The head drill instructor is a blonde babe instead of a snarling mass of testosterone under a crew cut. The location of the training site is on East Flamingo as opposed to some backwater hellhole in the mosquito-infested south. And the basic tool of the trade is a deck of cards rather than M-16 rifles. But its still called Dealer Boot Camp and if you wash out, the consequences may be that you go back to that job — and maybe that identity — that you are trying so desperately to put in your rear view mirror.
Meg Patrick, the chief D.I., is the no-nonsense midwife of the boot camp, The Poker Academy, at 4640 East Flamingo. She is no stranger to the military way of doing things having served for five years in the U.S. Air Force, a tour of duty that included her involvement in the first Gulf War. Her military job involved the loading of C-141 cargo planes. In her off-duty hours she turned a few cards, like a lot of American military personnel who often pass time by playing poker.
She learned to play the game around the family dinner table and continued to play poker after graduating from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in criminal investigation. As a summer job she became a dealer in Cripple Creek, Colorado, before moving to Las Vegas four years ago. At the time she found Las Vegas "so short of poker dealers. It’s always been a profession that was learned OJT (through on the job training). There’s far too much money involved for OJT to be an acceptable way of training."
Hence, the Dealer’s Boot Camp, an enterprise Patrick is undertaking with a pile of credentials. She has, for instance, toured on the professional poker tournament circuit as well as worked as a dealer for World Poker Tour events. Patrick, 34, was a co-director for the International Poker Federation’s St. Maarten Open and was a co-coordinator for the recently concluded World Series of Poker, an event she worked for 63 days straight. She hired, supervised, and evaluated 230 dealers for the WSOP.
The difference between her school and other academies for table games around Las Vegas is that her operation is the only one that trains students for only poker. "There’s never been a poker-only curriculum," Patrick says. Students at the other dealer schools can easily pass what Patrick dismisses as "minimal requirements" but then frequently find themselves not able to pass a casino’s audition.
The academy, scheduled to open by mid July, won’t be something the students can stroll through on their way to an easy gig. "It’s not an easy job at all," says Patrick, and the demands of her boot camp might come as something of a shock for participants who think the $2,600 tuition means they are assured of being graduated once the four-week term has run its course.
First of all, everybody is graded and anybody who grades out at less than 70 percent is considered to have failed the course. They may re-enroll with the tuition price established on a case-by-case basis. Students who find that the boot camp is not what they expected can withdraw and get most of the tuition fee refunded if they bail out early enough.
The course of study includes poker theory, dealer attributes, tact and dispute training, game types and limits, rules of action and variances, and mechanics. The catalog says all students must pass an hour and a half live game audition with outside players which involves taking the class on trips to places like nursing homes to give the training a real-life feel.
While workmen are putting the finishing touches on the classroom, they are also working on an adjoining office that Patrick is opening almost simultaneously with the Poker Academy, this one called Poker, etc. It will be a consulting business that will "show people how to open their own poker room or help an existing poker room increase (its) volume."
The fee for the consulting service is not low: $25,000 up front and another $25,000 spread out in payments to Poker, etc. over six months. For that kind of money, Patrick will ship out a team of her employees to anyplace in the country that has a staff in need of training on how to open a poker room or wanting to increase its profits.
But for right now, Patrick is focusing on the academy because "my biggest concern is that the poker world see professional dealers."