Jane's Story

Do you mind if I spit in your face?

After 15 years of dealing cards on the Las Vegas Strip, I equate smokers as customers who might as well just spit in my face. The toxic fumes from the burning end of a cigarette become apparent when, during and 8 hour shift in a casino, a dealer has 1 or more chain smokers gambling at my table and, eventually, her eyes burn and turn blood red. The sinuses drain uncontrollably. We start to sneeze and cough up phlegm and get earaches. This is just the tip of the iceberg!

After 15 years of sucking up deadly secondhand tobacco smoke, I have spent too much time in emergency rooms of hospitals and under a doctor’s care for bronchitis, strepp throat, sinus infections, ear infections, chest pains, high blood pressure, headaches, stomach distress, and dizzy spells. For several years, I just went to doctors with my symptoms and the first question the doctor would ask me was if I was a smoker? I said I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. I also said, “I never really thought much about it.” Then about five years ago, I once again was ill from the same symptoms. Finally, a doctor told me that I have the “casino worker’s disease.” I asked, “What is that?” This doctor told me it was because I worked in a casino and was exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke.

Some tobacco smokers in the casinos can be so cruel and heartless to a blackjack dealer. The message that casino managers are sending out to customers is that since smoking is allowed in casinos and at 21 Tables it must be okay for this type of human being (21 Dealers) to be exposed for hours and hours of secondhand tobacco smoke. Obviously, casino owners and operators do not care about casino workers and the effects of secondhand smoke. So, if their employers “don’t care,” why should the smokers care about us?

I recall one of my most painful experiences with secondhand smoke. One night at my table, three men lit up cigars at the same time. They stayed and played on my game for hours and had many drinks. After about two solid hours of intense cigar smoke, I asked them with tear-filled eyes if they would try to keep all that smoke down out of me face because I was getting ill. They just laughed at me and cajoled me and replied that that was too bad and that I should go get a different job. “We come to Vegas so we can smoke and drink. It is your job to put up with us,” they said. I was so hurt by their comments because it made me feel like less then a human being. I was made to feel “like I didn’t matter.”

The final episode involving secondhand smoke happened late one night when four young girls were all smoking at the same time. They were from Mexico and they were having a lot of fun and winning a lot of money. They stayed and played at my table for hours. After three hours of four chain smokers it was obvious that I was getting very sick. I finally started to ask the girls to try and keep the smoke down and out of my face. At first they were very nice and made an attempt to keep it down. But then after a few more drinks, they started to smoke more and forgot how much it was bothering me. They even made the comment that they were trying to quit smoking, but when in Vegas they felt they had to smoke. I finally got to take my 20-minute break, and when I returned to the table no one was smoking. So, I thought maybe my prayers had been answered. But then within five minutes of my return, all four girls lit up their cigarettes at the same time. All of a sudden, I started shaking and coughing. I was so dizzy and disorientated that the floor person had to step in and finish the round. I was crying uncontrollably and all I could think about was that I was going to be fired. I was going to be fired. I was terrified of being fired because I have been threatened so many times by the shift bosses over the secondhand tobacco smoke issue. But during this episode, I was out of control. My body was reacting to the extreme rudeness of the customers, the excessive tobacco smoke, and my fear of being terminated. Very shortly after that incident at work, I started seeing a physiologist and undergoing intensive therapy for severe depression and “panic attacks.” I was on a four-month leave of absence to try to get well and figure out how to deal with my work issues.

I finally went back to work on January 22nd of 2006 and within two months, I was suspended once again because I asked a smoker to keep his cigarette down so the smoke would not go into my face.~ Once again the smoker took offense to my request, and I am currently suspended pending investigation and anticipating being terminated. Once again the smoke-filled environment in Vegas ruins the health of 21 dealers. And as if that isn't bad enough, speaking up about it gets us fired from our jobs.

- Jane, Blackjack dealer in Las Vegas, Nevada