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Poker, Pomp, and Circumstances: Dealer School

December 13, 2005
Murphy James
Dealer School

"New casinos are popping up faster than Starbucks," begins the online promotional brochure of The Casino College, a Sacramento-based school which trains dealers (poker, blackjack, and other games) in 11 locations currently, with more planned in the new future. New casinos with empty tables need qualified personnel to shuffle up and deal to meet the demand for the poker craze.

The California Department of Employment estimates that there will be 2600 new casino dealer openings in the next year. Five years ago there were less than 2000 such openings in the entire state of California!

To meet this growing demand, the college is operating at two locations in Sacramento, two in Michigan, two in Mississippi and one each in

Seattle, Detroit, Merced, Atlanta, and Memphis. One is scheduled to open in San Jose "any day," with plans to open others in Fresno, Los Angeles, Oklahoma, and Florida.

The Casino College, now five years in existence, is part of a chain of schools which includes The National Bartending College. Casino College graduates are fanned out across casinos and card rooms throughout the nation. Most are concentrated in California.

However, their grads are also placed at the big name casinos in Nevada and elsewhere. One proud alum, Phil Etcheverry. dealt in the 2005 World Series of Poker at the Rio. On file is a warm note from Phil to John Pifer, Director of the college, thanking him and the school for all they did to help him. Phil included a picture of himself with Greg Raymer, 2004 WSOP Champ. Other grads have been placed at the Bellagio, Harrah's, and Binion's in Vegas, and at the Peppermill in Reno. Another is at Bally's in Atlantic City.

Instructors have been dealers, pit bosses, and floor managers in major casinos and local card rooms. They have experience in facilities across California, Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe and other gambling hotspots. One, Ron Darnell, recently appeared on "Good Morning, America," in a piece on poker. One full time instructor is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese while another is skilled in both Vietnamese and Tagalog.

"Casino dealers can start out making $50,000 a year in tips alone. They get great benefits and the opportunities for advancement are unlimited," reads their promotional literature. About 150 students are enrolled at the present time. There are about 3,000 graduates to date.

The College calls itself the nation's largest casino school, "placing more students in great casino jobs than any other casino school in the country." In addition to conventional casino jobs, the school helps with other gigs: The US Poker Series, a traveling road show that provides Hold 'em games to corporate events, books dealers from the college. The school, through its affiliation with The National Bartending College, offers a complete package for California casino parties and charity poker events: tables, chips, dealers, and beverage catering.

The tuition for learning to deal poker is $599; blackjack, $299. The school encourages the students to have more than one specialty to enhance their job potential: poker and blackjack are the most popular "dual majors," and those who take both get a discounted tuition rate. Payment plans are available.

In addition to Hold 'em, poker students learn to deal Seven Card Stud and Omaha games. The curriculum covers the rules of the games, technical aspects of dealing, tournament play, guest relations, working with pit bosses, security, side bets, spotting cheats, and handling the dealer's tray.

The school suggests 80-90 hours for the poker course and 40 hours for blackjack. But, according to Pifer, "Everyone learns at a different pace," so the school allows students to take as long as they need to in order to complete the course.

The "final exam," called an "audition," is a live demonstration of skills at a table with players, supervised by one or more of the instructors. Having demonstrated competency, a certificate is offered. Lifetime job placement assistance is a part of the training package. Refresher courses are offered at no extra charge. The school is California State Board approved.

So, some choose to shuffle 'em and deal 'em while others choose to hold 'em and fold 'em. In the first case, The Casino College offers training for the former. In the latter case, good luck.

© 2005 Murphy James