Thursday 18 July 2019

Cutting the deck

Hilary Fennell

Working at a private card club requires more than just manual dexterity and a head for figures — it also requires a deft hand when dealing with people

IF the glamour of working in a casino is tempting enough to pull you away from your current career, you don’t necessarily have to catch the next flight to Las Vegas. In fact, opportunities abound in this area in Ireland, particularly in card clubs around the country.

Poker dealer Nick Ryan (24), for example, found employment at the Fitzwilliam Card Club in Dublin four years ago and has not looked back.

“I was first attracted to poker because it really is a game of people, a social game,” says Ryan. “It fascinates me because it combines interpersonal and mathematical skills, which very few other games do.”

Ryan’s interest in poker originated when he was a computer science student at Dublin’s Griffith College.

“I set up a poker society for students but really didn’t have a clue. So I approached the manager of the Fitzwilliam who was kind enough to give me some tips. He ended up offering me a part-time job as a poker dealer, which then developed into a full-time position. I’m delighted that I’ve been able to turn my hobby into a career.”

He adds: “When I started out it was ‘here’s how you shuffle, here’s how you deal’ and you were thrown in at the deep end. These days, the training is much more formal and you learn the ropes on the gaming tables before being exposed to the poker side.”

The gaming tables include blackjack, roulette or any game where the punter plays against the house; whereas in poker, the house provides a dealer and the punters play against one another.

According to Ryan, prerequisites to work as a poker dealer include a good knowledge of games like Texas hold’em and punto banco, along with an ability to handle cards and chips. Applicants must also know how to handle money, think on their feet and undertake basic maths in a fast-paced and stressful environment.

“Patience is essential — especially if the players have a few beers on them,” adds Ryan. “The job requires excellent people skills as well as manual dexterity to deal the cards.”

In recent years, card clubs have been lobbying the Government to introduce relevant legislation for casinos in Ireland, to bring the sector in line with practice across the EU. But until such regulation is in place, the 1956 Gaming and Lotteries Act, which some argue outlawed the operation of casinos entirely, still applies. However, those with a different opinion and a belief in consumer demand for casino-type services in Ireland brought about the establishment of ‘private members’ clubs’, which offer similar services to a casino but under the guise of a private club.

Ryan says his working hours as a poker dealer are long and unsociable but it does not quell his enthusiasm for the role. “I start at 8pm and work until at least 3am, maybe even 8am. You get used to going to bed as the sun is coming through the curtains. But as I do a four-day week, I can revert back to ‘normal’ time for about one day out of seven.”

Each night, Ryan spends the first few hours running the floor, making sure the cash games are getting started and handling any disputes. “My job is to ensure things run smoothly. As the night wears on and the crowd thins out, I might send some of the dealers home and take over a table myself. This will involve shuffling, dealing and basically controlling the game.”

There are always bad losers in these kinds of environments and things do get tense when the stakes are high, but Ryan takes all this in his stride.

“It’s usually just a bit of verbal abuse. The maximum win I’ve seen was €30,000, but there were three players and each of them would have put in €10,000.”

Ryan says the size of games makes it fairly impossible to cheat, and any attempt is usually obvious to the dealer. “You learn how to spot things such as someone trying to take a very fixed rule and bend it way too far.”

And whether or not you approve of private gambling, poker is increasing in popularity thanks to TV and the internet.

“The game hasn’t changed, but people’s perception of it has. It seems to be becoming more socially acceptable to gamble your disposable income. But remember, clubs do close their doors eventually and players have to stop and go home.”

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