Blackjack Dealers: Cheating, Fair Play and Low Pay

Along with card counting, collusion and other tricks employed by players or groups of players, it is often those who visit the casino that try to cheat it, but that isn’t always the case. Although they don’t cheat as often as the players do, dealers have also been known to try and cheat their employers, whether for personal gain or to help a friend who is posing as a player. A dealer is instrumental to the game of blackjack, they act as the representative of the casino, playing on their side to they try to beat the players, but at the same time they are also instrumental to those who want to cheat the casino. They may not be needed when it comes to counting cards, as that’s something that the players can do themselves, but in most of the other scams and tricks, the dealer is often involved.

In this article we will take a look at just how important the dealer’s role is in the game of blackjack, and how they can exploit that importance to rip off the players or the casino, making a lot of money or getting into a lot of trouble in the process.

Dealer Tells

Before we take a look at the ways that a dealer themselves can cheat the system, we’ll look at the ways that a player can use the dealer without them knowing it.

“Tells” are small signs or signals that a person gives off without being conscious of it. Tells are vital in poker and can be used by experienced players to understand whether their opponents are bluffing or not and whether they are holding a good hand or a bad one, but they also apply to the game of blackjack and can be used when a dealer peeks at their cards.

You can tell when a dealer has a low or high card by the way they bend the card. Low cards are harder to see on first inspection and the dealer will need to bend the card further back in order to see it. They may also stare at it for longer to check that they don’t have an ace, whereas a high card often jumps out at them as soon as they peel the corner slightly so they will spend less time on these. Generally, you can use tells to tell whether the hand they have is capable of beating yours, the trick is to understand what is a tell and what is not.

Dealers are aware that players might be looking for tells, but dealers aren’t trained professionals who are hired because of their ability to hide their emotions. They get a little more than minimum wage (discussed later) and there is no screening process. Experienced dealers might be able to hide their tells better, so you should look for someone who looks like they have just started. Youth is a good indicator of this, as anyone in their early twenties is to have been working there for more than a couple of years, but the way they handle their cards and the confidence they express about being in the casino environment is also a good indictor. You can also just ask them upfront, be friendly about it and slip the question in as you sit down.

Dealers Cheating Players

In the big casinos the dealers are unlikely to cheat you. They put their jobs at risk by doing so and they are unlikely going to be so eager to make more money for their employers at your expense. If, however, you are playing in a smaller environment, perhaps with friends, neighbours, colleagues or friends of friends, or even you find yourself far away from home at a blackjack table in the back of a club, one that needs a spoken password to enter and is staffed by burly men with suits and fierce stares, then they might just try to get one over on you.

Professional casinos will not scam you. They already have an edge and they are set to make millions of dollars by keeping things legal, so they don’t need to risk their license by scamming you. Other places may wish to take advantage of the fact that they don’t get a lot of custom, and they may also be aware of the fact that they may not have a license to begin with, so they have nothing to lose.

If this is the case then just make sure you pay full attention to the dealer. Treat them like you would treat a magician, one doing card tricks and one that is keen to distract you and trick you. One of the main tricks they can use is called a “fake shuffle”. This is a method by which they hold and move the cards so that it looks like a standard shuffle, but so the cards do not actually move. This may be done at the start of the game to arrange the cards so that you are at a disadvantage.

Another trick involves dealing you the second or third card, rather than the card on top. This happens very quickly and even if you’re watching you still might not be able to see it, but if you keep studying the deal then it will become clear after a while. You should also watch out for collusion between the dealer and the other players and between the dealer and other staff. Marked cards and rigged decks may also be used, although these may be harder to spot.

If you are in an unlicensed gaming room and do spot some unlawful play, don’t make a scene as they are unlikely to apologise, give you your money back and offer some free drinks and hospitality. Simply finish your hand, collect your money, make your excuses and then leave.

