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Transcript of interview with Chris Bianchi by David G. Schwartz, April 14, 2015







Chris Bianchi comes from Peru, Illinois. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2002 with a bachelor's degree in hotel administration with a concentration in casino management and received his master's in hospitality administration from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2015. Chris did an internship at the Barbary Coast Hotel & Casino in 2002 as a dealer and was transferred to the South Point Casino and Spa as a pit manager in 2005.

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Chris Bianchi oral history interview, 2015 April 14. OH-02721. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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i An Interview with Chris Bianchi An Oral History Conducted by David G. Schwartz Table Games Management Oral History Project Center for Gaming Research Special Collections Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas ii ©Table Games Management Oral History Project University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2016 Produced by: UNLV Center for Gaming Research Editors: David G. Schwartz, Joseph A. Belmonte Transcriber: Joseph A. Belmonte Interviewer and Project Manager: David G. Schwartz iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the UNLV University Libraries Advisory Board. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the university for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. In 2015, the Center for Gaming Research undertook a series of interviews with casino table games managers in order to capture the complexity and history of this position. This interview is part of that series. It has received editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was involved in the editing process. David G. Schwartz Director, Center for Gaming Research University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas 1 And we’re rolling. This is Dave Schwartz. Today is April 14th, 2015, and I’m here with Chris Bianchi, Bianchi? Bianchi. Bianchi at the South Point Casino. We are going to talk about his career as a pit boss and his career in gaming. So, Chris, tell me a little bit about your background, where you’re from, where you went to school, and how you got into gaming. So, let’s start with your background. I come from a small town in Illinois called Peru. It’s about 10,000 people, and I went to LaSalle-Peru Township High School, graduated in 1998, and then enrolled into a junior college not too far away from my hometown called Illinois Valley Community College. At that time, I had already been looking at maybe possibly getting into Hotel Management with UNLV, so I set my schedule around getting all the basic requirements out of the way to get my Associate’s Degree. Going there gave me the opportunity to save money by living at home. And then in 2000, I moved out here and transferred to UNLV. I received my bachelor’s degree in ’02 in Hotel Administration with a concentration in Casino Management, and just received my Master’s Degree with UNLV in Hospitality Administration. So, what drew you to the hospitality industry in general and casinos in specific? First was my father being an economic developer back home and his group putting up lot of hotels and restaurants throughout the Midwest. I grew up seeing a lot of hospitality places being built, and how they would go about picking managers and stuff like that. The second thing that drew me out here were the stories my family would tell about their trips to Vegas. I’d hear about how fun it was, the great food, the night life, and it was all interesting me. It was right around the time UNLV won the NCAA Basketball Tournament. 2 Mm-hmm. I really got serious about UNLV by the time I was a junior in high school. That’s when I really started to research the hotel program out here. I was thrilled when I got accepted and then I finally get out here and I hated this town. Really? I was 19 years old on my own and only knew two people. Okay. And there’s nothing for a 19-year-old to do but get in trouble. Yeah. I went to the UNLV open house before the semester had started, and everything that they had told me that the program was going to be about, when I was in junior college, wasn’t what I was hearing once I got there. It seemed that the university was emphasizing more work experience programs along with class and I freaked out because that meant it was going to take longer to graduate with a job and classes. Mm-hmm. It wasn’t until about two weeks into the semester that the teachers let us know that this new concept was going to be something more for the future. That really eased my mind. I was doing well in school, I liked learning from people in class about their experiences in hospitality, and then I got more interested in the casino side. Okay. So that’s when I decided that I would narrow my concentration into casino management. So had you worked in hospitality back in Illinois at all? I had worked in food service. 