A Casino Pit Boss Comes Clean About What We Really Do
Published on March 25, 2019
Hang around the casino long enough, and you’ll spot me eventually, but not before I’ve spotted you.
I’m the big guy wearing a suit and tie standing ominously behind the table game pit at your favorite casino.
Commonly known as the pit boss — I prefer the more professional label “pit manager,” by the way, but most people opt for the former — I’m the last line of defense protecting the house.
I’ve worked as a pit boss in a large Las Vegas casino resort for the last eight years now. Before that, a lifetime ago, it would seem, I started my career in the gambling industry as a lowly chip runner.
From there, I worked my way up to dealing games like blackjack and Three Card Poker before attaining the role of dealer supervisor. Next, I became a floorman — working under a legendary Sin City pit boss who thankfully took me under his wing.
Finally, after a decade spent in the thick of the action, I was promoted to pit boss. Today, it’s my job to oversee a massive table game pit lined with all of your favorite table games.
Blackjack, roulette, and craps are the mainstays, but I also have variants like Super Fun 21, Pai Gow Poker, and even Casino War going down in my domain.
As a former gambler myself — I no longer play table games to avoid any conflict of interest issues — my job is literally a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to experience the other side of that eternal tug of war between the house and players, and now I take center stage six nights a week.
And the best part is, after spending the majority of my waking hours in a casino for the last 20 years or so, I haven’t lost a dime to the house.
But as much as I enjoy my career, I often find myself contending with misconceptions about what a pit boss really does. I’ve heard it all before, from complaints that we’re nothing more than glorified security guards to the ridiculous notion that pit bosses help to tilt the odds while targeting winning players.
In reality, I’m essentially a branch manager supervising several employees. I hate to burst people’s bubble when they imagine I hold a position of immense power, but my job really entails a long lineup of duties that can best be described as busywork.
You wouldn’t know it talking to my regulars, though…
I have players who swear up and down that I can control their comp rating on a whim. Yes, I am in charge of those ratings, but I must adhere to strict policies and procedures — not personal affections or grudges.
Tourists think of me as the “voucher guy,” harkening back to an era when pit bosses were free to lavish losing players with buffet coupons, show tickets, and other freebies.
And even my dealers seem to have a mistaken view of what it is I really do day in and day out.
To help put those myths and misconceptions to bed, I’d like to explain a few of my regular duties while working the casino floor. Below, you’ll find a rundown of my responsibilities while working as a pit boss, from the mundane to the uncommon and everything in between.
This isn’t my most important duty by any means, but it’s the one players worry about most, so I’ll start there.
When you first enter my casino to gamble it up, I’ll be the first to notice your arrival. I’m not going to make a big scene out of it or anything — just the opposite, in fact.
I don’t want you to notice that I’ve noticed you, so the most you’ll see out of me is a slight step toward the table or maybe a sideways glance cast in your direction.
My goal here is to let you play your game as you normally would without worrying about what the pit boss is thinking. But while you do, I’m mentally ticking off a checklist of important player information.
These metrics are mentally recorded and eventually marked down on my trusty clipboard for safekeeping.
Later on, I’ll use the various data points to determine your comp rating — or the level at which my casino will reward and reimburse you over time.
I can’t give away any trade secrets here, but in general terms, here’s how it works.
If you’re a small-stakes player betting one $5 “redbird” per play, you’ll generally receive the lowest possible rating.
That’s not to say your action isn’t welcome here; that’s not it at all. My industry relies on the legions of tourists who line up to visit Las Vegas year in and year out, and low-level players are a casino’s lifeblood.
Even so, we wouldn’t turn a profit by awarding lucrative comps to players who might spend an hour at the table while only wagering $100 or so. You’ll still get rated — don’t get me wrong there; your rating just won’t produce free weekend stays or tickets to see Penn & Teller anytime soon.
Those gifts are reserved for the loose players who don’t mind losing a bundle. Generally speaking, I’ll bump players up to the next comp rating tier when I see them betting $25 per play on average. That may seem like a bundle, but you’d be surprised by how many gamblers consider the $25 green chips to be a standard bet.
Of course, in a highly volatile game like roulette or craps, betting $25 over and over again can create huge swings in either direction — which is exactly what the casino wants.
Sure, you might walk away a winner on this day, but tomorrow, the odds still remain squarely in our favor. And when a player is willing to lose several hundred dollars in a single session, their comp rating rises accordingly.
It’s not about bet sizing exclusively, though…
I’ll also be watching to see how long you play — “hit and run” artists may think they’re clever, but their rating suffers drastically in my book.
Folks who don’t mind hanging around the tables for a while, absorbing their losses with grace, will always be welcomed with open arms by the house. These are the players who receive generous comp offers in the mail or even “free play” that allows them to take a shot at us without paying a penny.
Finally, the brave souls who show up to take their shot at high house edge games also get great comp ratings. You might wager $25 per hand on blackjack, but if I notice you’re also applying perfect basic strategy, I know the game holds a house edge of just 0.50%. In this case, I’ll tend to give more favorable comp treatment to a $10 per hand bettor who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
One final note about comp ratings concerns the little tricks of the trade experienced gamblers like to try. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a player start out with $25 bets, knowing I’m hovering around recording their wager units, only to dial it back to $10 bets when they think I’m gone.
