Stories from the women behind the tables in New York City casinos: How they work to keep the upper hand.
VR TAKES OVER
Working as a female dealer at a New York Casino has its challenges. Especially if you’re human.
PANIC AT THE CASINO
Female casino employees demand panic buttons in an industry plagued by harassment.
Dealers Dealt a Tough Hand
Heather is one of the few female poker dealers in the private casino night industry. Women in her line of work have to be tough and able to contend with men but say it’s worth it.
FEMALE DEALERS ARE A VIRTUAL REALITY AT NEW YORK CITY CASINOS
By Ann Seymour
A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the gambling industry is the fastest-growing source of employment in New York State. This is good news for women in New York looking for employment — unless they’re human.
In 2013 the State Legislature passed the Upstate N.Y. Economic Development Gaming Act, which authorized the New York Gaming Commission to license up to for four gaming facilities to boost economic development. The casinos included table games, which created new job opportunities for dealer positions.
Closer to New York City, only “racinos” are licensed to operate. These locations permit Video Lottery Terminals, including poker and blackjack games with electronic dealers, at casinos adjacent to racetracks. There is a 10-year moratorium on the consideration of any new casinos, ending in 2023. Until then, the only women serving as card dealers at casinos in New York City are virtual simulations of their real-life human counterparts.
When the State Legislature passed the Gaming Act, Wendy Rubin sprung into action. Rubin, a professional poker player, opened the Big Deal Casino School in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. Big Deal is the first licensed casino school in New York State and offers classes for aspiring card dealers, a skill Rubin predicted would be in demand at the new casinos upstate.
Big Deal also hosts private events staffed by graduates from her school. Because of gaming restrictions in the city, guests bet at the tables with play money, enjoying the experience of gambling without the risk of losing cash.
Rubin said women have an advantage over men on both sides of the table. “Men are more easily distracted,” Rubin said, explaining women usually take notice of subtle cues that give them an edge.
Melissa Rheingold took classes from Rubin’s school and is now a certified blackjack dealer. She works as an ER nurse at NYU Langone Brooklyn Hospital and moonlights as a dealer at Big Deal for private events. Rheingold agrees with Rubin’s assessment that women have an advantage, adding that her work as a nurse has also informed her role as a dealer.
“We need to constantly be alert of our surroundings,” she said. “Same goes with dealing.”
With the current gaming restrictions in place, the school at Big Deal Casino has not been the hot commodity Rubin hoped for it when she opened its doors in 2014.
“I don’t think we had any classes running last month,” said Indira Wiegand, event coordinator and school director at Big Deal. “And only one class the month before that.”
Rubin said it’s “so stupid” that full casinos are still illegal in New York City.
Bad news for dealers, but at least gamblers are not completely out of luck. For those who want to up the ante and gamble with real money at the table, there are still options in New York more accessible than a trip upstate and less exclusive than a private party.
Resorts World Casinos in Queens and Empire City Casino in Yonkers present the closest options for city residents. Patrons and employees of these two racinos can arrive by mass transit.
A stroll through Resorts and Empire City reveals the options for available poker and blackjack dealers. They are all buxom women with cleavage-baring outfits. The host at one table is dressed as a Playboy playmate in a snug black bustier and bowtie collar, her head topped with a pair of bunny ears.
But these alluring ladies are strictly two-dimensional. The women are all virtual dealers, displayed on a screen that simulates a live dealer interacting with players seated at individual haptic terminals.
Some of the dealers have real-life counterparts. The bunny-eared dealer is an avatar of Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun, a product of a collaboration between Playboy and Scientific Games, the company who manufactures the electronic dealer games.
Scientific Games said the games are not only desirable because they allow multiple-player games to operate within New York’s current gaming restrictions.
The company sees an advantage to their electronic dealers. Not only will players enjoy the virtual eye candy, they said the tables attract players who might otherwise be intimidated by the concern a real dealer might judge a player’s skill.
Although the virtual dealers are currently the only option for playing table games like poker and blackjack in casinos near New York City, Rubin doubts they will last if live tables are eventually legalized. She sees these computerized versions as an inferior substitute for the real-life women trained as dealers and looking for work.
“People come stay at tables because they like a dealer’s personality,” Rubin said. “You’re not going to get that if the dealer is a machine.”