3 Okay. It was a pool hall/cigar store that had a counter for coffee and donuts in the morning, and sandwiches in the afternoons. So, what was your first job in the casino industry? The Barbary Coast. Okay. So, when did that happen? I did my internship at the Barbary through UNLV. I had a cousin who was a Pit Manager there at the time. He introduced me to the general manager and casino manager and I told them that I would like to learn about the casino side of the property. So they brought me in, sent me to dealing school, and I started my “live training” as a dealer learning all the procedures. So for three months I was wearing my black-and-whites learning everything about the different games from other dealers that would shadow me on live games, floor supervisors, and pit managers. At the end of three months the casino manager offered me a full-time dealing job and I was to start after my spring break. Yeah. I had always planned on going back to the Chicago area and maybe working in one of my dad’s hotels at first, but then as I got more interested in the casinos, I could see myself staying here. By this time, I’m 21, months away from graduation, and I’m really starting to love Vegas! Yeah. (Laughs) Now all of a sudden it’s not as bad as I thought it was. So there I am on a busy Friday night, April 5th 2002, Barbary Coast, swing shift, seven o’clock at night, as green as a dealer can be. Okay. I was nervous, intimidated, and excited all at the same time. 4 So what were you dealing, Blackjack? Yeah, Blackjack at first, then I learned Roulette, Baccarat, Let it Ride, Three-Card Poker, and Pai Gow Poker. So tell me what it was like breaking in as a dealer there at the Barbary Coast? They were very strict on procedure. They wanted to make sure that everyone was very, very knowledgeable about dealing a game. So I was always stressed out. Being a young novice dealer, I knew they were going to come down hard on me. The Barbary Coast wasn’t a break-in place. Mm-hmm. Normally you would have to go Downtown to start dealing and every dealer at work was always kind of glaring at me because I just got right in and I’m a cousin of a pit manager. So, I took it upon myself to work twice as hard so people wouldn’t point the finger and think like I’m just a juice job getting in here. I wanted to show them that I earned it. And those managers expected a lot of you, so the fact that I worked hard at it and that they were willing to help me, really made the transition at the beginning easier for me. So what kind of problems would you see in a typical shift? You would see a lot of people saying they didn’t want to hit after they busted. (Laughs) I’ve had people but a hundred-dollar chip in the circle, the cards are coming out, and all of a sudden, after their first card is a five, “Wait, wait a minute, I was just check changing that black chip, I didn’t want to bet it.” Stuff like that. Yes. 5 And managers coming over and trying to get one story and figure out who’s right and who’s wrong really interested me because they tried their best to accommodate the customer; yet, there’s always gaming protection involved that they have to take into account. Yeah. So who were some people that you remember being particularly helpful to you in a mentorship way? At the Barbary Coast, I had a guy named Aaron Stearns, who’s now the assistant general manager at the Suncoast. He really took me under his wing. He was also going to UNLV at that time getting the same degree that I had just gotten a year before. So we had some common ground, and he was very knowledgeable, having a lot more industry experience than myself. Aaron was another one that went up through the ranks really fast. He really guided me as far as how to maintain professionalism and try to rise above the negativity that can be around the industry. And then when I got to the South Point, Greg Fisher and Dave Jensen were very instrumental in teaching me. Greg Fisher would always say, “Everyone has a Blackjack table, a Roulette table, a showroom, restaurants, and everything else that a hotel can accommodate guests needs by, but it’s the people in here that make them want to come back again and again.” I really took that into consideration in my job and it’s like the saying from Cheers, you wanna go where everybody knows your name. Dave Jensen was another one who helped form my management style. His biggest emphasis is always, “There are no problems, only solutions.” Okay. It’s a great way to go about the job because when you let a customer know that we’re going to work a situation out, after they vent a little, they seem to be more receptive to your ideas on how to solve the problem at hand. 6 So, after breaking into the Barbary Coast, what’d you do, where’d you go? So you’re dealing there? I was dealing there for about a year-and-a-half, and then they promoted me as a Floor Supervisor for about a year. In late 2005 my casino manager at the Barbary Coast informed me that I was going to be transferred to the South Coast as a pit manager. He was so excited to tell me, that he made me call my dad right away to tell him the good news. Huh. And I was 25 years old. Wow. I actually felt bad I was leaving because Barbary had become my home. So tell me a little bit about transitioning from dealing to floor person—was that dual rate or was that, did you just go up all at the same time? There was no dual rate. I did stand as a floor supervisor when I was a dealer but I still received my dealer wages. So, how many tables were you, are you looking after when you’re a Floor? Usually around four to six games in your section. It just depends on what pit you’re in. Tell me a little bit about what you’re doing as Floor. What’s your shift life on a daily basis? As a Floor Person? As a Floor, yeah. As a Floor Person, you pretty much walk in and you get your instruction from your pit boss as far as what pit and section you will be for that day. You’re going to get a rundown from the shift before you on who’s been playing recently—if they’re a big player, if someone’s being a problem, or vice versa, someone’s being a really nice guy, he’s tipping the dealers well, etcetera. 