Corporate Cultures

The Myth of Table-Game Primacy

by Ray Knight and Rob Sanders

      Case Incident #1
 Blackjack dealer (to housekeeper): "If it wasn't for us dealers, you wouldn't have a job.  We're the reason people come through the door."
 Housekeeper: "If it wasn't for us housekeepers, people couldn't GET through the door for all the trash!"

Case Incident #2
 Craps dealer (to slots change person entering employee break room): "YOU can't come in here!  This break room is reserved for dealers only."

 Both of these incidents are recorded in our case files from the first research we conducted in the gaming industry nearly ten years ago.  They are typical of hundreds of similar incidents that were related to us over the course of studies conducted in casinos all across the country.  From Las Vegas to emerging markets to tribal gaming venues, the elitism of table games personnel was prevalent throughout the industry.  The impact of this elitism on corporate culture development was universally negative.

 A decade later, the gaming industry paradigm has changed dramatically.  Table games are no longer king.  Casino floors are packed with slot machines with ever more sophisticated themes and video displays.  A generation of entry-level gamers grew up playing video games in arcades and on their computers.  They feel at home with the techno-flashy machines.  Casino Executive columnist Andrew McDonald reported a couple of months ago that the ratio of slot machines to table games is now on the order of 40 to 1 in many American casinos.  Slot machines account for 80% or more of revenues in some of the top gaming companies.   In many casinos, you have to search for a while to find a table game.

 Yet the myth of table games primacy lives on.  In spot interviews with several executives in a cross-section of gaming venues, we found that the we're-better-than-you-are smugness of table games personnel continues to sour corporate culture harmony in the industry.  The pompous posturing of table games people, from dealers to department heads, sabotages efforts to cultivate cultural unity and common purpose within a company.

 Our sources, which include prominent executives in well-known companies, asked to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons.  The comments we offer here may well bruise some sensitive egos.

 "Nothing has changed.  It's just as bad as always."  "They [dealers] eat at their own table in the employee dining room and don't allow anyone else to join them."  "They think they're superior, even when they're standing at an empty game table."  "We even had a dealer try to boss around a supervisor from another department."  "They don't get it.  The money is in day the dealers may just not have a job."  "The reason it [elitism] continues to be allowed is because the GMs usually come from table games." 

 The last two comments cut deep to the heart of the issue.  The trend toward more slots, not less, is likely to continue.  Ironically, it is the smug air of the dealers and pit bosses in table games that could eventually write their pink slip, permanently.  It's not at all inconceivable that the day could come when dealers are completely irrelevant to the gaming experience. 

 As gaming continues to expand into new venues,it makes the gaming experience accessible to more and more people who are not experts at it.  People who are not accomplished gamblers feel intimidated and uncomfortable with table games.  They don't know all the rules and don't want to make fools of themselves.  Hotshot dealers make them feel like idiots.  So they play slots instead.  They don't have to pony up a big stake to play slots.  Slots don't make them feel inferior.  They don't have to learn complicated rules.  If they do something dumb, nobody will ever know about it.  They can just have fun.

 That table game elitism is allowed to flourish, even when the economics clearly don't justify it, is an indictment of management.  Insiders say it's no surprise that the condition persists.  "Old school management is in charge.  More often than not, they were products of the pits."  Old habits die hard.  GMs who rose through the ranks from the floor games hold on to memories of a day gone by when the dealers were "the show," the reason people came to a casino.  Even if they realize the cancerous effect such elitism has on a corporate culture, managers often tend to pamper favorites, even when they act like spoiled brats.

 Imagine the effect this has on other employees, who know full well that the table games revenue contribution to their livelihood is relatively small, certainly nothing to justify such nose-in-the-air behavior.  It stirs resentment in a culture.  It undercuts management credibility for allowing it to continue.  It alienates other employees from a culture they consider to be unfair.

 Dealers should realize how dependent they are on other employees.  By the time the customers reach the tables, they have been influenced by encounters with typically a dozen or more non-dealer employees.  That affects how long they will play, how much they bet, and how generous they are.

 Table games have long been the centerpiece of the casino environment.  If they are to maintain that traditional role in the context of evolving consumer preferences and corporate culture development, a revolution in attitude will be required.  It is not optional.  Enlightened managers will have to lead the way to break old habits.

(This article appeared in the January 2001 issue.)