But a stroll through Resorts and Empire City — where state law prohibits live table and card games — reveals the current options for poker and blackjack dealers. Sure, there are buxom women with cleavage-baring outfits dealing cards, but these alluring ladies are strictly two-dimensional.
Women Casino Employees Vulnerable at Work – Will Panic Buttons Help?
By Keishel Williams
The swift downfall of casino mogul Steve Wynn — CEO of Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas — amid allegations of sexual harassment in the past few months sheds light on the often dangerous environment women working in the casino gaming industry face daily.
One year ago, Resorts World Casino in Queens was faced with a lawsuit after a female bartender, Tuwanna Anderson, said she was assaulted by a male coworker while on the job, according to court records reported in the Daily News. In 2016, another female employee testified during an arbitration proceeding that she was choked by a customer at Resorts World and subsequently fired by the establishment.
A year before Anderson’s assault, the casino vowed to start providing “panic buttons” to cocktail waitresses and other hospitality staff after a number of women filed complaints of harassment and assault while at work.
Panic buttons — which allow workers to quickly and discreetly call for help should a patron or employee become dangerous — became a serious demand in the casino industry last year in Las Vegas after numerous sexual assault complaints and a widely shared survey done by the Culinary and Bartender Union and UNITE HERE, two unions representing service and hospitality workers, showed casinos are rife with workplace sexual harassment, according to a statement from the Culinary and Bartender union on the survey.
Last year several unions and hotels in Las Vegas and New York reported that panic buttons will help women who are vulnerable to sexual harassment while working in casinos and hotels. This year, not much has been heard about the implementation and usage of the buttons.
The UNITE HERE survey states that 59 percent of Las Vegas cocktail servers said they “have been sexually harassed by guests, managers, and others while working.” As a result, new contract negotiations by the union included the demand for panic buttons for employees by their employers.
The contract’s language specifies providing these buttons for room attendants and anyone who is going to rooms alone or works in isolated locations on casino grounds. This excludes cocktail waitresses and bartenders.The UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Union communications director, Bethany Khan, said they are often in the open on casino floors.
“We are constantly listening to workers and focus groups so if there is a need we can explore it down the line the next time a contract comes up,” said Khan. “For now it’s for folks who are working in isolated areas because on the floors there are tons of people around.”
In New York, the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, which represents hospitality workers in the city, takes credit for the initial idea of the panic buttons created primarily for housekeepers after one of their own members was sexually assaulted by a hotel guest in 2011. According to the union, the buttons are now catching on.
Anderson and the Genting Group — Resorts World’s parent company — settled their case. As a result, the plaintiff’s lawyer, Bennitta Joseph, is unable to confirm whether or not Anderson had a panic button with her at the time of the attack. Numerous attempts to reach Resorts World Casino for a comment have gone unanswered. The hotel workers’ union said the casino’s servers and bartenders have been equipped with buttons.
“I can tell you that the bartenders and cocktail waitresses at Resorts World Queens do have panic buttons and they have had them for quite some time,” said John Turchiano, communications director.
The problem will be addressed and preventative measures implemented at these casinos when there is a change in leadership to include more women, experts on the industry said.
The University of California-Berkeley business school professor Jennifer Chatman said hospitality, even in the gaming industry, is a business where women should have been excelling.
But the New York State Gaming Commission directors, the governing body that oversees the casinos and other gaming facilities in the state, is made up of all older men – including two named John. Genting Group — the owner of Resorts World Casino — has a board made up eight men and one woman.
A survey by two unions representing workers in the inustry showed that casinos are rife with sexual harassment.
Las Vegas cocktail servers who said they “have been sexually harassed by guests, managers, and others while working
FREELANCE DEALERS DEALT A TOUGH HAND
Women who work private parties come clean about harassment on the job
By Jeffery Harrell
Heather Fiumano walked up to the poker table at a corporate casino night, picked up a deck of cards and began to shuffle. She was dressed in her dealer’s uniform, black pants and a black jacket over a dress shirt with a clip-on bow tie.
“Aren’t you the waitress?” one of the men at the table blurted out.
She smiled politely and brushed it off: This wasn’t the first time she’d had to contend with male egos, and it wouldn’t be the last. Besides, she had a job to do.
Fiumano works as a freelance card dealer for AceDeuce Casino, along with several other event companies around New York that put on casino nights.
