An introduction to a prop’s world

Prop Tales

By Bill Patty

I currently work at The 500 Club Casino in Clovis, California. My days are mostly filled playing $4/8 limit with a kill, $4/8 Omaha with a half-kill, and $1/3 no-limit.

When people ask me how to become a poker prop, my first response is usually: “If you are dumb enough to sign up for the job, then you can have it!”

I estimate that in the seven years I have been a prop, there have been at least 50 people come and go from propping in the cardrooms I have worked in. Some of them did not know enough about the game of poker, some were not patient enough, and some were just simply gamblers.

I watched one of our recent hires call a raise with 8-4 off-suit in his first hand, playing $4/8 limit. Sometimes it only takes one hand to know whether a prop will make it. It is not an easy job.

As you probably know, props are people who get paid an hourly wage to use their own money to play poker when there are not enough customers in a game. We are like an insurance policy for the casino, making sure games will start and continue so the casino is successful.

When anyone asks me a question about how to play particular hands in one of these games, the first words out of my mouth are usually: “it depends.” There are so many factors that go into playing each hand. I love my job for the same reason. Nothing is ever the same.

It is my hope that in this and future articles I can share thoughts and observations about the games and people I encounter on a daily basis, both at the casino where I work, and at the many other casinos that I enjoy visiting.

Why do people play poker?

People go to cardrooms to play poker every day. Although some are similar, no two are the same. So why do they choose to spend their time playing poker?

Entertainment: At its core, playing poker is fun! Fun for some people is playing smart, playing the proper hands in the proper positions to give them the best chance of winning.

Others see fun as playing every hand to see if they can get lucky. As one of my poker-playing friends says on a regular basis, “There’s nothing funner than runner, runner!”

Social interaction: We all know there are players we like to play with more than others. On any given day, I can find myself at the table with a business owner, a retail clerk, a retired barber, a person with a nice pension, a person on welfare, a teacher, a student, a mechanic, a nurse, a salesperson, a lawyer, and others that I really don’t want to know where their money comes from.

All of these people bring with them a different knowledge of the game and their own personality. We talk, we tease, we discuss, we joke, we are competitors, and we are sometimes friends (between hands).

Sometimes you meet someone who becomes a mentor and father figure, like my dear friend Bill Grey. Bill spent almost 40 years working in casinos all over Nevada and California. I was fortunate to meet him at a cardroom in Fresno. People need interaction with other people. What better place to get it than at the poker room!

To win money: I like winning! It pays my bills and allows me to work at a job I enjoy. Most people enjoy winning. Everyone who enters a cardroom has a chance to win.

Some have a much greater chance than others.

With a modest amount of observation, it is easy to tell if someone has really come to win. How many hands are they playing? What cards are they playing in what position? Do they limp from late position with nobody else in the pot? Do they show aggression at the right time? Are they paying attention to the game or to their phone?

If you know what I am talking about, you are ready to win money. If you are not sure, enjoy the people around you and have fun. Everybody wins sometime.

For every person that enters a cardroom, there is a reason why they showed up. We need them. Don’t be the reason they don’t come back.

What do players appreciate?

Owners, managers, hosts, props, house­keepers, dealers, chip runners, food servers, floor people: Pay attention! When a player arrives at your establishment, they want a safe and relatively clean place to park; they want an inviting entrance and someone to greet them when they walk in.

Too often these days, people walk into cardrooms and have to figure out for themselves where to sign up for a game, which games are going, what the promotions are, etc. These have a bearing on their decision whether or not to come back.

If you have not noticed, poker rooms are not as full as they used to be. We need to be really good at customer service! Every poker room can do a better job. I want poker rooms to thrive, not just survive.

Do I have choices? Poker players love choices! Sometimes they want to play a limit game, sometimes no-limit, or, like me, their game of choice is Omaha.

When it comes time to eat … yes when, not if … a poker player wants good food at a good price from a server who smiles and acts like they want to be there. A poker player wants to be able to get steamed rice with their breakfast, instead of hash browns, tortillas instead of toast, fries or salad with their hamburger,  a half-order of Kung Pao chicken instead of a plate the size of Texas.

Think about it: As a player, will you go to a place that gives you more choices? As a casino, will you provide those choices? Some cardrooms will struggle for business. It will be the little things that make a big difference in whether customers choose your establishment or the one down the road.

Are the dealers and other staff professional? To me, dealers are the heart of the game. A good dealer needs to be knowledgeable, efficient, friendly, clean, patient, and able to make people feel comfortable at the table. Wow! Sounds like customer service again!

Win or lose, at the end of the day, poker players should never see the dealer as an obstacle to having a good time. Yes, the cards may not fall our way. Yes, the person next to us may not smell very good. We accept these things as poker players. What we do not accept is being distracted by staff that do not have the skills, knowledge, or personality it takes to work in the poker industry.

Poker players are often a fickle and needy bunch. Like society as a whole, they deal with lots of stressors outside the casino. They appreciate it and return again and again when they enter a relaxing poker environment and do as little thinking as possible about things other than the game they are in. They love poker and they love good customer service!

People and places

I have already mentioned my good friend Bill Grey as a person who has made my poker world a better place. As I play at my home casino and travel to other cardrooms, I want to spotlight some of the people who go the extra mile to make my poker playing experience a good one, and the places where I prefer to play.

First, I want to thank the many props I work with and have worked with in the past, especially Randy, who is the one person I talk strategy with and who talks me off the ledge when the frustrations of the job sometimes take over. Also, Say, Bee, and Alex, whom I share propping duties with on a regular basis and who know the highs and lows of the job.

Finally, Sonny McElroy, who has been my friend and fellow prop, and who understands what having character really means. Thank you all!

Where is your favorite place to play? When I go on a weekend trip, I love to play at Golden West Casino in Bakersfield. The 500 Club Casino in Clovis is great, but everybody knows me there. Golden West is a place where I feel comfortable and the staff is awesome. These include Isabel, a friendly and knowledgeable floor person, and Ava, whose dealing is a model of professionalism.

The chicken fajitas are delicious and the games are good. It is so cool to play poker in a place where, after I get called in three places on the river and turn over the nuts, people are still surprised!

Until next time, enjoy the game and be sure to call me when I bet the river!