This article originally appeared on VICE Romania.
In my imagination, working in a casino consists of little more than watching people walk in, serving them a drink, then waiting as they lose a load of money and finally stumble out while trying to figure out what to tell their spouse. I wanted to know if that was actually the case, so I called up a few friends of mine who work in casinos.
Turns out it isn't quite as straightforward as it sounds. As a casino worker, you need to maintain incredible focus and remain completely alert while everybody around you is getting plastered. You also need to be able to react to situations quickly and keep a smile painted across your face even when you're talking to dickheads of unfathomable proportions.
All the stress aside, you at least get to see a lot of weird and wonderful things. Casinos attract characters—for better and for worse. That means dealing with everyone from gambling addicts certain that their next spin will make them rich to eccentric millionaires to tragic old men who bet their pension away a day at a time to opportunistic teens who put their last tenner on the blackjack in the hope of a few free beers. Apparently, a lot of seemingly sane people really lose it when they see their money going down the drain.
I got six casino workers to tell me their best anecdotes. Each of the stories below is told by a different person.
A lot of gamblers have various superstitions and routines that they religiously stick to while betting. For instance, some will only make bets with their left hand, while others start swearing or chanting little mantras before placing a bet. I once saw a man who would throw salt into an ashtray every time the dealer spun the wheel. It was to ward off evil spirits, of course.
While waitressing in a Bucharest casino, a high roller asked me to bring him something to eat, but I could only do that after the wheel stopped spinning—otherwise I might jinx it, he said. I waited patiently and then went to get his order. When I returned to ask if he'd also like a drink, I saw that the guy had rammed his hand down his pants and was fiddling with his junk.
I thought I was hallucinating, but it was obvious that everyone around me had noticed it, too. Seemingly, it was his good luck charm. Every time the wheel spun, the guy put his hand in his pants and had a right old fiddle.
As the "eye in the sky"—the guy who watches the security cameras all night—I've seen some seriously strange things. The maddest of which happened in a casino in Nairobi, Kenya. A customer came to the roulette table and spread his money across two-thirds of the numbers. Pretty good odds, you'd reckon, but he lost anyway. When that became clear to him, he flipped. He grabbed the money before the dealer could take it and started running. A security guard cornered him pretty quickly, but as soon as he realized he didn't have a chance of escaping, he put the bills in his mouth and attempted to swallow them.
Immediately, another guard intervened. The two tackled this guy and forced him to spit the cash out. Without thinking twice, the guards put them straight back on the roulette table—all crumpled and soggy. The dealer called the cleaner and she came with an electric fan. Once it had dried up, the money was straightened out and put right back into play. I haven't a clue what happened to the guy, though.
A Royal Flush
For years, I've worked with surveillance for cruise-ship casinos. One morning at about 6 AM, the casino I was working in was empty except for one American woman playing the slots. This woman was cleaning up; she'd already won a few thousand dollars. At some point she realized she needed the bathroom, but was convinced someone would steal her winnings if she left. Some players are a bit paranoid—that's just the way it is. Even though they know that myself and my colleagues are monitoring the TV screens.
So, instead of just going to the toilet, or even calling the attendant, she went behind the slots, pulled her trousers down and laid one out right there. After, she sauntered back to the slots relieved—two meters away from her own shit—and continued playing as if nothing had happened. When the slot attendant came by to see how things were going, he smelled something dreadful. He clocked it pretty quickly and asked her what had happened. With a completely straight face, she feigned innocence and claimed she vaguely remembered that there was someone walking around back there.
Anyway, we got the whole thing on CCTV. When I wrote my report, it took all of my strength to remain professional and not just scribble down "she took a massive crap behind the slots." When the news came out, security went into her room to ask about the incident. Upon hearing what had happened, her partner requested to be moved to another room immediately. Presumably that was the end of their holiday.
On the Rocks
Back in 2009, I was working at the opening of a casino in Bucharest. It was all very glamorous and the owners were expecting a lot of cash to be thrown about. I was pretty experienced at the roulette table, so my manager was counting on me to man that position for the night. Five minutes after the doors opened, three men sat themselves down and handed me a massive wad of cash to change into chips. This got me a bit flustered, but I tried to collect myself for the first spin. With my hand trembling, I dropped the ball in but it flew straight back out and got wedged under the door to the kitchen. I began sweating profusely. I smiled and apologized as the waiter returned the ball.
I gave it another spin but the exact same thing happened. This time, however, it landed at the feet of the drummer on stage. "Fuck," I muttered under my breath. The men were staring at me confused; one even asked if I was a beginner. I tried to shrug it off by making a joke about using too much moisturizer. Thankfully they laughed, and I slowly began to feel slightly more in control. As the waiter handed me the ball again, I noticed that half of the casino was looking at me, praying for me to fuck up. People always say that "the third time's the charm," but that's obviously not true because the ball flew out and landed in one of the gamblers' whiskey glasses, splashing booze all over his tux. I'd been preparing for the grand opening for five months, but I couldn't even spin the wheel.
One night, while working as a croupier, a gambler was down about $56,000. I'm sure he was sober—he'd stuck to soft drinks all night—and he didn't seem like he was on anything stronger. But out of the blue, he started talking to the security team through the CCTV cameras. He was staring right into the lens and swearing, shouting about there being magnets in the balls, how it was all rigged and a massive joke. He noticed the cameras were swiveling, and this just made him even more paranoid: "So now you are staring at me. You're watching! You took my money and you're just laughing at me, right?"
He grabbed an ashtray and started trying to smash the camera with it. Obviously by this point, security came into the room. I feel a bit sorry for the guy; the people watching behind the cameras were pissing themselves laughing.
I used to be a casino receptionist in Bucharest. One day, this massive guy—almost seven feet tall with a beer gut to match—decided to kick off at 8 AM in the morning. I should've known he was trouble when he came in—he had this really intense look on his face. When he signed in to our computer, I noticed a yellow mark next to his name. Yellow ticks mean one of two things—you're either a high roller or an aggressive cheater. He could have been either. He was allowed to play, but only on the condition that I notified the security staff. The chap had barely sat down before he started throwing massive sums of money around. He was placing heavy bets all over the table. After a few consecutive losses, his mood turned, and he threatened to throw a metal ashtray at the dealer.
Having been asked to calm down, he was switched to another table, where he tried the same tactic of ridiculous spread-betting across the numbers. He stayed there for a while, won some money, and began to relax. When the dealer changed, so did his luck. Before long he'd lost all his winnings, which didn't go down well. Right as I entered the room, I saw a security guard holding the staff door open while my manager was yelling at the dealer to run for his life. I've never seen anyone move that fast, and I don't think the dealer looked back until he'd reached the kitchens. Everyone else in the room followed, just as frightened.
It turns out this guy was so pissed at losing that he managed to remove the top of the roulette table—which is incredibly heavy—and subsequently threaten to murder everyone in the room. Security bolted in and managed to drag the guy out. Somehow he got back in and started begging me to let him play again and promised that he wouldn't kick off. He assured me that he wasn't a bad person, he just can't think straight when he's on a losing streak. Fair enough.