Table games with a live dealer like blackjack, poker and roulette are illegal in New York City. So, when a corporate holiday party or a charity fundraiser wants to head to the casino, hiring a company to bring the casino to you is the only legal option available.
Fiumano is one of the few women in the New York circuit experienced in dealing Texas Hold ’em poker. Although she loves the excitement and the high energy atmosphere of the poker table, she and the other women in this line of work are often underestimated, demeaned and commodified.
“A lot of the time I feel like I’m being pimped out,” said Fiumano.
But years of dealing means she’s confident in what she does. Although part of her job is being an entertainer — “eye candy,” as Fiumano puts it — she’s simultaneously running calculations in here head and keeping track of as many as nine players who often aren’t experts in the game.
Confidence is key to gain respect at the table, she says: Make a mistake early and men at the table will often try to take control of the game, often condescendingly explaining the rules to her. Being one of the only women in the room doesn’t help.
“Most of the other dealers are guys with pot bellies, you know,” said Fiumano. “So, they see me and they start sizing me up. Poker is all about nonverbal cues, and I know how to read them.”
Fiumano got her start dealing for private games in penthouses. These were under-the-table poker games, common in New York City because of the ban on live dealer table games in casinos. But Fiumano was looking for more stable work and eventually transitioned to working for companies like AceDeuce Casino, founded by Marius Anastasiu.
Anastasiu, who spent several years dealing in casinos in Las Vegas, sees AceDeuce as a way to bring the casino experience to his customers.
Although they’re not technically within the gambling industry, AceDeuce Casino offers a similar product. Their services are paid for with a flat fee, and no one is playing with cash. The games are played with play money for prizes, charity, or just for fun. Anastasiu says he is more in the entertainment industry than the gambling industry. They service corporate events and casino night fundraisers across New York City and Long Island.
But professional clientele isn’t their only target. AceDeuce also offers a package for bachelor parties and some corporate events, which includes dealers in bikinis, cigar girls and dancing cocktail waitresses in the feathery costumes of a Vegas showgirl.
Although the scantily clad female entertainers are a small part of the business, he did note that most customers request women to staff the tables.
“Women dealers are in much higher demand. I almost always call them first when I have a job,” says Anastasiu.
Fiumano says she’s been asked to play the role of a bikini dealer before.
Her response: “Hell, no.”
She does note that the girls who do that work make much more money in tips, and she respects them. She knows what it’s like “getting shade from guys and getting gawked at all night.”
Heather Franzese, a 35-year-old card dealer, agrees.
“Those girls work hard, and men get rowdy when they’re drunk,” she says.” You have to know how to stand up for yourself.”
Franzese has been dealing cards for 16 years and transitioned into the casino night industry from cruise ships where she dealt all manner of table games. Dealing on the ships meant working weeks at a time, and it kept her away from her kids.
On the cruise ships, they play with live money, so the shift to casino nights took some of the pressure off. But she acknowledges that it’s a difficult world for women to break into.
“I’ve had girls cry over the things men say to them,” says Franzese.
Dealer Ronnie Graham, who also spends time teaching people how to deal, also noted the difficulty of getting women into the industry.
“There’s something about gambling that brings out men’s personalities more, guys get arrogant and assertive,” Graham said.
He estimates he’s tried teaching around 100 people to deal. Of that number, about 12 were women, and he can only remember a few that kept working as a dealer.
Most of the other dealers are guys with pot bellies, you know. So, they see me and they start sizing me up. Poker is all about nonverbal cues, and I know how to read them.Heather Fiumano
“When you’re starting out the math can be really tricky, it’s a lot to think about,” says Graham. “A lot of the girls get intimidated and don’t stick with it.”
Despite the difficulties, female dealers have an advantage. Women in the casino night industry are sought after and are usually able to rack up the tips. Fiumano says she can sometimes come away with $300 cash in her pocket in a single night.
She loves working in a party atmosphere, and the flexibility of the schedule works for her. And not every job is a nightmare.
But because the industry is private, and most of the women who work in it are freelancers, they are saddled with more of the risk. The women who work casino nights are ultimately responsible for their own safety and ensuring they get a fair rate.
“A lot of the guys are sweet, and they tip well,” says Fiumano. “But if you don’t stick up for yourself, no one else will.”