Little Ashley was four or five when she won a hula-hoop contest at the old Wet ’n Wild water park, during an Excalibur employees’ day. On the stage, an emcee with a mic asked what her mother or father does at the property.
“She sits on her box, or something,” said Ashley, triggering a shower of laughter.
Her mother, the current Georgeanne Fairbanks, might have howled the loudest at her daughter’s deadpan. Known to all as Georgie, the first woman to “sit box” over a Strip craps table is quick with smiles, self-deprecation and stories.
Here’s a sample: At Caesars Palace, the vial popped open as it plopped onto the table, dusting the green felt. A patron had mishandled a little container of cocaine. A brief hush was followed by, “Keep that away from her; look at the schnoz on her!”
The crew, crowd and Georgie all roared.
“Cuz I have a big nose,” said Fairbanks. “Yeah, I just laughed. It’s true!”
The man gathered his property, stuck it in a pocket and the game resumed. A sample of Vegas in the 1970s.
At the typical craps oval, there are four dealers. One handles the stick, the stickman, beside the boxman. Opposite them, two maneuver chips. One of those dealer spots is relief, so at all times three are working and one is on break.
The boxman lords over the entire operation, watching dealers and the house’s bankroll, turning cash into chips for players. All stand — no doubt crushing Ashley’s girlhood vision of her mother barking orders atop an imperial throne.
Fairbanks, now 70, recalls those days.
“I was so excited,” she said. “I was the only girl in the whole dice pit. I loved it. Number one, I was a tomboy; two, a flirt. Heaven. And I had to win over everyone who hated me, because half of them hated me.”
Actually, more than 90 percent of the city’s craps professionals were her foes. They’d cruise through the MGM “to give me the evil eye,” she said.
“Most guys were against this,” said her husband Terry, 70, who spent nearly 50 years dealing in Vegas casinos. “I told some, ‘You think only guys can do this?’ Some of them were ridiculous, not very politically correct.”
In 1974, Fairbanks had a UNLV math degree and had been teaching English at Rancho High School, her alma mater. But she was dreadfully bored. She took a summer gig on the Mardi Gras, the Carnival cruise ship that covered the Caribbean.
The ship’s casino featured all-female dealers, who were tutored mercilessly about craps, how to stand and how to deal, becoming ambidextrous.
“Had to,” she said, “because if you had clumsy hands, you couldn’t get around the game like you’re supposed to.”
Among that quintet was Diane Grinces. She and Fairbanks had so much fun they stayed aboard for 12 months. Georgie returned to Las Vegas to deal blackjack at the Golden Nugget downtown. But it bored her silly. Casino manager Murray Ehrenberg declined her inquiry about craps, but she kept bugging him.
In early 1976, with the Equal Rights Amendment gaining steam, MGM casino manager Morry Jaeger sought females who knew craps, who could sit box. Ehrenberg told him, “I have one that thinks she does!” In her interview, Fairbanks won over Jaeger, who had sent his secretary, Roz, to the Nugget on a scouting mission.
“To see what I looked like,” she said. “I didn’t even know that till later.”
Later that year, 26-year-old Fairbanks became the first Las Vegas boxwoman. Her father, George Roberts, took every pal who visited Vegas straight to her workplace.
“He’d go, ‘Let me show you what my daughter’s doing,’” she said. “He dragged all of his friends there.”
Grinces left Florida for Las Vegas on a whim and would deal craps at the Las Vegas Hilton, today’s Westgate. Fairbanks, Grinces, and others, would play a monthly game of bridge for five years. Grinces died in 2012 at age 68.
After two years, Fairbanks wanted to deal. On the MGM box, she might make $75 in shift tips while the four dealers pocketed $300 to $400; they were a crew, she was management. She noted how they’d coax players into laying a wager for them on the sly — boxcars, say — winnings they’d split after the shift.
Soon, a Caesars manager seeking female craps dealers was told by Ehrenberg that the vivacious, quick-witted, smart-alecky Fairbanks “would be perfect for you!” At Caesars, she’d sometimes take home $3,000 a shift.
“By the time I went to Caesars I could deal, I could hustle, I looked good and had fun,” said Fairbanks. “I’d be on the stick, the point would be Hard Eight, and I’m like, ‘Throw money if you wanna see your stick girl on a Hard Eight!’ Just innocent.”
In 1980, she took a three-month leave to have a daughter, Brittany. Six months later, she still didn’t want to leave her baby girl alone and she was pregnant again.
Brittany was nearly a year old when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Georgie was overjoyed to receive $1,300 from her former Caesars workmates, helping with medical expenses she was incurring at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. At that time, the survival rate for kids under three with the illness was extremely low.
Today, Brittany is 39 with a daughter of her own.
Georgie returned to work in 1987, at the Excalibur, where a long friendship with Terry Fairbanks blossomed into matrimony in 2006; his fifth marriage, her fourth. She retired two years ago from the Aria.
She will never forget all the stares, glares and fun she had when she became the first female to sit on the box on the Strip.
“One of the best times of my life,” she said. “Nobody could figure out why I was there and who I knew. I didn’t know anybody. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”