Cheaters Using Dealers

The main issue with cheating, as far as dealers are concerned, is when a player is involved. As the job of the dealer is to beat the players in the name of the casino, sometimes the dealers will turn the tables, letting a friend or acquaintance win before splitting the winnings. This is not as simple as it sounds, and to understand why you need to understand how blackjack tables in major casinos work. Firstly, the dealer is not alone and is usually accompanied by a “pit boss”. These workers will watch over one or more tables and they act as managers or supervisors, making sure that the players are courteous and that the dealers are doing their job. If any blatantly obvious cheating, collusion or card counting is going on, then it is their job to step in and put an end to it.
In theory they could just make sure that the pit boss is in on the scam but in practice it isn’t that simple. First of all, the pit boss gets more money than the dealers and will be harder to buy off as a result. For example, a recent survey found that dealers in Las Vegas get an average of just $5.94 an hour, which means that a ten hour slog will earn them enough money to play one hand at the average amount that they have been dealing for all night. This amount excludes tips, of course, and tips are as big a part of a dealer’s job as they are a part of a server’s job, but even with a few generous chips tossed their way during play it still doesn’t amount to much and means they are wide open for inside scams. A pit boss, on the other hand, makes an average of nearly $25 an hour, and it is a very good job, so they are unlikely going to risk losing it.

Another thing to consider is that all tables are monitored by complex security systems. Each dealer will have half dozen cameras concentrated on them, so that every sleight of hand, every palmed chip and every missed deal will be caught on camera. The only saving grace for the scammers is that there are so many cameras and so many tables for the security personnel to look at, that they can’t really be expected to pick up on every small trick. Rather, they are there to spot patterns, which means that although they might not be able to spot cheating on a single hand, they will spot it if it continues. They don’t mind letting one or two cheating hands slip under the radar as it only amounts to a few hundred dollars, but they do mind it if continues into the night and runs up a bill of several hundred thousand.

A recent case where the cheaters overstepped the mark a bit occurred just a few months ago at Harrah’s Resort in New Orleans. A dealer by the name of Breana Lewis is alleged to have paid out over $32.000 chips in false winnings to up to four different players, and although their actions were obvious to the casino, they might not have been if they hadn’t have been so greedy and had limited their winnings.

So, maybe the best advice for any prospective cheaters out there is that you can get away with it if you keep it small and quick, but once you give the dealer and the pit boss their cut, there isn’t going to be much left for you.

Dealers Cheating the Casino

Of course, the dealer doesn’t need to be cheating for the player or for the casino. They could cut out the middlemen and simply cheat for themselves, and if that fails, then they can outright steal from the players or from the casino. These instances are rare, but with the small wages involved (see above) and the fact that a blackjack dealer is not a job that involves rigorous screening, it does happen more than you would expect.

In California two blackjack dealers were caught with $500 in casino chips that they had taken from the blackjack table. The casino picked up on what they considered to be strange behaviour and after studying the cameras they noticed sleight of hand being employed as one dealer passed the chips onto another dealer who then pocketed them. The casino managed to capture them, but the fact that the thieves confessed to stealing over $5k in chips over the course of their careers — passing them onto friends and family who would then cash them in to avoid suspicions — and the fact that neither had been caught before, suggests the casinos don’t always catch their employees with their hands in the cookie jar. A dealer by the name of Matthew Eisenberg was also caught pilfering chips a few years previous to the California incident. Eisenberg worked at the Rivers Casino and to boost his earnings he would take small denomination chips every now and then, he rarely took anything larger than $1 or $5, but by the time they caught him he had amassed over $500 in chips. Eisenberg was eventually fined $75.000 for his actions, which requires some big pockets and a job at a better casino if he had any hopes of paying that back in a hurry.

The casinos watch the blackjack tables day and night, these are the areas where the biggest scams take place, and as the dealer plays an instrumental role in those scams, it is they who they pay the closest attention to. It therefore requires a lot of courage and a lot of skill for a dealer to try and cheat the casino, because if they are found out not only will they lose their job and be fined, but they can also be charged with theft, or in the case of our luckless Californian duo, even burglary. The same punishments aren’t always applied to the players themselves though, for instance, the four cheaters mentioned previously, who worked with blackjack dealer Breana Lewis to scam the casino out of $32.000, were merely ordered to pay the money back and then asked never to enter the casino again, although this could have something to do with the casino not wanting to make a big story out of it, exposing their security weaknesses to the world.

Being a blackjack dealer is hard work, it requires long hours and often returns little pay. There are also requests from many unscrupulous people to deal with, not to mention the drunken flirting, angry abuse or general unpleasantness thrown their way by some of the players, so although it’s illegal and highly immoral to cheat, I think that we need to give them a break, because if anyone deserves a break, they do.