Before the 1960s, if you’d fancied commanding the gaming table in any British casino for a living you could forget about it – there were no British casinos, or at least no kosher ones. When the 1960 Betting and Gaming Act finally made gambling legal, there were so few homegrown croupiers that the explosion of new casinos had to import talent from Belgium, Italy and, especially, France.
Eager young British wannabes had to bang on the doors of clubs like Crockfords and practically beg for a chance to learn how to cut it with their Continental cousins. Catching up was a long, slow process. How things have changed. Nowadays, British croupiers are up there with the very best. Bigger casino groups like Grosvenor Clubs either have their own in-house training programs or outsource training to companies like Casino Gaming Education Services (CGES).
The gravy training
It’s invariably the casino that picks up the tab for this education. In these days of student fees and unpaid work experience, such tangible benefits aren’t wasted on applicants – CGES, for example, charges £795 per trainee for an intensive four-week course, so that amount of free training ain’t to be sniffed at. Perhaps more importantly though, while successful trainee croupiers won’t get a diploma to hang up at home, they get something much more important at the end of the course – they’re virtually guaranteed a job in one of the UK’s most exciting and glamourous industries. Furthermore, the high reputation of Britishtrained casino staff (croupiers in particular) means many find themselves lured abroad.
A croupier is undoubtedly still one of an elite few, although it’s not quite as exclusive a group as you may at first think. Indeed, of the 12,000 people the British Casino Association claims are directly employed by the industry (not to mention the further 7,500 jobs casinos generate elsewhere), some 5,000 are croupiers currently working in Britain’s 125 casino establishments. So while the new gambling laws are likely to restrict the UK to just one super-casino for starters, it seems there’s never been a better time to get a foot in the casino door.
To make the grade as a croupier you have to do more than look good in evening dress. Style is a definite plus, but there are more important qualities. Firstly, they must be confident and sociable – poor communicators with all the social skills of a chimps’ tea party aren’t likely to go down well with the punters. Secondly, they must also be able to make speedy number connections. This isn’t to say that they must have minds like human calculators, but they do need to mentally do arithmetical tables which correspond to key numbers on, for example, the roulette table.
Of course, there are other highly-desirable qualities too, not least vitality, enthusiasm and good manual dexterity, consistency and accuracy throughout what can be a very long night, plus patience and calmness. Naturally enough, being scrupulously honest and security conscious is also key.
Usually, trainee croupiers are taught one main table discipline, roulette being by far the most popular. There’s good reason for this – punters love roulette because it’s a visually exciting, fast-moving game, and pays out good odds if they strike lucky. But CGES also always teaches trainees a second game, like five-stud poker, the idea being that when students leave they have at least two strings to their bow as a croupier.
Then there’s the hours. ‘Unconventional’ would be the polite way to describe them. Croupiers work a system of evening shifts: 2pm-10pm or 10pm-6am, and often this includes weekends too. All of which doesn’t suit everyone and, quite understandably, some trainees fall by the wayside.
While many of us could never get used to the nocturnal, unsociable lifestyle, many recruits are drawn in by the glamour of casino work and stay in the profession all their working lives. No doubt the oftenluxurious surroundings and smart uniforms help – black tie and waistcoats being de rigueur for men.
For those staying the course, the career path is generally both solid and rewarding. While you might be surprised to hear that some croupiers prefer to stay as close to the tables as possible, more ambitious ones aim to rise up the casino ranks for reasons of pay, prestige and better company perks. Oh, and you can forget the first thought that comes into your head – croupiers simply aren’t allowed to take tips from winning punters. We’re talking the sort of perks you’d expect from any well-organised, above-theboard industry these days – contributory pensions and health insurance, and, later on, enticements such as company cars.
Starting at the bottom, a raw recruit will join a casino as a trainee croupier on a salary of approximately £17,000. If they stay as a croupier and become adept at the job, they can expect after a few years to be earning somewhere in the region of £25,000. Those of an ambitious nature will pitch for the next rung on the ladder – dealer-inspector. Half way between a croupier and an inspector, they follow the action to check for cheats. To become a fully-fledged inspector they’ll need to complete a further training course. Responsible for from one to four casino tables, inspectors can take home as much as £30,000 a year.
Show me the money
The title ‘pit boss’ used to conjure up images of post-war mobsters’ henchmen dishing out steak suppers as a consolation to losing punters in Vegas casinos. It never held the same association outside Sin City, and while American pit bosses still help players get ‘comped’, here they’re there to manage a group of tables and staff as efficiently and effectively as possible. The first proper rung of casino management, pit bosses can earn anywhere from £32,000 up to £40,000. Few croupiers ever achieve the rarified heights of upper management, where shift managers command salaries of £50,000, and double that for the very best casino directors.
Fact is, you’re never going to get filthy rich on the croupier’s side of the casino tables – when the house wins, the casino owner gets richer while the lowly croupier is lucky to get a pat on the back. But if the idea of strolling into work at lunchtime on a Monday wearing black tie appeals, or the satisfaction of parting a loser from his money is reward in its own right for you, then maybe you should give CGES MD David Harris a ring. ‘Both inexperienced and experienced croupiers are very welcome to knock on our doors. But then, of course, I am a little biased!’