Groupie to croupier

David Chao

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

In a close-knit Antelope neighborhood, as many as 20 friends and family members often gathered for a casual game of Texas Hold ’Em poker. But once the game became ubiquitous far beyond their environs, David Chao and his fellow players decided to try their luck at local casinos. In about a year’s time, that luck didn’t pan out: Chao was over $1,000 in the red.

He eventually decided that if he couldn’t beat ’em, he might as well join ’em. Along with three of his friends, Chao took a poker-dealing course at Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel, which offered a job at the casino after successful completion. He estimates that close to two dozen of his neighbors are also working at area casinos. And while the crew still meets up for the occasional poker night, Chao prefers to earn his money by helping others do the gambling.

Did you learn much from the course?

Not really, because I was a poker player before I was a poker dealer, so I knew all the little things dealers did. I even joked around with the dealers and made fun of them because they had to clap their hands before they leave the table and show them to the camera. Then I finally understood: It’s to show that they don’t have any chips in their hands.

You must have learned something.

The way you pitch the card. The instructor put a hat five feet away, and we’d have to pitch it into the hat until we got all 52 cards into it. You hold the card between your thumb and middle finger, with your index out, and then you flick your middle finger, and the card rotates and spins so no one can see the card. There’s no wrist action. It’s all the finger, because otherwise you could get carpal tunnel. That was totally new to me. That was the hardest for me, out of my three friends, but after I’ve mastered it I think I’m better than them.

Have you had any problems with cheaters?

No, but we’ve had a situation where a player was too smelly, so we had to kick him out of the room. He probably didn’t take a shower for two days. It was bothering the [other] players, and they complained. And if smelly people sit by the dealers, it’ll stop us from doing the job because it annoys us. We sent him home to take a shower, and then he came back.

What kind of people do you meet?

I like the old ladies who play there because no one can figure out if they’re bluffing or not. It cracks me up. All the 18 year olds, the college kids, always think that they’re bluffing and try to take their money because they figure they’re old, but most of the time it ends up that the kids lose the money.

Anyone else stand out?

There’s a kid, a regular, and he yaps the whole time. All the players complain about him, but that’s his game. He gets people on tilt, just putting them off their game. He’ll say things like what hand they have, or “You should fold because I have the best hand.” He’ll get people. He’ll have the best hand, and he’ll keep on taunting the player to call, and then they’ll call. He’s been around the last five months. He goes at least twice a week. And usually he comes up.

How do you feel about the players when you’re behind the table?

All dealers secretly root for the person who tips us the most. There are always our usuals who will tip us more than other players, so we root for them, hoping to give them good cards.

You play at home, too?

It’s gotten less frequent now. Everyone’s broke. I just like playing for fun. I don’t like taking my friends’ money. Or I don’t like them taking my money. Sometimes we play for drinks, for push-ups, buy each other lunch. I want to do dares, but we’re all scared of the dares we’ll make each other do. I don’t want to give examples. Nothing printable.

How is it different playing at home and at the casino?

It’s really different because players have a certain style of playing, and once you play with people a lot you’ll learn how they bet, how they play. It’s just boring. I like new players. I like playing players instead of playing cards because you can’t control the cards. It’s all probability.

Has being a dealer changed your perspective on the game?

Yeah, my game is way better now because I see so many hands. I watch the whole game. In my head, I’m moving the game and I’m analyzing every player, analyzing all the hands—how people play, how people bet. I average 40 hands an hour. You pick up people’s tells.

What kind of tells?

When beginners have really good hands, their hands will shake when they put out their chips.

How’d you learn to play?

I was last out of all my friends to learn because I thought it was stupid. All the betting was weird. I didn’t understand the game at all. But I picked it up.