7 And then you’re responsible for those four games in the pit. Any problems that may come up, or if someone’s winning/losing a lot of money, you report to the pit manager. One piece of advice that one of my shift bosses always told me was, whatever position you are within the chain of command, you do everything in your power to solve the problem before you have to pass it on to the next manager ahead of you. And that’s something that really stuck with me because it really made me think, “Have I done everything I possibly can before this pit manager has to come in and do my job?” Or even as a pit manager, “Did I do everything I could before this shift manager gets involved?” And I think it’s a really good way of going about your business because it shows that boss in front of you that you are trying everything. And they gain respect for you, they trust you more. Okay. And what latitude do you have—so let’s say a player takes a shot—“I did this, and he hit me, and I meant stand”—what kind of, but can you say, well, “Cancel the bet?” What can you do? If it’s a first time offense, let’s say the person really did get confused, you can burn the card. Or you could offer it to the next person, you know, a ten came out, and the next person has an eleven—do you want that ten? “Well, of course, I do.” Okay, now the whole table’s happy, and you move on. Yeah. If it happens again, with that same person, now it’s, “Okay, fool me once, don’t fool me twice, now we’re calling surveillance.” And we’re going to see exactly what went on. And then if it continues to be a problem, if you’re a floor person, that’s when you report it to your pit manager, and then they’re going to make a decision on whether the player needs to call it a night. 8 So, what drew you to want to be a pit boss—I mean, some people deal for 30 years and love dealing—what, what drew you to want to be a pit boss? We came on a vacation back when I was in High School and we stayed at the Monte Carlo. I saw pit managers interacting with customers, and it just seemed like they were having a good time doing it all. (Laughs) (Laughs) I thought they were having a good time doing it all. (Laughs) You do have good days and bad days. And then I went to The Orleans a couple years later to go to an open house at UNLV to see if I really wanted to study out here. And I’m walking through, and I’m seeing the same thing. Everyone’s conversing and having a good time and gambling, and I thought, wow, this looks like a great gig to get into. I really thought I would be good at it. So what do you think the hardest part about being a pit boss is? What’s the, what’s the toughest thing to do on a daily basis? The toughest thing is probably trying to accommodate a customer the way they feel they should be accommodated. Okay. Any, any examples without naming names, just for kinda general purposes? Oh, you might have a customer who comes up to you and says, “I want two comps to the steakhouse.” Okay. And they’re just not gambling enough money to receive that sort of comp so you try to offer them something but you’re not always going to get a happy customer. They may feel that they are worth a more expensive comp than you are able to give them. It’s not easy to accommodate 9 the customers the way they want to be accommodated by. Another tough part of the job is keeping the workforce motivated in their job duties. Whether it’s dealers being frustrated with the game that they are on or a floor supervisor having a rough go at it with the customers, it’s difficult sometimes to find the right words of encouragement to motivate them past their obstacles. So, how do you motivate dealers? It’s a job where you’re not necessarily pleasant all the time, you’re dealing, people smoking and stuff like that—how do you keep them motivated? Just try to make light of a situation more than anything. I like to have fun in my pit while still maintaining professionalism. At the South Point the majority of our customers are locals. I pretty much know everyone who’s sitting on my tables. After I build a rapport with them where I can joke around a lot, the dealers can get involved in the conversation. I think that if you can calm down your dealer to have fun on the game, there’s less mistakes. They’re more relaxed, they’re more open to talk to the customer. It’s just trying to find common ground where they both can enjoy themselves. So, what are some of the rewarding aspects of the job? I think this covers the dealers, what about the players? One player of ours has two teenage daughters that are Herman’s Hermits fans. Huh, that’s odd. Peter Noone especially. Yes. And the customer was telling me how in love they are with him, and he performs here at the South Point. So I got ahold of our entertainment director and said that one of our players wants 10 to bring his daughters to the South Point to see Peter Noone sing, but they live in Chicago and are in school. The player had been sending me text messages of his one daughter’s art work of Herman’s Hermits. The entertainment director and I came up with the idea of printing the art work out and have him sign it. So