Players like this are trying to game the system by getting a higher comp rating than they deserve, but I’m no rookie, and I’ve seen it all before. You may not see me watching, but between relays from my dealers and covert glances your way, I’ll almost always notice a player trying to pull the wool over my eyes in this fashion.
All player ratings I tabulate must be recorded and submitted to the casino brass, which means an endless lineup of paperwork for pit bosses to fill out.
When you see me scribbling away at my clipboard, I’m usually filling out tedious player rating sheets that enter all the data points mentioned above into the casino’s computer system.
But the paperwork doesn’t end with player ratings — not by a longshot.
I’m also responsible for taking a detailed inventory of which table games are occupied or empty — on the hour, every hour. Dealers beginning or ending their shifts also get their own sheets, as do cash-chip exchange transactions between dealers and players.
I won’t bore you with the deeper details, but in a nutshell, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires strict financial accounting under Title 31, also known as the Bank Secrecy Act.
To make a long and boring story short, I have to complete Multiple Transaction Logs (MTLs), Currency Transaction Reports (CTRs), and Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) whenever money changes hands at one of my tables.
Throw in basic human resources-type paperwork like time-off requests and overtime approvals, and I spend the bulk of my shift buried behind a pen and clipboard.
A more exciting aspect of the pit boss gig occurs when players dispute the results of a particular bet.
I can’t say I enjoy this part of my day, but I must say it does inject a bit of excitement into the proceedings.
Basically, you have two types of player disputes.
First, there are the tourists and other generally uninformed players who just don’t know the rules all that well.
These folks might bet on “0” at the roulette table, then celebrate when the ball lands in the “00” space. Both are green “house” spaces, so they assume one is as good as the other and expect a payout. Of course, betting on “0” isn’t the same as betting on “00,” so these players get royally pissed off when the wager they thought was a winner gets vacuumed up by the dealer.
In a dispute of this nature, my job entails heading over to the table and putting an end to any debate. I’ve seen tourists literally kick and scream, some throw their drink down in disgust, and others try to bargain and plead, but every argument like this ends the same way. I calmly but firmly explain how the Nevada Gaming Control Board (NGCB) rules govern the specific situation.
Most tourists wind up understanding rather quickly, and for the most part, they’re apologetic about the whole ordeal — so I’m happy to throw them a buffet comp or something similar to salve the wound. However, a handful refuse to accept that they lost and storm out, never to be seen again.
The second sort of player dispute is far more insidious, and I must say, I do get a kick out of catching these fools in the act. Let’s say I get a player on the blackjack table who hits on 12 against the dealer’s 13 — correctly, I might add — and draws a face card to go bust. At this point, they begin making a scene, crying foul and accusing the dealer of misinterpreting their action.
This player is hoping to scare the dealer into taking the card back, and the grift may just work in some of the smaller and less well-organized casinos. But not on my watch.
I trust my dealer staff to play the games fairly and by the book at all times, so accusing them of trying to cheat you out of $10 really isn’t going to fly. When a player tries to pretend like they didn’t make a losing play, I start by asking the other players present what they heard and saw. Even if they don’t want to “rat” on the offending player, all it takes is a look to let me know that the liar is trying to get one over on the house.
If no other players are present, I rely on my dealer staff to tell the story straight. More often than not, they’ll report that the player in question tried to straddle the line, whispering the word “hit” or tapping the table to direct the dealer. In these cases, I know full well what the player is trying to do — have it both ways.
When an 8 or 9 drops to give the player 20 or 21 and a likely winner, they’re more than happy to take the hit. But as soon as a face card shows up, they start moaning about a misdeal.
You can’t have it both ways in my pit, and as I’m around, the action stands.
I’ve also encountered a few heated disputes between players that have nothing to do with the dealing staff. You’ll get folks accusing strangers of stealing their chips, swiping a sip from their beer, or even copping a feel. Disputes between players can often get messier than most, so I always like to take the combatants aside to hear them out in an area separate from the casino floor.
Usually, just this “walk of shame” alone is enough to make cooler heads prevail. Indeed, many players cite the infamous scene in Robert De Niro’s classic movie Casino as a prime cause for their caution, but let me be the first to tell you, I’ve never seen a hammer on the floor in my eight years on the job.
No, this choice to get away from the tables is more for the other players’ benefit, as nobody has fun gambling when folks are fighting at the next table over.
If I can’t get the parties to simmer down and reconcile, one or both of them usually gets the boot.
I don’t enjoy banning people from the property, but that happens to be an unfortunate reality of my duties as a casino pit boss.
Working as a casino pit boss in Las Vegas isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but I love the work anyway.
Many of my regular players have become friends in “real life,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shaken hands with somebody who recognizes me from the floor.
Casino players have many misconceptions about what we actually do on a daily basis, but I hope this diary of mine helps shed some light on the average pit boss and their role in your casino gambling experience.