today at Caesars might make pretty close to that, but here’s a big difference between what $100,000 was then as compared to today. Up until the 1980’s, tips weren’t really declared income. It was gray area. Dealers were on their own as to whether they wanted to declare tips or not. How much you declared was totally up to you. Declaring it was on the honor system. Today’s dealing jobs don’t work that way. Tips are pooled, all the tips go directly to the casino and then the casino cuts your checks, so there’s no gray area. Up until the early 1990’s, whatever you made in tips, you got that day. If you made $1,000 in tips, you got $1,000 cash that day to take home. Today, it goes to the cashier’s cage, and the casino gives you a check every week. Today’s dealing jobs are good, but they’re not anywhere near as lucrative as they used to be.
STRIPLV: Why did they start pooling their tips? Was it pressure from the I.R.S.?
TAUCER: That’s the answer right there. The I.R.S. came in and said to casinos: “You have to keep track of the dealers’ tips.” The casinos said that wasn’t their business and it was up to the dealers. The I.R.S. said: “That’s exactly correct, but here’s what will happen if you don’t put pressure on them…” So the casinos took care of it.
STRIPLV: Did you ever deal in the private rooms for the big gamblers or “whales”?
TAUCER: Oh, sure! Every casino I worked at had VIP rooms.
STRIPLV: What kind of tips did the dealers get in the VIP rooms?
TAUCER: Unbelievably large! I worked on dealing crews where there were four dealers on a craps table, and I’ve been around craps crews that made $30,000 - $40,000 on a given night.
STRIPLV: When the big gamblers lose, do they still tip or do they get nasty?
TAUCER: It’s funny with tipping in a casino game. It isn’t all about whether the player wins or loses. Obviously, if they win, they’ll tip a lot more than when losing. I’ve seen tipping substantially when they’re losing, too. It depends on how much they like the environment and the dealers.
STRIPLV: What was the lightbulb that went off that made you realize that you could benefit from teaching the casinos and writing the books?
TAUCER: My career changed from casino operations to the educational mode. The lightbulb, if you will, was discovering that I was actually good at teaching. I was a pit boss at Caesars Palace and got involved with a fellow who had a vocational school. He asked me if I’d like to teach one of his dealing classes. I was doing well, but with marriage and kids, you always need extra money, so I said sure. I started, and I liked it, and discovered I was pretty good at teaching. A couple of years after that, I was working at Caesars as a casino manager and got involved in the marketing department. I had an idea at a meeting that we should give lessons to customers on how to gamble, play the games, like craps and blackjack, etc. My boss at Caesars loved the idea and said: “Vic, run with the idea!” I set up a department that gave instructions to the customers on how to play the games. I liked doing that and was really good at it. The people at the College of Southern Nevada at UNLV approached me, because they had heard about what I was doing at Caesars. They wanted me to teach the casino classes on a part-time basis, because they were going to offer degrees in casino management. I agreed and discovered I liked that. So here I was, a casino manager at Caesars in 1988, a good job, went to all the prizefights, nice money, signed for anything I wanted to do…it was a good gig, but I found out I liked the teaching part. In 1991, I owned a vocational school with a partner, teaching part-time at the college and still working as a pit boss at Caesars and kind of doing all three. The university made me an offer of a full-time professorship and I said I’d do it, and went to teach full-time at the college. It was a gutsy career move, because I was making a lot more money at Caesars. So I ended up being a consultant and training all over the world. The books were an accident. When they hired me at the college, I didn’t have a master’s degree. I was probably the only professor they hired that didn’t have a master’s degree. They told me they expected me to get a master’s degree and I asked what other options I had. They told me that if I published a book or two, they’d waive the master’s degree scenario. In 1993, I wrote my first book, and then four or five right afterwards.
STRIPLV: I read, that here in Nevada, the penalty for cheating is like 1-6 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Is that accurate?
TAUCER: They have laws against cheating, but they would never bring something to court unless it was proven cheating. If you go into a casino here in Vegas, people cheat all the time, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident. I’ll give you an example: I’ve got a $25 bet on blackjack and I’ve won, but the dealer hasn’t paid me yet, because he’s paying the other guy first. The dealer’s not looking, so I add another $25 chip to my bet. Cheating? Yes! It goes on everyday. Somebody’s doing it right now! They’re not going to arrest somebody for that, but if they catch him, they’re going to take his picture, throw him out of the casino and say, if he ever comes back in, they’ll arrest him for trespassing.
STRIPLV: What happens to dealers who are found cheating?
TAUCER: It depends what they get arrested for and found guilty of. Every state handles it a little bit differently. In some jurisdictions, you are not allowed to work in the gaming industry anymore. Here in Nevada, it basically works the same way. In some states, once you get an arrest on your record, for example: an arrest for speeding, you can’t work in the gaming industry. If you even get a high-end misdemeanor conviction, you won’t work in Atlantic City. Misdemeanors can involve disorderly conduct, public intoxication, and vandalism or drug possession.
