Missy Hammond, Casino Dealer

The longtime French Lick employee is something of a card.

Missy Hammond wants you to win. One player at her roulette table at the French Lick Casino won $80,000. Sadly, she has watched people lose even more. Either way, Missy keeps smiling. Her hair, a platinum mohawk, seems to smile, too.
“I am dealer, but I am also an entertainer,” says Hammond, 52, a native of French Lick. “People want to come and have fun. They want to get away from life’s problems.”
Hammond has been dealing “everything but craps” since the casino opened 11 years ago. Blackjack, Crazy 4 Poker, High Card Flush, Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud. The people are what she likes most about her job. Famous people, like Michael Bolton and the late Florence Henderson. Normal people, like Larry Sullivan, a regular who comes in with his wife.
“Oh, my God!” Sullivan exclaims as Missy walks past.
“No, it’s just Missy,” she says. “They haven’t made me God yet.”
A casino is not a peaceful place to work, with its cacophony of throbbing slot machines and pop music, its neon lights and cigarette smoke. Open 24/7. No windows. No clocks. A galaxy of surveillance cameras films her every move.
Some gamblers play her table for 10 minutes. Others stay her entire eight-hour shift. Some sleep in their cars. Others play in their pajamas. People dance. They hoot and holler. Mostly, it’s a lot of fun. Though losers can get ornery.
“They will call you everything but a white woman,” Hammond says. “They love you when they’re winning and they hate you when they’re losing.” Some patrons drink too much and drop the F-bomb, which is prohibited at the tables, like cell phones.
“When people are losing, they just get negative,” she says. “They yell, ‘You’re taking my money! You’re killing me.’ I say, ‘Wait a minute. There’s not a seatbelt on that seat.’”
Hammond worked at a local factory before she went to dealer school, an intense eight-week course, followed by an audition and service training. “I knew nothing when I started,” she says. “I could count to 21. That’s about it.”
Now when she prepares a deck, her hands glide like a magician’s. Forget shuffling. She riffles, washes, and laces the cards—all according to strict procedure. When dealing, she watches for potential cheaters while cracking jokes: “Dealers are like strippers. You pay to see their busts.” She has a 20-minute break every hour or so to avoid burnout. Tips are pooled.
“Missy is great about engaging people,” says French Lick table-games shift manager David Sheible. “That’s what makes her good at what she does. And the hair doesn’t hurt.”
Crazy stories? She has a few. Like the guest who won $56,000 on roulette and told Hammond he was going to use it to make a down payment on a new house. By morning, he had lost it all. Or the woman who left a $25 chip on the roulette table by mistake and won $875.
“Am I rooting for them? Absolutely,” Hammond says. “I want the guests to have a good time and win.”
She grins, looks around at the tables, saying for the third time how much she loves her job. This casino, she says, is like family. When Human Resources pressured her to change her haircut, coworkers arrived wearing mohawk-esque hairdos and buttons saying, “Mohawks 4 Missy.” HR relented.
“I’m a horrible gambler,” Hammond says. “But I have the best luck in life.”

This is the second piece in a new series called Work, exploring interesting jobs in Indiana. Its author, Lili Wright, teaches English at DePauw University and has been published in The New York Times and Newsweek. Her recent novel, Dancing with the Tiger, was an Edgar Awards finalist.