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Holy Crap(s)

I’d never played craps before. But at a recent conference at the Mandalay Bay resort I gave it a try. Almost immediately, the employees manning the tables earned my respect.

November 12, 2013

I tried my luck at the craps tables on a recent visit to Las Vegas. I lost some money, but I also learned a few lessons about people management.

It may be stating the obvious to say that the employees who work the gambling tables are pivotal to casino success. Friendly, fun, competent dealers and others in charge of the tables can make you feel fine about betting — and likely losing — hard-earned wages.

I’d never played craps before. But at a recent conference at the Mandalay Bay resort I gave it a try. Almost immediately, the employees manning the tables earned my respect.

What chaos they have to manage! Games like blackjack and roulette are child’s play compared with craps. In blackjack, cards are calmly distributed. Bets are made in neat piles. And the chips stay that way until the players win or lose their hands.

In craps, the betting and the act of throwing the dice are all a jumble. Players — as many as eight on either end of the table — toss chips toward the dealers and yell out a dizzying array of bets. “Hard eight,” “E-C,” and “boxcars” are among the dozens of possible wagers. Some of these bets are one-roll events. Others stay on the table for multiple rolls.

Keeping track of all these bets is tricky enough. But there’s more for dealers to handle. Players roll the dice right into all those stacks of chips, frequently knocking them about. It’s like bowling mixed with the lottery. Dealers have to reset the pins even as they must recall how many chips belonged to each pile, remember which players placed which bets, and execute payouts and collections from each roll of the dice.

‘One of the stick-wielding dealers, also called a “stickman,” though in this case a woman, reminded me of hockey great Wayne Gretzky as she flicked the dice back and forth.’

One thing about casinos and craps: They don’t skimp on labor. All the tables I saw had four employees. Each end of the sunken, 12-foot tables had a dealer taking bets, exchanging chips for cash and handling dice-roll disruption. Then there’s a person stationed in the middle of the table on the opposite side of the dealers with a long, curved wooden stick. They use this tool to retrieve the dice after each roll and slide them through the maze of bets back to the shooter. Finally, an employee who seemed to be a manager stood between the two dealers, casting a watchful eye on the action.

At both Mandalay Bay and a low-end downtown casino I visited, the craps table workers rarely, if ever, lost track of a bet. They also had a sense of playfulness. A few gave betting advice or joined us in calling for the dice to come up a certain number — the “point” in craps parlance. One of the stick-wielding dealers, also called a “stickman,” though in this case a woman, reminded me of hockey great Wayne Gretzky as she flicked the dice back and forth.

In short, they were pros. And they paved the way for plenty of spirited, upbeat betting — and what looked to be plenty of revenue for the casinos.

I told my cab driver on the way to the airport about my appreciation for craps and its dealers. He informed me that those folks get a lot of training. That doesn’t surprise me.

Nor does it surprise me that craps is big business in Vegas. The share of revenue earned at craps tables has declined since the mid-1980s as other games have risen in popularity, but craps still accounts for nearly 10 percent of all table games, according to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

What might your organization learn from Vegas craps tables? Here are three bets to make.

1. Don’t make workers do too much. In an era where many companies have been ramping up workloads, Vegas craps tables are a reminder that less on workers’ plates may turn into more profits for the business.

2. Let employees express themselves. Consistency is the hobgoblin of small-minded organizations. Let employees have a little fun, show off their skills. The dealer’s fancy stick work was a sign of her mastery, one of the strongest motivators.

3. Train your people. I don’t know the precise amount of training received by the dealers at the craps tables I visited, but their skill and service suggests that money spent to enhance worker capabilities translates into better business outcomes.

Speaking of outcomes, my financial results at the craps tables weren’t stellar. Over two nights, I lost $40. But I’d call that a fair price to enter this frenetic world and gain a bit of wisdom about work.

Ed Frauenheim is Workforce's associate editorial director. Comment below or email him at efrauenheim@workforce.com. Follow Frauenheim on Twitter at @edfrauenheim.