Why do Las Vegas casinos hire so many Asian dealers?

A blackjack dealer in Las Vegas. Photo by Dolan Halbrook (Flickr/Creative Commons). Halbrook asked in the caption: "BTW, I think at least 50% of the dealers were Asian women. Does anyone know why?" Here's an answer.

In his study of casino labor in the United States and South Africa, sociologist Jeffrey Sallaz found that, in 2005, 34% of Nevada dealers were Asian, though Asians made up only 4.5% of the state population and less than 3% of Nevada visitors at that point (p. 207). Sallaz argues that the disproportionate hiring of Asian dealers can be explained partially by the casino industry’s response to demands from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups for proportionate African American representation in the workforce. Instead of hiring more African Americans, the casinos diversified the workforce by hiring Asian immigrants. They could then argue that they have made strides in incorporating minorities:

Adaptation to changing rules in this case entailed not hiring African-American dealers to achieve equity, as the decree specified, but employing Asian immigrants to display diversity. (p. 245)

Why Asian immigrants? Sallaz says that it is not because casinos can pay immigrants less; all dealers make near the federal minimum wage. He also says that it is not because of increased demand from Asian customers, which I find surprising considering the number of Asian people I’ve seen roaming around Las Vegas casinos and the growing recognition of Asian and Asian American buying power. Instead, he says that “Asian immigrants best fit some pre-existing stereotype on the part of managers as to what constitutes a ‘good dealer.'”:

When asked directly why they hire so many Asian dealers, managers repeatedly invoked these workers’ “extreme company loyalty,” how much “trust you can put in them,” and their “reliability.” The result is a system that can be seen as entirely analogous to the substitution of “local” black homeland workers for British dealers in South Africa during the late apartheid period. In both cases, casinos “diversified” their internal labor markets in response to an external political threat by hiring ethnic workers treated as “honorary whites.” (p. 208)

In other words, casino managers saw Asians as a model minority, implicitly defined in opposition to African Americans. In these hiring practices, dealers perceived an additional element of sexualized exotification:

[...] It is understood that Asian dealers are in demand. Prospective dealers of other ethnic groups often complain privately that casino managers have a “fetish for Oriental women.” (p. 34)

This is one of the few mentions of the specific preference for Asian women in the book. I would have liked to see a deeper investigation into this gendered dimension of racialized dealer hiring, but in the end this point is ancillary to his larger argument about labor and management practices in casinos in the two countries. You can’t put everything into one book.

Sallaz, Jeffrey J. 2009. The Labor of Luck: Casino Capitalism in the United States and South Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.

  1. Dan Foster

    I just don’t understand how a person of Asian decent can be considered a minority if over 1/2 the world’s population is Asian. Does the reverse apply? I mean to say if a white person goes to China are there laws in place for them to be fair and hire a certain amount of whites? Are we the only country that thinks it is so important to hire the right mix and make everyone happy? I frequent Las Vegas quite often and it seems that way more than 34% of the dealers are Asian. I would say at least 80% were Asians at all the strip hotels, but then the study was for all of Las Vegas so I imagine that the more rural and local casinos don’t have quite as many as the strip. Are the strip hotels Asian owned? I always thought that the casino was under the impression that asian dealers were unlucky for the players and would make them the most money because if you noticed many don’t talk, they just deal without a smile and take your money! Think about it if you have ever played cards, who do you do the worst with?

  2. Dan Foster

    Oh, and also they make the most mistakes out of all the dealers, so I don’t think they are being hired for their skills or gaming knowledge.

  3. John Morgan

    This is by far the most racist thing I have seen in my life. Even at somewhat off strip hotels like the Gold Coast there are now more than 90% asians working as dealers. There are a few scattered african americans and the only white people you will ever see are the ones running the craps game. How can this be justified? I can tell you first hand that most them don’t have the language skills necessary to work in America and they make more mistakes at the tables than anybody! I know that the casinos are trying to get the Chinese tourists to spend at their hotel but at what cost? If there is a hotel that is not doing this then that is the one I will stay at from now on.

  4. myla

    i hope and wish to be one of those dealers working in vegas….just for experience

  5. myla

    pls. everyone don’t be racist , we are all equal in the eye of our almighty, and we found our career in casino industry, im from Philippines and many of our bosses we’re from America and Britain and they’re all very nice…Godspeed

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