The Bookworm Gambler’s Digest: Dummy Up & Deal


Posted: June 8, 2015

Updated: June 7, 2023

Dummy Up and Deal gives us a glimpse of what it’s like working in a casino in a fascinating read.

In the Foreword, we get an extensive explanation as to why Lee Barnes decided to write this book. He possesses a colorful past; he’s a veteran, used to be a narcotics agent on the police force and has had a knack for writing since early in his life. An experience, though, which added greatly to his life, was dealing at a casino. It is due to this reason and the hardships he experienced, that he decided to give us the uncensored truth.

• A challenging job
• Dealing can never stop
• A casino can be like a battlefield

Barnes wants to tell the story behind the story. Not the version of the typical luxury casino glamour and flashy US poker rooms. His aim is to recount his memories of how frustrating and hard it could get. A quote from the Foreword by John L. Smith describes this atmosphere perfectly: “[…] Las Vegas is the toughest factory town in America. Behind its polished marble floors and larger-than-life themes is the greatest cash-generating machine the world has ever known. Casino dealers, in their deceptively clean black-and-white uniforms and manicured nails, work the assembly line around the clock.”

A dark, but honest portrayal

Reading Smith’s quote, it starts to dawn upon us that we haven’t really given thought to the other side. Our eyes are full of stardust, we love the glamour and the games. But we have never really pondered on how hard it might be to live as a casino dealer. Lucky for us, Barnes’ portrayal is written in such a tone that we’ll be compelled to keep reading and learn more. The story is told through more than one character, which means that you won’t get bored for even a second. Barnes’ account is objective and the reason why many people like him is because he doesn’t seek to apologize for the things he writes.

Let’s take an instance from the book. Barnes mentions the – sometimes crushing- amount of blame a dealer has to take each time. This is not like playing on a mobile casino where everyone can hide behind their screens. Dealers get real-time blame from real people. The dealers, however, have to keep up appearances. They can’t shrug and say, “Sorry mate, it’s the system.” They have to smile and keep on dealing. The casino owner can’t be blamed, the game’s structure can’t be blamed, the customer can’t be blamed (for his own decisions,) so only one person is left.

The role of a dealer transforms constantly

As Barnes puts it, “The dealer’s art is not the art of Houdini but rather the art of motion. The dealer becomes not the medium through which chance plays out in pure odds, but rather the conduit of luck.” And, seems like it’s true; people associate their dealers with extraordinary powers, as if they were the ones deciding who gets dealt which card. It’s funny, really, if we come to think of it: the whole concept of a casino is based on randomness and luck, which cannot be influenced. Barnes talks us through the difficulties dealers-to-be encounter when they start their training and reveals that the job is made up of so any intricate moves, that learning them is a long process.

I love the way Barnes describes each movement of a dealer with such immense grace, it is just like one would depict how a ballet dancer moves. He also draws a parallel between the casino scene, “the most intrusive environment in the world,” and a battlefield, which is extremely interesting if he regard that fact that he is a war vet. There are no places to hide (remember mobile casino gambling sites?) and no place to think in peace for a second. The book never ceases to emphasize the importance of its key phrase, “Dummy up and deal.” It becomes a catchphrase meaning something like, whatever might happen, however you might be feeling, it doesn’t matter. You have to deal.

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