Hermione Eyre: Casino confessional

If you think that stepping into Manchester's new supercasino will release your inner Bond, then our former croupier will bet that you will lose a lot more than your money

Share
Related Topics

The machine makes a loud ping. "Finish betting now, please," says a recorded female voice, warmly but with a hint of warning. The computer-generated ball whizzes round the roulette wheel, and frenzied betting continues until, at the very last second, just as the ball is about to plop into the slot, the woman's voice rules, "No more bets." This machine is designed to keep you gambling, right down to your last chip, your last penny, your last second.

I should know, because the automated roulette woman's voice is my voice. After I graduated from Oxford I spent about a year working as a croupier in a London casino. One day they told me I was "gonna to be famous" and sent me to an industrial estate in Rotherhithe, where I spent a day saying "Place your bets" into a microphone.

Now, five years later, I find myself speaking up in the industry's defence. Not unreservedly, for I know the misery it can cause, having watched people in the throes of a gambling addiction. I have seen players in grubby tracksuits, pale and trembling, drop thousands of pounds in an hour. I have been shouted at in Cantonese by people who spend their days waiting tables, and their nights losing angrily at roulette. I have seen broken men bury their heads in their hands when the casino closes at five in the morning.

Gambling can be very ugly. But it is also a fascinating subculture, a secret nocturnal way of life. There are not many other jobs where lipstick is compulsory, and even fewer where the uniform is a polyester ballgown with a velveteen shrug. An average day's work for a croupier involves playing poker at high stakes with no personal loss, while keeping one eye out for money launderers and the other on that female player who looks suspiciously like a well-known card sharp disguised in drag.

Casinos are theatrical and bizarre, for they are pagan to the core, black magic places where we play ritualised games with chance. Yet the way they are managed is scrupulously fair and efficient. The incessant counting of the cards, the checking of the chips, the detailed records of every transaction: it verges on the obsessive. Packs of card were replaced daily until they were made more durable.

We all had to give our finger- prints every time we entered the casino. "But don't worry, love," said the security guard (and instantly I started to do just that). "It only responds to a warm, live finger. One that's attached, like. So no one's going to cut your finger off to stage a heist."

Casinos will always be a little seedy, though they do genuinely seem to be becoming more modernised, with better conditions for workers and better care for problem gamblers. These plus points tend to be overlooked by shadow ministers in search of political capital and moralising media commentators. Depravity makes better copy.

To graduate from croupier school is to have a job for life, or as long as you want it. I found a motley bunch of people when I turned up for my first day at the Bermondsey Casino Training Centre (a strip-lit office unit with three clocks ranged across a chipboard wall, testament to the gambling empire on which the sun never sets: they display London time, Vegas time, Luxor time.) There were jobbing builders, market traders, unsuccessful soul singers. A few of us had degrees, but didn't know what to do with them. We were all different sorts of drifters.

For six weeks we were trained intensively in the arcane arts of the chemin shuffle, the tiers du cylindre and the voisins du zero. We learned our 5, 12, 17 and 35 times tables, and were taught how to spot forged tender. We became dextrous with a deck of cards, adept at shifting chips. With every new skill the team's morale grew, and by the end of the six weeks' training period the group had acquired a sense of identity and achievement.

Being trained for a low-life industry felt surprisingly rewarding. It seemed a bonus, to me, that they paid us and not we them. We all went out to guaranteed jobs, with chances of promotion. We could travel the world on a cruise ship, or relocate to Vegas.

Today, this kind of induction is hard to come by. The Bermondsey school has been disbanded and dealers tend to come here, already trained, from Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic. One UK casino chain, which outsourced training to Sicily, claimed that young Brits no longer wanted to work the headscrewing hours (nine to five, the wrong way round - nine in the evening to five in the morning) and to bother learning their multiplication tables, but I find this hard to believe. The grubby glamour of the casino will always attract recruits; they just tend to be more expensive if they are trained in this country.

The new supercasino in Manchester will create an estimated 2,700 jobs; the current Burberry dispute is over 300 jobs. It is essential that the chain that wins the supercasino tender commits to a local training school, because, trite as it may sound, people who might have ended up in front of the table can then get behind it instead.

The difference between a croupier and a gambler is that one of them takes home an assured wage. A new rule states that every six months croupiers must sign a document to affirm that they will report to the management any clients whom they overhear complaining about being in debt or not being able to stop gambling. The management, for its part, is then obliged to follow up the matter by interviewing the punter. If he or she then resigns from the casino, citing debt or lack of control, the casino is never allowed to re-admit them. Their details are then circulated to other casinos, to ensure they don't head out of the Piccadilly and into the Palm Beach in one easy toddle. The super-rich, a single mogul, can keep afloat a whole casino, which can afford to eject petty, problem gamblers.

My reservation about the new supercasino is that it sounds worryingly impersonal. Without wishing to sentimentalise, there is a feeling of community in a small casino. If people start to behave erratically, the management notices at once. In a warren of more than 1,000 slot machines under a vast megadome, the individual will become lost.

The idea of a behemoth supercasino is a daunting prospect, even to someone like me who appreciates casino culture. The business thrives on its own myth - the idea that gambling is illicit, underground, and strictly regulated. If it is popularised, made accessible and transplanted to the mainstream, it will lose its peculiar, seedy charm. The gambling industry could well become even uglier than it is already.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Mark Steel: What a triumph! We have persuaded Starbucks to relocate its European HQ from Holland to the UK

Mark Steel
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year  

David Cameron needs to tread very carefully when ‘doing God’, especially when it looks like a way of countering Ukip

Mary Dejevsky
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal