Recession Busters

Dealer-dancers boost revenue (and fun) at Vegas’ oldest casino

With tantalizing tassels shaking below cleavage just out of reach, the go-go dancing dealers at the Golden Gate hotel-casino downtown will hit you and bust you, bumping and grinding your money into the casino coffers.

“It’s a lot more fun looking at her than a stuck-up, button-up guy,” says Joe Vanella, a tourist who visited the casino on a recent Friday night. He’s talking about his blackjack dealer, the exotic Bles Maris, whose curly brown hair reaches to her hips.

The Golden Gate dancing dealers are the ringleaders of the gaming pit, crowded between the bathrooms and the bar, thumping with Shakira, club-remixed Sinatra (this is Vegas, after all) and the yelps of winners. Cowboys maneuver through the same crowd as a 6-foot tranny with a red bouffant. All of this in Las Vegas’ oldest continuously operating hotel.

“I think people are a little bit surprised when they first walk in,” says Mark Brandenburg, co-owner of the 103-year-old property. “Some know we’re Las Vegas’ most historic hotel, and certainly that juxtaposition surprises them.”

He says the dancing dealers have attracted a younger crowd for the last year, proving that a little sex appeal makes a difference in bleak times. Casino Manager George Brewer says the 12,000-square-foot casino’s handle has gone up, and increased revenue throughout the hotel has fueled plans to add more tables.

As for the dealers—they know how to work it to get better tips.

“You’re giving them a show,” dealer Erica Wells says. When she’s shaking like Beyoncé on the platform, it’s hard not to watch the butterfly tattoo on the small of her back.

“It’s a party atmosphere, and people want to have fun,” she says. “They don’t want to just sit and gamble and lose their money.”

That’s what’s most surprising: Rotating 40 minutes on the table and 20 minutes dancing from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m. nightly, the dealers pleasantly part players from their money. There doesn’t seem to be a diva. Nor any cattiness between the dancing dealers and the women who just deal.

Most of the 20 dealers who dance started behind the tables, but Brewer says they can train dancers to deal, too. What you can’t teach is how to have fun with the gimmick. Like Janelle Buss, 23, the aspiring singer who mimed a baseball game while she danced and then threw in some disco moves, all with a smile on her face.

Flirting happens, the dealers say. But not with Anya Shanklin. You can’t miss the ring. She was a ballet and folk dancer in Russia who started dealing when she moved here four years ago with her husband. “I’m not dangerous,” she says, with a sexy Soviet spy accent.

Perhaps only to the wallet.

There’s more skin beneath the Fremont Street Experience canopy. The Las Vegas Club features a fetish pit, where the dealers dress as nurses, police officers and other fantasy-inducing costumes. Farther down is Glitter Gulch, but there’s no chance of leaving there with more money than you came with.

Vanella compares his experience to getting good service at a bad restaurant. “I’m getting beat, but I’m sticking here.”

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