we did just that and I sent the autographed pictures to him for his daughters. In fact, I have the video of them going absolutely nuts when they opened it. To see their faces get all excited and have the parents be all excited to see their kids get like that made me feel great. How far can you go for something like that, how far do you go? ‘Cause there’s gotta be a line where somebody wants something that’s just not realistic to get, like the steakhouse comps. Michael’s is our most expensive comp. Yeah. How far can you go? How do you handle that when you come up? If it’s a borderline judgement call, I would get a shift boss and have them decide. Big comps like that it’s always best to ask your supervisor. Okay. So what’s the interaction like? So, you have floor people reporting to you? Yes. And you’re reporting to the shift manager? Right. So how often during your usual shift are you going to be getting him or her involved with what you’re doing? It just all depends on what’s going on for the day. If it’s a really busy holiday weekend or special event in town, they’re with us nonstop because we’ve got all kinds of action and they really help 11 us out with the routine job duties. On a night like tonight, the shift manager might come in two or three times a night and just ask if there’s anything going on, and if I have nothing for them, they just go and do their other work that they have to do. What are some situations that maybe your training at UNLV didn’t prepare you for, so stuff that you might not be aware of, taking a course at UNLV, that you’re going to encounter on the floor? How eccentric some people can be. Talk about that a little bit, that’s interesting. It’s interesting to watch and listen to some of the customers. Whether it’s watching their betting strategies or them saying how they know how to beat the game and they have endless amounts of money to do it with. Ten minutes later after they lose it all, they look like someone just killed their dog. But that’s part of the job—dealing with their mood swings. One minute you’re their best friend and the next you’re the enemy. That’s something that UNLV, really doesn’t teach you whole lot about. That’s where pit experience helps out. Gotta learn it hands on. What do you do? I try to accommodate them with one of our many amenities. Maybe get them a room, a dinner, trip to the spa, etc. Normally when a player loses big money, they want some sort of comp. Okay. I’ve literally given customers hugs, because they’re so tired of losing all the time and they start crying. One customer cried after losing their rent money for the month. Do you remember any big runs that players had, where they were down, they were up, or anything like that from either your time dealing or management? Oh of course. 12 You always hear like the story with the guy, the homeless guy who came in with five dollars who ended up making a hundred thousand dollars and lost it all. At the Barbary Coast there was a guy that was down to his last $3 on a $5 minimum table. He asked if he could just bet his last $3. Not only did he win that hand, but he ended up running it into five thousand. (Laughs) He wasn’t even betting that big, but just from three dollars he caught the run of his life. And then you see other people that hit a big jackpot on a slot machine, and they’ve got a wad of cash in their hands. And just like that they blow it on a blackjack game in no time at all. So, I’ve seen both sides. One minute they’re telling you what they’re going to buy with the money, and then five minutes later, it’s gone. Or the flip side, someone’s down to their last three dollars, and turns it around in an hour to thousands. (Laugh) So what kind of player do, to be a better—I don’t want to say to be a better player, but just to be treated better by management to kinda—is there anything they should do, should they not try to take shots, not ask for comps, ask for comps, talk to you, not talk to you. Treat others the way you want to be treated. That’s all it really comes down to. The staff on my shift has a favorite player. We call him Mr. Saturday Night. (Laughs) He’s here every Saturday night and the reason why we all like him so much is because he enjoys coming in to gamble, he has a certain limit that he can afford to lose, and more than anything else, he’s a real personable guy. He shares his life with us and we do the same with him. He’s a breath of fresh air. So any dealers who had notable behavior, habits, eccentric things that you can remember? 13 Oh plenty but we have one particular dealer who always gets great reviews from our guests. He’s got all kinds of quirks but the customers love him. I think the best compliment a dealer can receive is when a customer tells me that they had so much fun losing their money with him that they didn’t even care. Hmm, so you start, so you started in 2002? Yeah, I just had my 13th anniversary April 5th. So 2002 to 200-, so you break in 2002; 2005, you’re a pit boss, that’s a pretty quick rise there. What do you attribute that to? I was in a position where a new place was going to open, so there were going to be a lot more jobs coming around the corner when I started. My cousin told me he could get me in to do the internship but after that, I was on my own so I worked really hard to show him I was serious about wanting a career in the industry. Yeah. And with the tutelage that I had from not only him, but all the other bosses I mentioned