Just One More Hand: Life in the Casino Economy
Ellen Mutari, Deborah M. Figart
Just One More Hand tells a story that workers all over can relate to: an industry that promised a solid and stable livelihood is being transformed by competitive pressures, causing employees to lose their economic footing. What seemed like a good job one day becomes a bad job the next. Incorporating the real experiences of casino employees, the book demonstrates the difficulties for local communities that are building new casinos in the hopes of luring tourists. Local communities placing all their chips on casinos as an economic development strategy face increasingly long odds.
Life stories of individual workers in Atlantic City are explored in the context of the history of the city and the now-global gaming industry. With more and more casinos competing for customers, employees are feeling the brunt of cost-cutting measures, including the wholesale closure of some casinos. While long-time employees are fighting against concessions and wage stagnation, younger workers juggle multiple part-time and seasonal jobs at several casinos. Policy makers hoping to offset these trends are trying to rebrand Atlantic City for a younger, hipper, and more well-to-do clientele using public-private partnerships. Unfortunately, scant attention is being paid to the core issue in economic development—the need for sustainable livelihoods and meaningful work. Here, Ellen Mutari and Deborah Figart explore the realities of the industry and the lives and challenges the workers within it are facing.
saw you were hungry, let me run down to the gift store, I’ll put down a pack of peanuts next to you. It came so naturally to me; it was like taking candy from a baby. It’s like I just knew what to do. . . . I never went and served CAROLI N E AN D RU T H’ S STORY 47 a drink in front of a losing hand. I stood back and waited. If the guy was going to lose the hand, I’d come back in a second and serve somebody else first. It’s a matter of focusing, paying attention to what’s happening.” This is
from a simple bend-turn or bend-flip to the more dazzling rubbing-and-rotating, or a pivoting motion. Here’s Caroline, describing her baccarat deal: “I have a tendency to be very open with my players. Like when I’m dealing three cards [she rubbed her hands together to demonstrate the start], you know, I’ll say ‘don’t look, see the ace?’ and then I’ll blow on my fingers. Nobody squeezes and spreads like me. And they get a kick out of it. I have to make them feel they want to be there.” She
emptying the machines sometimes suffered back strain from lifting the heavy bags. The pouring of coin into the counting machines was very loud and employees had to wear ear protection to prevent hearing damage.” 12 Today’s machines are electronic. Caesars was the first Atlantic City casino to experiment with coin-free slots in 2001, but the trend consolidated when the new Borgata casino opened in July 2003 as a completely coin-free casino. The shift to completely cashless slots is due to the
175–183 Atlantic City Hilton Dealers May 26, 2007 268–316 Caesars Cashiers, pit clerks and part-time slot technicians September 1, 2007 42–77 Victories Losses Source: Figart and Mutari (2008) COLLE CT I V E V OI C E I N T URBULENT TIMES 163 and thus retain any bonds forged between middle managers and their workers; “captive audience meetings,” where workers are ordered to attend meetings to hear presentations by consultants and managers with information or misinformation designed
fruit platters, running the omelet station, and serving cocktails in a lounge and show room. It was working the omelet station where his personality started to shine: “Then, every once in a while, since I was like the funny guy, and I was talking to everybody, they actually brought me out to their omelet station. So, now here I am out on the floor as a cook at the omelet station, having a blast, talking to people, having a great time. So, it was fun and I got that feeling back, you know. It’s a