Ximena Swartz had recently immigrated from Chile and was working as a nanny-housekeeper when a friend who worked as a casino manager for Gateway Casinos & Entertainment cajoled her into taking one of the company’s periodic blackjack courses. Thanks to her math skills, an alert frame of mind, and a commitment to customer service, Swartz has since worked her way up to the important position of shift manager at Cascades Casino Hotel & Convention Centre in Langley, BC.
Initially, Swartz was skeptical about this career path. “I said to my friend, ‘You’re kidding. I have never been in a casino. I don’t know what they look like except from the movies.’ But she convinced me to take the course, and then when it was time to test for a dealer position, I got chosen.” Like her friend, Swartz started off as a blackjack dealer and gradually learned how to run the casino’s other table games, such as baccarat, pai gow and roulette. Within a few years, she became table games supervisor. After seven years at the casino, she was hankering for new challenges, so when an opening arose for a pit manager in 2005, she pursued the position and got it.
“The pit manager is responsible for the entire gaming floor,” she says. The job entails a range of duties and responsibilities, which include overseeing a staff of approximately 40 dealers, along with a half-dozen supervisors, ensuring shift changes go smoothly and dealers get their breaks on time without disrupting the flow of the games for the customers. In addition to table games operations, Swartz also monitors the casino’s slot attendants and their supervisors, with the responsibility of approving and signing off on large jackpots. Swartz executes pit manager duties throughout the afternoon shift, which runs from 2:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m.
On the morning shift, from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Swartz performs an even larger role — casino shift manager. “As a shift manager, the whole casino reports to me, including food and beverage. If someone calls in sick, I have to call someone to fill in, because we want to give as much customer service as possible. I am in charge of any disputes on the gaming floor, so if security is attending to a dispute, I have to be there.”
Gateway holds courses for aspiring dealers several times a year, so there are numerous opportunities to start but, according to Swartz, you have to be prepared to start at the entry level. “Before I started in the casino industry, the only game I knew was Go Fish. But you get it going. I didn’t know I was good at math, I didn’t think I would be, but I remember saying, ‘I want to do this’.” Now, she has an office at the casino where she can concentrate on her scheduling duties, but she prefers to spend most of her time on the casino’s gaming floor, where she has developed almost a sixth sense for the rhythm and pace of the place. “You develop that after a while,” she says. “You want to know that everything is going well, and if there’s a problem you need to deal with it right away.”
When she started with Gateway almost 18 years ago, casinos were smaller and didn’t operate 24/7. Now, the pace can be relentless, and as a former dealer herself, Swartz empathizes with anyone in that role, which requires being on your feet all day, keeping the game moving, and always maintaining a pleasant demeanour. “When you’re a dealer, you have good days and bad days. Sometimes, if a dealer feels negative about the job, I tell them this happens to everyone every once in a while, so if you want to make this a career, don’t give up.” The surest way to get ahead, she believes, is through hard work and patience. “If someone asks me, ‘Do I have to work my way up for 20 years?’ my answer is, ‘Yes!’”