earlier, really helped me out a lot. I just kept my mouth shut and listened to what they had to say and tried to absorb it all along with what I learned in school. Great, so how do you think that casinos have changed since thirteen years ago? What, what have you seen the changes as? Vegas is more of a place you come to vacation than you go to gamble anymore. Back in the ‘60s everybody came out here just to gamble. And now it’s a place where people come to vacation and not gamble as much. The hotels look to make money off all their amenities now, not just the casino. It’s a lot more commercial than it ever has been. Interesting. So, when you’re not in the pit, do you gamble in your free time? 14 Yeah, I will play video poker every now and then, I bet in the sportsbook. I probably play Blackjack a couple times a year if that. Nothing crazy. So if you’re playing Blackjack, do you critique the dealer in your head, I mean, how do—is it hard to get out of that mindset of? I’ll notice right away if the dealer is good or not, but I don’t ever say a word to them. I don’t even like to talk while I play. Yeah. (Laughs) I don’t even like to show my ID unless they ask. If a boss or dealer sees I’m from Vegas then they’re always asking what I do for a living, where I work, etc. I just want to sit there and play and try to win a little money and tip the dealer if I catch a good run of cards. I don’t want to talk about my job. I’m a hermit really. I stay away from the strip as much as I can and just hang out with my friends at the house. So what is something that you think that people coming into UNLV, or young people who are just coming into the business should know about going into gaming—people who are where you were back in 2000—what would you tell them? You’re going to have to sacrifice a lot of holidays. Those doors are open twenty-four hours, seven days a week. So, me coming from a big family back home and always being able to spend time with them on the holidays, I don’t get that anymore. Your days off are not a typical weekend. You may have a Monday/Tuesday or Wednesday/Thursday. If holidays don’t fall on those days off, you’re working them. And I think that’s something future casino workers don’t realize, unless they grew up in Vegas. It’s not a normal job where you’re just off Saturday/Sunday, and you get holidays. Of course we get holiday pay, but we’re not off. And going back to what we said earlier, expect the unexpected with a customer. One of the best 15 experiences I had at UNLV was when one professor asked everybody in the class who had a job in hospitality. He made everyone who didn’t have a job sit in the back. And the purpose for this was when we started talking about concepts in class, he wanted those who were in the industry already to talk about their experiences so everyone who wasn’t could get a feel about what they’re about to get into and how these concepts in class pertain to the real world. It was a great teaching tool to the younger students. Yeah, could we cycle back—tell me a little bit about what it was like working swing at the Barbary Coast way back when you started. So, you’re coming in at seven. Coming in at seven, and the first couple weeks were really intimidating. I knew I was going to make mistakes and I would get really hard on myself for making them. I remember I paid a Blackjack wrong one night and I was so upset with myself I didn’t sleep the entire night. Wow. I would take a notebook and write down every mistake I made as a dealer, so I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. And then as I gained more experience, it became fun. Then I really started to relax because I knew I had the confidence to deal the way I was supposed to. So how about coming here and—so did you open the property here? Yes. Tell me about that. Which shift were you on? Dayshift. Okay. They opened December 22nd, 2005, and I had never opened a new property before, so it was a new experience. It was more locals instead of tourists. The amount of business that we were getting, the number of player cards you had to make, and all the business cards that you were 16 handing out, making sure people wanted to come back, was hectic. And then after a couple months, it started to feel like the Barbary Coast again where I was starting to know people a lot better and building relationships around me. It was difficult at first because I kind of had to find where I fit in. But as I said before, the more I got to know everyone around me, the more I was at ease and built some great friendships with my co-workers over the years. So, any other thoughts that you think people should know about being a pit boss or how you get there? Not really, I think we covered everything Great, well thanks so much. This has been outstanding. Thank you. Alright. 17 B Barbary Coast, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 16 Blackjack, 4, 6, 14, 16 C Casino Management, 1, 3 Casino Manager, 3, 6 Chicago, 3, 10 comp, 9, 11, 12 F Fisher, Greg, 5, 6 Floor Person, 7 Floor Supervisor, 6, 7, 9 G General Manager, 3, 5 H Hotel Administration, 1 I Illinois Valley Community College, 1 internship, 3, 14 J jackpot, 12 Jensen, Dave, 5, 6 L LaSalle-Peru Township High School, 1 M Monte Carlo, 8 N Noone, Peter, 10 P Peru, 1 procedure, 4 R Roulette, 4, 6 S South Coast, 6 South Point, 1, 5, 9, 10 Stearns, Aaron, 5 Suncoast, 5 T The Orleans, 8 U UNLV, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 11, 12, 15