I have been through many iterations of so called ‘careers’. However, I would say they were more ‘things I do for a while’ rather than career choices. I’ve been very much one for following my passions and the tug of my heart rather than financial reward.
One such ‘career’ was a stint as a croupier. I had previously been working in an accounts office – the first job I’d had since leaving school, one that I kind of fell into because I hadn’t really decided what I wanted to do with my life. My dad had been a croupier many years before and he had said it was one of the beset times of his life (work wise). So when I was sat at work, watching the clock slowly tick towards 5pm, I knew I had to do something different or I would slowly turn as grey as my surroundings.
An advert in the paper grabbed my attention. They were hiring croupiers to be trained from scratch, so I handed in my notice (even though they had just paid for me to take a course in accounting – yawn!) and four weeks later I was training to be a croupier. We learnt roulette as our main focus and we were tested on our times tables, working out bet payouts and learned the skills of spinning the ball and effortlessly gliding stacks of chips across the table without knocking them over.
We were supposed to have six weeks training, but after about three weeks they decided I was doing okay and put me on a table on a night shift to help ‘chip up’. Even though most of the tables had automatic chipping machines, they wanted us to practice chipping up the lost bets cleared from the table and stacking them so we became more at ease with handling the chips. We also got front row seats to the action and saw live betting and payouts so that we could learn and experience being in the thick of it.
It’s surprising how the adrenaline of ‘being in charge’ of a table changes everything. When we were practicing during training it seemed exciting, but when there were people betting and we had to run the tables in a live environment it added another level completely.
I had been told that I was to ‘chip’ for about a week, but the following night on my shift, a Tuesday I believe it was, I was put in charge of a table. To say I nearly pooped myself is an understatement. I tentatively started the betting but after being thrown in at the deep end I had no choice but to get on with it and take charge.
‘No more bets, no more bets, please’ I had to keep saying to my people at the table. They were furiously stacking chips on the table, and it took me a while to realise that I had a slew of Chinese all round my table. They were nattering to each other in words I couldn’t understand, and they seemed to be getting very excited about something. I hadn’t realised that I had started to get my roulette ball stuck into one section of the wheel.
Due to the rhythm you pick up, it’s very easy to keep doing the same thing and letting the ball fall in the same area. When this happens, and people pick up on it, things go crazy.
One particular spin of the wheel ended up on number 14. To my dismay, as I put the dolly on the number (the clear counter that shows which number is the winner), there were stacks and STACKS of chips on the number, on the split, the corner, the rows – everything. It took me forever to clear the table of the lost bets as I had to carefully strip away the ones that didn’t need paying out. Then it took me another age, to calculate the bets to each player.
Finally, with a sigh of relief I managed to work them all out correctly, my pit boss was cautiously checking to make sure each bet was calculated right and once I got the nod from him, I slid the chips to each player. I thought I was out of the woods, and so I casually gave the wheel a gentle nudge to keep the momentum, picked up the ball and gave it a good spin.
As the ball whizzed around the edge, the people round my table were frantically piling more chips on the table. The stack that had previously been on number 14 had doubled in size and looked like the leaning tower of Pisa. I started to call last bets a little early as I knew it would take forever for them to stop. Just as the ball tinkled down into the number, a shriek rang out from my table. Everyone was cheering. I had yet to look at where the ball had landed because I wanted to make sure no one put a last minute bet on, and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.
Yes, the ball was on number 14, AGAIN!
I nearly cried. I can’t remember how much I paid out on that bet, but it probably took me almost fifteen minutes to calculate everything correctly and pay it out. I could tell my pit boss wasn’t happy, but I was a rookie, so I really didn’t know what to do. It was such a sigh of relief when I noticed another croupier waiting to take over. I wiped my hand, stepped back from the table and headed off for my break.
That was my baptism of fire into my work as a croupier. Everything from that moment on I could handle and in fact rather enjoyed; the late shifts, being on the count, starting to learn poker. The dream lasted about six months but it wasn’t long before I got another tug at my heart to do something else. Acting was calling me. But that’s another story, to be told another time.