STRIPLV: I’ve heard that the Aria has cameras that can recognize a savvy player from a newbie and that technology is leading its way into watching the potential cheaters.
TAUCER: They have the technology and people watching these players that can tell if that guy or gal is a good player or bad player in games of skill, like blackjack. The way you play blackjack dictates how much of an advantage the casino has already. Now the technology looks at you, they analyze the way you play, and the computer software tells the casino how good a player that player is. This isn’t true on all games, but it is true on blackjack. Of all the casino games out there, there’s only one game where the customer’s skill is a factor and that’s blackjack. The rest of the games are all games of chance. You can have a brain surgeon and a drunk playing Baccarat and they both have the same chance. It’s quick, and you get a lot of decisions per hour, but there’s no skill involved, just luck.
STRIPLV: In one of your books, you say: “Both dealers and supervisors of the new millennium have one mandatory mission as both operators and entertainers.” Explain.
TAUCER: The gaming business isn’t all about beating the customer. It’s all based on “time on game.” The longer a player plays, the more the casino will win. How do they keep the customer playing longer? If they have a lot of money, that helps, but the way to do it is to keep the customer entertained while he’s playing. The entertainment usually consists of giving the player what they want in a social atmosphere. Most people who play table games, card games or dice games, are there not so much for winning, (don’t get me wrong…winning is good, too), but they’re there for the social aspect. They want to have a good time and interact with other people. They’re on vacation, they’ve got $500 and want to get the most fun they can and make it last as long as possible. The dealer needs to be polite, talk to the customer, and develop some kind of relationship. The supervisor develops some kind of relationship, buying the customer free drinks, giving them something to look at entertainment-wise, like the décor, or the ambiance of the area. The dealers are sometimes wearing skimpy outfits, and the same with cocktail waitresses.
STRIPLV: I’ve seen girls dancing right near the blackjack tables. I’d think that would be so distracting.
TAUCER: They’re not there to distract the customer, but to keep them there longer.
STRIPLV: Years ago, dealers hardly talked and the pit bosses were sort of scary.
TAUCER: That’s because, until the 1980’s, it was a common trait to not talk to the customers. I worked with some casinos in the 1970’s that, if you were caught talking to a customer, they’d fire you right there. The thought process was that they didn’t want you getting too chummy with the customers, because the next thing you know there would be cheating. It wasn’t our role to keep them entertained. Once they lose, get them out and new customers in. Today’s gaming world is totally different.
STRIPLV: Was it the switchover from Vegas being Mafia-run, to being corporate run?
“ Back when it was gangster run, it was all about gambling, and today it’s all about casino entertainment… two different worlds. ”
TAUCER: Back pre-1980, you didn’t come to the casino to walk around and gawk, you came there to gamble. When you were done gambling, you got out. They didn’t want people walking through casinos to watch the lights blinking on and off. Sixty to seventy percent of the revenue made in these casinos today is not gaming. It’s from beverages, hotel, shows and liquor. Pre-1980, ninety percent of the revenue was from gambling. The rest of it was a giveaway. I didn’t pay for a dinner or drink here in town until the last 10 years. Even golf…I never paid for golf!
STRIPLV: Are the rules the same in Macau?
TAUCER: I’ve been to Macau and Singapore, and they are now the center of gambling, not Las Vegas. They are awe-inspiring, to say the least. The city of Macau is about the size of Las Vegas, very small. The revenue they make dwarfs Las Vegas. It’s unbelievably massive. Singapore is also about the size of Vegas, but there are only two casinos there. The two casinos do more than the entire state of Nevada. That’s because Asians have more of a propensity to gamble. In Macau and Singapore, it’s all about gambling. They have massive hotels that nobody stays in. The MGM in Macau has 5,000 rooms and they’re sold out every night, but nobody sleeps in the rooms. The Asian people come to gamble for two days and they’re in the casino for two days. They might go to the room to brush their teeth and then leave.
STRIPLV: So many states have legalized gambling. How much has it hurt Vegas?
TAUCER: It’s hurt gambling. People aren’t coming to Vegas to just gamble anymore, but it hasn’t hurt visitor volume. More people are coming here than ever! People come for the ambiance and the spread of gambling hasn’t hurt Vegas, it has helped Las Vegas non-gaming-wise. It’s hurt other areas, like Detroit. In 1995 it was unique, but today you can even go to Toledo (that’s 60 miles away from Detroit) to gamble.
STRIPLV: What do you think about online gambling?
TAUCER: I don’t see it as a big, attractive thing, or that it will help the gaming industry. I think it will hurt the public. It just gives people more of an opportunity to gamble.
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