When I worked as a croupier in Mayfair casinos, I'd sometimes pretend I stacked shelves in Tesco, rather than tell people what I did for a living. Once they knew I dealt roulette, blackjack, and other casino games to multi-billionaires, the inevitable questioning would commence, beginning with, "what's the most money you've seen someone win or lose?". It would roll on to, "you must work funny shifts?" and then they'd declare that I must meet a lot of "interesting people." I'm not sure why anyone assumes gamblers are interesting (I'd suggest the opposite), but some of them are certainly lively.
To satisfy the curiosity of everyone whose questions I dodged at parties, I've roped in some fellow croupiers to give you a glimpse into what it's like working as a croupier in London's most exclusive members' clubs.
What's the most you've seen someone win?
Seb spent 20 years as a manager in Mayfair casinos. He says, "the most I’ve seen anyone win was £5.3m, in about five hours on Roulette. He was a Russian guy playing £1,000 chips and he was betting about £100,000 every spin." It might seem fair to assume the player would be pleased, but, "he was exactly the same as when he walked in — acting like a mobster, thinking he's James Bond." Seb remembers another, very clever, player who'd walk out if he won on his first spin. "He never won more than £300,000 or £400,000, but he went on a run of 33 wins on the trot and took us for millions."
With two decades of Mayfair experience under her belt, the most Faye has seen anyone win is £1.4m in one spin on roulette. "He'd been playing £1,000 and £5,000 chips," says Faye, "and that spin he’d laid down £80,000.
"The player was ecstatic and tipped the dealer £50,000. He usually tipped 10% of his winnings, but he wasn't going to tip £100,000!"
Was the player pleased with his win? "No," says Tom, "he's the most miserable, emotionless man, I've ever seen."
Eloise spent a decade in Mayfair. What's the most she's seen won? "£1.1m. I remember handing out the plaque and thinking, 'my God, this piece of plastic is £1,000,000 — that's my mortgage and tenfold!' You have to think of it as a piece of plastic, because otherwise, you want to stab yourself — it's soul destroying.
"When I hit a winning number, I often used to think 'can't they just pretend I hit an empty number and give me the winnings? It would sort my life out, and to them it's just a losing number."
With four years in Mayfair casinos under his belt, Tom says the most he saw a player win was "around two million — it was a punter who was playing £100,000 a hand on Punto Banco, and he won it in an afternoon." Was the player pleased with his win? "No," says Tom, "he's the most miserable, emotionless man, I've ever seen." Like Eloise, Tom tries not to think about the casino chips having a real-life cash value. He says, "That's how you get over your nerves when you're dealing with big money."
Steven, who's spent 15 years in Mayfair clubs, says he once saw a player win £5m after playing £300,000 a spin on roulette. How did they react to the win? "Nonchalantly — like it was the most natural thing in the world." Did they thank him? "No."
What's the most you've seen someone lose?
"I saw an Australian punter lose £10.1m in three hours on blackjack," says Seb. "He was playing seven boxes, with £25,000 on each box." How did he react to losing? "Not very well! He's probably the most aggressive punter anyone in the industry ever came across. He was a beast of a man. He had fingers like Vienna sausages and he'd bang the table and call everyone a fucker or a cunt. He turned a table over on a pregnant girl — he made her vanish, paid her off."
Eloise remembers a Russian player losing a quarter of a million on blackjack in less than five minutes: "He swept the whole table at me. The cards and chips were everywhere. It was the first time I'd dealt to him and I was thinking 'who the fuck is this guy?' He winked at the inspector, then went off to the cash desk to get another £200,000."
Someone else took the ball out of the wheel and chucked it down the casino, and another punter grabbed a manager round the collar and held him up against the wall, threatening to hit him.
The most Tom's seen someone lose was £5m: "He was totally indifferent to losing — he just laughed, climbed back into his glass-roof Rolls Royce, and drove off!"
Steven's seen several players lose three to five million in a few hours. "One guy said, 'thanks,' got up and left the table. Other punters get really pissed off. One guy lifted a heavy chair to knee height, and launched it 20-30 feet, skidding along the floor. Someone else took the ball out of the wheel and chucked it down the casino, and another punter grabbed a manager round the collar and held him up against the wall, threatening to hit him."
