Listen to this Gambling History blog post here
Card dealing was a male-dominated profession in Nevada’s casinos until 1937, when Harolds Club, in Reno, put the first woman at a 21 table to deal.
Co-owner Harold Smith previously had been hiring women, mostly family members, for other jobs on the gambling club floor — chip stacking and roulette wheel spinning, for instance — but never dealing.
Smith’s concern had been that women would be too-easy targets for cheaters and, consequently, the casino would get fleeced. (A total of up to 10,000 silver dollars sat on the various tables during a typical night.)
Smith, though, soon realized women could hold their own, and both genders enjoyed gambling with a “pretty, smiling dealer” (Lima News, Aug. 4, 1943).
With World War II and the resulting shortage of men to employ, women filled the gap at Harolds Club. By that time, 90 percent of the employees there were female. Smith launched a school to train women to become professional dealers. They learned how to deal cards, spin wheels, rake in chips, compute payoffs and watch for cheaters’ tricks, among other skills.
Smith advertised in local newspapers’ Help Wanted sections for recruits in ads indicating, “Men Please Do Not Apply” (Nevada State Journal, Aug. 4, 1943). The pay was $25 per week while attending his school, then up to $60 per week when hired. Students ran the gamut, and included housewives, divorcées (women living in Nevada the requisite six weeks to get an expedited divorce), telephone operators, school teachers, sales clerks, stenographers and newspaper reporters.
By 1943, casinos throughout Northern Nevada were hiring graduates of Smith’s school.
Slow To Change
It was the opposite in Las Vegas. Although women worked as dealers in nearby towns such as Henderson and North Las Vegas, none did on the Strip or in downtown Sin City until 1970, nearly three decades later.
That year, the Silver Slipper, a Howard Hughes-owned casino, hired the first — 47-year-old Jean Brady, who had years of experience from dealing at other Silver State gambling houses.