Why do Las Vegas casinos hire so many Asian dealers?

A blackjack dealer in Las Vegas. Photo by Dolan Halbrook (Flickr/Creative Commons). Halbrook asked in the caption: “BTW, I think at least 50% of the dealers were Asian women. Does anyone know why?” Here’s an answer.

In his study of casino labor in the United States and South Africa, sociologist Jeffrey Sallaz found that, in 2005, 34% of Nevada dealers were Asian, though Asians made up only 4.5% of the state population and less than 3% of Nevada visitors at that point (p. 207). Sallaz argues that the disproportionate hiring of Asian dealers can be explained partially by the casino industry’s response to demands from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other groups for proportionate African American representation in the workforce. Instead of hiring more African Americans, the casinos diversified the workforce by hiring Asian immigrants. They could then argue that they have made strides in incorporating minorities:

Adaptation to changing rules in this case entailed not hiring African-American dealers to achieve equity, as the decree specified, but employing Asian immigrants to display diversity. (p. 245)

Why Asian immigrants? Sallaz says that it is not because casinos can pay immigrants less; all dealers make near the federal minimum wage. He also says that it is not because of increased demand from Asian customers, which I find surprising considering the number of Asian people I’ve seen roaming around Las Vegas casinos and the growing recognition of Asian and Asian American buying power. Instead, he says that “Asian immigrants best fit some pre-existing stereotype on the part of managers as to what constitutes a ‘good dealer.'”:

When asked directly why they hire so many Asian dealers, managers repeatedly invoked these workers’ “extreme company loyalty,” how much “trust you can put in them,” and their “reliability.” The result is a system that can be seen as entirely analogous to the substitution of “local” black homeland workers for British dealers in South Africa during the late apartheid period. In both cases, casinos “diversified” their internal labor markets in response to an external political threat by hiring ethnic workers treated as “honorary whites.” (p. 208)

In other words, casino managers saw Asians as a model minority, implicitly defined in opposition to African Americans. In these hiring practices, dealers perceived an additional element of sexualized exotification:

[…] It is understood that Asian dealers are in demand. Prospective dealers of other ethnic groups often complain privately that casino managers have a “fetish for Oriental women.” (p. 34)

This is one of the few mentions of the specific preference for Asian women in the book. I would have liked to see a deeper investigation into this gendered dimension of racialized dealer hiring, but in the end this point is ancillary to his larger argument about labor and management practices in casinos in the two countries. You can’t put everything into one book.

Sallaz, Jeffrey J. 2009. The Labor of Luck: Casino Capitalism in the United States and South Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.