What's it like dealing with people who've lost millions of pounds?
Faye says, "the worst reaction I've seen was when an English player threw a crystal ashtray in the roulette wheel while it was spinning — it shattered in a spiral against the wall. He'd lost £100,000 and he'd actually stopped playing by that point — he'd just been sitting there saying, "spin," without putting bets down. I hit his favourite numbers three times in a row — and the last time, he threw the ashtray, and walked out." Faye says the worst thing a player said to her was when "a Middle Eastern customer told me I should go back to my father's house and let him beat some humility into me."
Seb recalls, "there was a Turkish punter who used to say, "you’ve got dirty tits." He was losing £800,000 and he said to the dealer, 'I’m going to fuck your mum!' She said, 'She hasn't had any for a while, she'd probably like you to go round.' He lost his shit. He kicked all the chairs over, threw all the chips — the dealer was coked up, so she was laughing, and I had to empty the room of the staff."
Seb adds, "I've been spat at. I've been threatened to be killed. I was having dinner with another manager in the casino restaurant when a disgruntled customer walked past and spat in my food. He said something in Arabic about my mother. She'd slept with a horse or a donkey — that was the translation given to me by one of the waiters. I've seen a punter pick up a chair and throw it over the table at the dealer. They’ve kicked marble statues and antiques."
I've had men threaten to wait outside and follow me to my car
"I've had men threaten to wait outside and follow me to my car," says Eloise, "I was laughed at when I reported it. Management said, 'what d'you want us to do? We don't have enough security to escort the staff to their cars one-by-one.' At one club, the girls fought for them to provide rape alarms, and the company wouldn't provide them for free. Then they decided they'd get some, but if we wanted one, we had to make a donation to charity."
Tom says, "they swear at you in their own language — it translates strangely, so they're calling you 'scum in the gutter,' or 'son of a motherless goat.' They call the female dealers 'sharmuta' which means 'whore' in Arabic.
"There was a senior barrister — an English guy — who was the most childish loser I've ever seen. He'd weep and stamp his feet, saying, 'it’s not fair!'. He had a date with him once — she looked at him as if to say, 'Who am I with?'"
Are there any perks of the job?
Says Faye, "one player gave me a Van Cleef & Arples necklace, because she heard me saying I'd been broken into and they'd stolen all my jewellery. She took her necklace off, gave it to me, and said, 'please make this the start of your new collection.' I took it to a manager and told him a player had given it to me. He went, 'it looks cheap enough, you can keep it.' It's worth nearly three grand."
Steven was given a watch after paying out a player £30,000 on three card poker: "the punter told me he was bringing me in a watch and I got excited — I thought it would be a Rolex. Then I saw it, and it was a piece of shit. It had to go through a manager — it was at their discretion if I could have it. If it had been expensive, they might have said no, but when they saw the piece of shit he gave me, they didn’t care!"
The punter told me he was bringing me in a watch and I got excited — I thought it would be a Rolex. Then I saw it, and it was a piece of shit.
Eloise remembers, "I had a customer who wanted to buy me a box of chocolates. I told him to run it by a manager, and the manager said it wasn't allowed. It was crap, because other dealers had been given designer jeans! Since tipping came in [in 2007] the biggest tip I've got was £5,000 from a player who was winning £200,000. But that's shared between hundreds of people so I probably got a fiver out of it!"
Tom was rewarded if the house won: "If we had a big win, they'd send a crate of champagne to the break room, with a load of Belgian chocolates. They'd let us have a mini-party! We had to have taken millions — or at least hundreds of thousands. It happened five or six times in the four years I was there."
What's it like working shifts?
Eloise says, "I used to sleep all day then drink sugary tea throughout the night shift. Some girls had a kip upstairs on their break but as much as I was tempted to roll out a sleeping bag under the roulette table, I couldn't sleep in the casino. The shifts affect your social life. You're at work on Fridays and Saturdays when your friends are out socialising and meeting people — that's why I'm still dangling on a thread at the age of 40."
Says Tom, "I'd take energy tablets and all sorts to get through a night shift. There was a time when I was high every night on coke."
Steven drinks six or seven coffees a night. He says, "the worst bit of the week is changeover when you go from a night shift, to a day shift. In summer, working weekends means you miss weddings; and sometimes you miss Christmas with your family because you have to choose between time off over Christmas or New Year. You lose touch with most of your non-casino friends."
