How to Become a Professional Poker Dealer
Is a Career as a Poker Dealer Right for You?
Compared to being a player, dealing has one big benefit – you get paid regardless of how the cards fall. There is plenty of demand for experienced dealers around the world. These include regular casinos and card-rooms – as well as the big tournament events like the World Series of Poker. Before you jump in and start dealing, this guide gives you an objective overview of what this involves.
Here are how the various aspects of becoming a poker dealer are broken down below:
- Pros and Cons: An objective look at the benefits and drawbacks of dealing cards.
- Routes to Becoming a Poker Dealer: Dealing schools and working your way through the ranks.
- What a Poker Dealer Does? There are multiple aspects of this role that you might not have considered.
- Qualities of Poker Dealers: What kind of skills and attributes do successful poker dealers have?
- Dealing Poker vs Dealing Casino Games: How poker compares to dealing blackjack and other card games.
- Income Expectations: How Much Money Can a Poker Dealer Make?
Pros and Cons of Becoming a Poker Dealer
It takes a certain type of person to stick out a career as a poker dealer. You’ll need to be sharp enough to keep track of the pots, rules and cards – as well as dealing with the human elements. Here is a quick overview of the pros and cons, which are discussed in more detail in the section below.
Benefits of Dealing Poker:
- Steady income: You’ll get a base salary, plus tips. year.
- Social Elements: This is a service job, and if you enjoy working with people it can be an enjoyable way to earn a living.
- Plenty of Demand: Casinos around the world need experienced dealers.
- Retirement + Insurance: Dealers for big casino corporations get employee benefits.
- Flexible Schedules: With poker being 24/7, many casinos will have shifts which suit your lifestyle.
- Learn on the Job: If you deal the bigger stakes, you get to watch the poker experts in action, which can only improve your own game.
Drawbacks of Dealing Poker:
- Standing Up: You’ll be on your feet the entire time during your shifts.
- Unsocial Hours: When you start to deal, you’ll be lower down the pecking order when it comes to picking the best shifts.
- Tips are Variable: Depending on the players, tips can fluctuate widely. Since these make up a lot of your income, you need to account for those ‘dry’ days.
- Disgruntled Players: Some players take out their frustration on losing a pot on the dealer, you’ll need to be emotionally tough enough to cope.
- Seasonal Work: Poker does have down periods, when players are scarce.
How Much Money Can a Poker Dealer Make?
Base salaries for poker dealers are low. These range from $15,000 to $20,000 per year – a minimum wage job. Benefits are based on this salary range.
Of course, poker dealers make a lot more than this. A good dealer can earn between $30k and $60k a year. This extra income comes via tips. A very experienced poker dealer can make $100k+. To get to this level, you’ll need to be dealing the biggest games and working at peak times.
How Do Poker Dealers Make Tips:
- Per Pot: Most players will tip the dealer $1 or more when winning a decent pot. This can be bigger in the high stakes games, where pots of $1000+ are being pushed regularly.
- Tournament Tips: Many casinos include tips for dealers in the tournament buy-ins. For example, the World Series of Poker has between 2% and 4% included for each event.
- Tournament discretionary Tips: Often, the winner of a tournament will give a tip, which is usually divided among the active dealers.
Note that in some countries, tipping is not permitted in casinos. This is balanced by higher base salaries for the dealers. Some casinos pool tips and divide these among all staff equally, others allow dealers to keep their own tips.
Tips don’t only depend on the size of the game you are dealing. Your personality plays a role. Players are more likely to tip competent and personable dealers.
How to Become a Poker Dealer?
The usual route is to attend a training program. This involves a 4 to 8-week course, which will cover the many different aspects of dealing. These courses range from $1000 to $2000.
Many casinos have big enough demand for dealers that they run their own training programs. You will not need to pay for these if you graduate and then deal for that casino.
If you have plenty of experience dealing, though no formal qualification, you can still apply for a job as a poker dealer. This will involve a live audition, with the poker room manager watching you closely. If you impress, you’ll be hired – and possibly offered on the job training for any areas you lack experience with.
Exactly What a Poker Dealer Does?
You might think dealing poker is all about shuffling cards and pushing pots. There is a lot more to the role than that. Primarily, dealing is a customer service job – keeping control of the game and enforcing the rules need to go alongside making sure the players have a great experience. If they do not, your tips will be small – and the number of games will fall.
Here are the primary tasks of a poker dealer:
- Card Skills: Shuffling the deck, keeping count of the cards, burning cards for the flop turn and river and collecting mucked cards needs to be done accurately every time.
- Controlling the Pot: The dealer needs to announce bets (though not the pot size), deal with side pots and rules on minimum raise sizes that reopen the betting – and push the pot to the right player.
- Enforcing the Rules: Poker involves a lot of small rules, and the dealer is expected to know them all by heart. These can involve capped betting limits, betting the nuts when someone is all-in during a tournament and how to handle situations with exposed cards. If there is a dispute, the dealer is expected to call the ‘floor’ to help out.
- Watching for Cheating: This can take many forms including soft-play, collusion and under-betting the pot. Dealers need to be aware at all times, and to report anything unclear to the floor.
- Dealing with Unruly / Nasty Players: Live poker unfortunately attracts a lot of unpleasant characters. While often they are harmless, a dealer does sometimes bear the brunt of abuse from certain types. An experienced dealer will know when this crosses the line – and call either security or the floor to deal with it.
- Knowing Many Poker Variants: Casinos run many variations of poker, and a dealer needs to be able to switch between them seamlessly.
- Concentration for Long Periods: Avoiding mistakes involves being focused for long periods (shifts usually last an hour, before a 20-minute break). You’ll be expected to remain 100% focused all the time – even a rare error can significantly disrupt a game.
- Signalling the ‘Eye in the Sky’: Security cameras watch every game. When you see a dealer tapping the table (for example with a chip given as a tip) those are for the benefit of security. You’ll be expected to stick by these rules and know the different signals for specific situations.
Personal Qualities of Poker Dealers
So far, I have talked about the practical aspects of dealing cards. This section flips things around, asking whether you have the personal qualities to enjoy this line of work.
A poker dealer needs to enjoy working with people. Despite the many practical skills, this is first and foremost a service job. If you prefer your own company, then this might not be the right job for you. If you like interacting with a diverse range of personalities – and can keep smiling when things get tough – you could be the perfect fit.
You’ll need a thick skin. Bad tempered players are a fact of life for the poker dealing profession. Many of these will make up for their own bad play by taking it out on the dealer. Patience is needed – you won’t be able to answer back (though calling security or the floor is always an option!).
Dealers also need to be good at mental arithmetic. This comes into play with side-pots, pot-limit betting and many other situations. You also need to be fast and accurate at reading boards – pushing the pot to the wrong player is a major mistake.
Personal flexibility is needed, especially at the start of your career. The prime shifts will usually go to the most experienced and reliable dealers. This means you’ll have to take the remaining shifts while you get your foot in the door. Flexibility will win you a lot of credit with the poker room management, and you’ll soon find yourself getting a better pick of shifts.
Dealing Poker vs Dealing Other Casino Games
Poker is not the only game which requires dealers. There is demand for people to deal blackjack, spin roulette wheels and join craps teams. Those games have a house edge, and you’ll be facilitating a welcoming environment for people to enjoy themselves while losing money. The balance is that there is plenty of variety – especially when you consider all the casino ‘carnival games’.
If you enjoy poker and want to learn from experienced players – then dealing those games is the way to go. This can allow you to learn on the job. Things like physical tells, which require years of experience to pick up, can be very obvious to experienced dealers.