|The Boxman...A lost breed|
Yes, I am talking about Las Vegas craps boxmen, who have more or less been gone for a decade now. Of course 10-years-gone doesn't yet qualify them as extinct, but in Vegas lore that is indeed becoming the case.
There has been a long debate in the casino industry about whether the demise of Las Vegas boxmen is a positive or negative for casinos' bottom line. The argument pits game protection people against casino finance executives and accountants, or should I say bean counters?
The game protection people of course argue that cutting out the boxmen hurts that very protection of games and makes craps more vulnerable to cheating scams, both from the outside and those from the inside that involve dishonest craps crews who take advantage of boxmen's perpetual absence.
The finance executives and accountants say that the 3-man craps crew of two dealers and a stickman can adequately observe and protect craps tables just as well as they did in the era of boxmen. Therefore, boxmen were expendable and cutting their salaries more than made up for losses to cheats taking advantage of one less set of eyes watching the craps games, albeit an extremely important set of eyes.
Okay, which side do I take? I bet you can guess.
True, the reduction of salaries is certainly black and white and does reduce payroll.
But on the other side, the game protection side, things are not quite as clear. From a cheating point of view, I, for one, can attest to the huge increase in vulnerability to cheating that craps games have without the boxmen sitting on duty. The first casino area I ever noticed not sitting boxmen was Reno and Lake Tahoe, Nevada. And I first saw the boxmenless tables there in the early 1980s.
And boy did our cheat teams make Reno and Lake Tahoe pay! We bombarded all the casinos in those two Nevada gambling-hot-spots with purple check pastposts, sometimes for as much as $5,000 per move, pastposting both the pass line and the odds simultaneously. We didn't even need a distraction because there was no one there to be distracted. The stickman was always busied following the dice and placing the prop bets and the two base dealers, normally refusing to hawk the opposite end of the table (which is proper adherence to game protection), could never see the cheat moves going down there.
It was as easy taking those speckled purple checks off the craps tables as it is taking red and white candy canes from a baby, thus my point on cheating boxmenless craps from the outside.
So what about craps-cheating the same tables from the inside, by wise and dishonest craps crews who appreciate the existence of boxmen--or should I say non-existence of boxmen?
Need I remind you all of the infamous Bellagio Casino hopper scam that took place between 2012 and 2014, just a little while after boxmen began disappearing from Vegas craps tables? For those of you unfamiliar with a craps hopping scam, it is basically nothing more than players calling out verbal bets (hopping bets) before or as they are putting their checks on the table. The craps crew is then supposed to place the chips on the called-out number as soon as possible, before the dice are rolled.
Well, in the case of the Bellagio scam, the dishonest craps crew of three, a stickman and two dealers, simply placed the hopping chips on the number that was rolled, not the number that was called out or hoppped. This ridiculous amateurish scam went on in the Bellagio, a major Las Vegas Strip casino, for more than a year to the tune of $1.5 million without anyone not involved in it noticing.
Not even surveillance had a clue!
So who finally noticed it? I'm told it was another dealer not involved who wanted to be just that...involved. He supposedly approached the crooked threesome and demanded to be cut in on the scam, and those three cheating dealers were obviously as rudimentary as their scam was--they refused--and kept on cheating with the knowledge that another dealer who wanted in and was denied was on to everything!
So no surprise that the jilted dealer dropped the dime on the three dealer-cheats who eventually were all convicted of felonies and sent to state prison.
I firmly believe that had boxmen been present at the Bellagio during that time, the scam would never have come off, or at least it would have been much less costly if it did come off and a boxman was in on it. That because the crew would have had less opportunities to cheat in light of the fact they had to occupy all four crew positions around the craps table.
And what about the sliding-dice scams, today's modern craps table scourge? Sliding dice were mainly the responsibility of boxmen who more than not never let the dice out of their sight. So without them there, skilled dice-sliding teams who are capable of simulating a legitimate tumble with an illegitimate spin can easier get off their sliding scams.
And there's still another negative element the casinos' financial guys never take into account when arguing to get rid of boxmen...mistakes.
Mistakes! Dealers at craps make them more than dealers on the other table games. No doubt. Why? Because craps is by far the most complicated game to deal, so even craps dealers with tons of experience make errors on the payoffs.
And who do you think is there--or was there--to spot the errors and inform the dealers so they could be corrected?
You're right!...the boxmen.
But you know what? There's one element about the boxmen's disappearance that for me has even more significance than the game protection loss. That is simply the loss of ambience. For me, Las Vegas boxmen were a symbol of the action throughout the whole casino, the entire town. Perhaps as well a symbol of the showy machismo that Las Vegas craps games brought to the otherwise dry desert. Just the image of boxmen settling disputes, calming irate gamblers down, smiling at the attractive women, or the fancy way they rotated a die in their hands before examining it after it flew off the table, making sure it was the same die that had flown off the table and not a loaded one that may have been switched into the game by a cheat. The whole process of an experienced boxman examining a die was nothing short of a Las Vegas ritual. And I miss that.
So now that we are getting more and more into the boxmenless craps era in Las Vegas, you know how I feel about it.
How 'bout you? Do you side with the game protection guys or with the bean counters?
And one final thought: Just think that casinos in Las Vegas used to sit two boxmen, one for each side of the table, on jammed-up high action games!
What does that tell you about boxmen's true importance to game protection?