There was a time when I was high every night on coke
Faye drinks four or five black coffees a night, "I’ve cut it down to the bare minimum I can cope with." She's no longer drinking Red Bull, instead: "I made them get us an espresso machine for the staff room. No one wanted to drink the shitty Nescafe, so you'd bring in a jar of Lavazza, and someone would nick it. Now we just bring our own capsules in."
Seb says, "your body gets used to it, but you never know how badly it affects you until you come out of the business, and realise you do actually need to sleep at night. I sleep properly now, so I don't waste my day in bed, waking up when it's dark."
Do you ever see players cheating?
Eloise says, "players in Mayfair don’t need to cheat — it's more a case of big players chancing their luck, to see how much pull they've got with management. It's like, 'let's test them and see if they'll pay this!'" She says a classic in Mayfair is to simply lie about the bet they've called. So on roulette, a player might throw money during the spin, and say they want it on number 23, but if the ball drops in number 20, they'll claim they called 20 and 3.
Another classic is for players to simply claim they would have bet on the winning number. Eloise says on one occasion, a big player sat at the table repeatedly asking her to spin, without placing any bets. He hadn't played in some time when his favourite number came in, then, "low and behold, he was going to bet that time!" She says management, "gave him benefit of the doubt that he would've called the bet that time," and based on his average bets earlier in the day, told Eloise to pay him £105,000. "I remember being really angry. What's the point in me standing here? You might as well choose numbers and tell me how much you want me to pay you. I assume they make those decisions because they don't want to upset the players, whereas if they pay them, there’s a chance they'll sit there and lose it all back."
A player might throw money during the spin, and say they want it on number 23, but if the ball drops in number 20, they'll claim they called 20 and 3
Tom and Steven cite similar examples, with Steven explaining, "they'll say something like, "oh, I was thinking of number eight, but I forgot to play it." They know they'll be given it because the casino doesn't want to lose their custom — so it's more about strokes, and taking advantage of their position."
Tom has a rarer example: "I’ve seen a Russian screw up a card and throw it out of the window, on Punto Banco. There was a huge player betting against him, so there was about £200,000 in bets on the table and without the card, we didn't know who’d won or lost. The card had been drawn face down and given to the Russian, so he was the only one who'd seen it. We all froze and stared at each other — no one knew what to do. I ran downstairs, out the front door, and luckily I found it in the gutter outside. The manager put it in front of the player and asked him if that was his card. We were praying he'd say yes, because if he said no, it would've been problematic! Luckily he agreed it was — even though it meant the other player won."
You must meet interesting people?
Tom says, "there was one punter whose wife bought him some lottery tickets and he won a few hundred grand. He kept it in his pocket and waved it in everybody's face, going, "can you believe I won the lottery and I don't even need it?" He dined out on it for weeks, winding everybody up. He was a proper prick."
Steven remembers, "I saw a guy stand there and piss himself at the roulette table, because his numbers were coming in, and he didn't want to leave the table to go to the toilet. Everyone saw his trousers getting wetter and wetter. He was only in for a few grand. He stayed for another couple of spins then sloped off."
An Australian punter had us bring in Big Mac and fries for him because he wouldn't eat from the restaurant. Made us bring him fucking McDonalds. So they went and got it, put it on a plate, and he went, "no, in a fucking box"
Faye describes one player insisting all the chips are hand sorted before he'll play. She explains, "the chips have their cash value on one side and the company logo on the other. He makes us sort thousands of them, so they all face upwards the same way. He's very controlling. I think he tries to find the thing in life he can't control — and that's the ball on roulette."
Tom says, "I've seen a player run out of money and send a manager downstairs to get his suitcase — it was the kind you'd take on a flight as hand luggage. When he opened it up, it was full of money. There must have been a million in there, and it had just been left by the front door of the casino."
Seb says, "an Australian punter had us bring in Big Mac and fries for him because he wouldn't eat from the restaurant. Made us bring him fucking McDonalds. So they went and got it, put it on a plate, and he went, "no, in a fucking box." They had to go and get another one so he could eat it out of a box."
All names in this article have been changed. Images of specific casinos do not relate to the casinos in the stories.
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