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VIDEO VAULT: The men & women who keep Las Vegas table games running

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One of the many subcultures that makes Las Vegas unlike any other city in the world is the large work force, deployed three shifts per day, running table games that help keep the local economy humming.

A new book, "Tales From the Pit," looks at the men and women behind the green felt.

"Dealing was such an attractive profession that people came here just to be a dealer," says UNLV Gaming Research Director David Schwartz. "I thought it would be nice to collect some histories from people who were in the middle, who were actually out on the floor supervising what was going on."

Schwartz conducted lengthy interviews with 15 dealers and managers whose combined experience runs from the late 1950s to contemporary times. He says there used to be a standard progression for those hoping to make a career in the casino pit.

"Well, a lot of the dealers started at break-in joints -- places like the El Cortez back in the day, the Las Vegas Club," says Schwartz, referring to a pair of Fremont Street locations that tended to attract low wager players. "A lot of people who went on to a lot of success credit the people at the El Cortez [and] the Las Vegas Club with helping make them what they are."

The goal would be to eventually get a position at one of the more upscale properties on the Strip, where the tips—or "tokes", in dealer parlance—would be better.

Along the way, that might include running into interesting characters who put their individual stamps on the casinos they ran. Perhaps none more so than Midwestern mob associate Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, who was in charge of gambling operations at the Stardust in the mid-70s.

"Even though he fired a lot of dealers, the dealers who remained really liked him," says Schwartz. "Because their toke rates went up because he brought in a lot of big players."

Those who were best at running dice and card games might end up at Caesars Palace, which catered to high-rollers who would often be generous with their tokes.

"The dealers we're so strong there, they called it 'Dealers Palace,' because the dealers kind of ran a lot of that place."

Schwartz learned that dealers were not always incentivized to move into management positions.

"In the old days, they used to have a lot more freedom, a lot more autonomy. On a lot of tables they would keep their own tips."

There were other reasons for wanting to take a step up the corporate ladder, though.

"Some day, eventually your knees are going to give out, and you don't want to be standing behind a table for eight hours a day when they do," says Schwartz. "A lot of people liked the stability, and it just brings some more prestige. And you have a chance to go in to upper management, in which case you can make a lot more money."

The paradigm shifted beginning in the late 1980s, when Uncle Sam wanted a piece of the action.

"IRS agents are no more welcome than card counters at 21 tables," News 3 anchor Rikki Cheese told viewers in 1988. "Yet the Internal Revenue Service has once again walked away from Caesars Palace with the dealers' tokes. For the third time in five days, agents used their court order to seize dealers' toke boxes at Caesars."

"It was a huge deal because a lot of the income hadn't been reported, and suddenly they were liable for it," says Schwartz. "And the IRS, it seems, really went after a lot of these dealers."

Sixteen Caesars Palace dealers were targeted in particular, and the agency said they collectively owed about a half-million dollars in back taxes.

"Unless the IRS and dealer toke committee come together fast, the IRS will from here on out seize all dealer tokes at Caesars Palace, leaving only IRS agents to distribute the cash," reported News 3's Scott Andrus. "If that happens, you can bet the Internal Revenue Service will make careful note of each dime that each dealer takes home."

Everyone in the industry watched closely.

"Personally, I feel like my [tip] envelope isn't being threatened at this very moment," one dealer told News 3 on the steps of the Foley Federal Building. "But if I continue to allow them to violate the constitutional rights of other dealers, eventually they're going to come after my envelope too. And they're going to deprive me of what--at very best--is a middle class existence."

The IRS prevailed in the battle to have tip income monitored and declared. The profession lost a little bit of its glamour.

"People used to have to really work their way up to the Strip," observes Schwartz. "These days some people can start on the Strip."

"Tales From the Pit" goes much, much deeper into the toke controversy, discusses the process of coming up through the ranks, watching for cheaters and a lot more.

While you might not recognize the names of those whose stories are featured, they paint a complex picture of this important piece of Southern Nevada's past, present and future.

"You have the history that's in the history books. Then you have the history that people tell in stories. And this was an attempt to get some of those stories," explains Schwartz. "I think I'd like people to be aware that their stories are important. And UNLV is always doing all kinds of oral history initiatives."

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