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After nearly 20 years, dealing is in the cards for Maquoketa man
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Chuck Wendel's hands have 20 years of experience dealing cards. Mr. Wendel has worked as a card dealer for Jumer's Casino Rock Island since 1992 and spends eight hours a day dealing a variety of games to gamblers.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Paul Colletti
Chuck Wendel has been a card dealer with Jumer's Casino Rock Island since it opened on the riverfront in 1992. He now works at the casino's location off Interstate 280 and Illinois Route 92, which opened in December 2008.
ROCK ISLAND -- Intoxicating, energetic beeps, tones and blinking lights filled the room at Jumer's Casino & Hotel as dealerChuck Wendel dealt a game of black jack, gliding cards across the table and flipping them right side up in front of each player.

For almost 20 years, the Maquoketa, Iowa, man has dealt a variety of games including black jack,Mississippi stud, 3-card poker, Caribbean stud and Texas holdem bonus.

But black jack was his first, he said, and his favorite.

Over the years Mr. Wendel has made his living as a social worker, insurance salesman and more, he said, referring to himself as a sort of jack-of-all trades. "Maybe I'm a master at black jack," though, he said, and laughed.

He said he was out of work when he saw a sign advertising a class teaching how to deal black jack for the old Bettendorf casino, The Diamond Lady, and figured he would give it a try.

The Diamond Lady was one of the first riverboat casinos in the area when riverboat gambling was legalized and arrived in the Quad-Cities in the early 1990s. Since then, the Mississippi has brought many opportunities for riverboat gambling to the Quad-Cities, includingthe former Rock Island Boatworks, featuring Jumer's Casino Rock Island, which opened at its original location on the riverfront in 1992.

Mr. Wendel said he started working for Jumer's that year, stayed with the casino throughout its stay on the river and moved with it to its new location in December 2008 at the intersection of Interstate 280 and Illinois 92 in Rock Island.

Looking back, he said he is surprised he has dealt for so long. He said he never intended it to be a long-term job, but added that "it's an enjoyable job."He said he meets many interesting people from all over the country, especially now that the casino is so close to the interstate.

It's also interesting for him to meet and get to know the regulars who frequent his tables.

Like any other job, though, he said the work can be a bit tedious. Because the casino is open every day, scheduling also can become an issue, especially around the holidays. Overall, however, he said he enjoys what he does.Coming from a small town where the "job possibilities aren't tremendous," he said, he's happy to have a job that is stable.

A typical day for Mr. Wendel and the other dealers on staff begins at the first table to which they are assigned. He said dealers are not assigned to the same table all day, so they may begin dealing black jack and later move to poker, for instance.

"It's a variety," he said. "It's nice."

He said he will then count everything and make sure everything is in place from the night or shift before, shuffle the deck of cards and arrange chips. If it's black jack, he'll load the "boot" -- the plastic case where cards are kept -- and "wait for someone to come," he said.Some days it's almost immediate.

"Some days," though, "you're standing," he said. "It can be a little boring."Other days are very busy "and you wouldn't mind standing," he said with a laugh.

Mr. Wendel is lucky to workday shifts, he said, which begin at 8, 9 or 10 a.m., and last eight hours. Most of the time dealers have breaks every hour or hour and 20 minutes, Mr. Wendel said, unless they are very busy.

At times he said the job can be very mentally and physically tiring. He said the energy of the casino alone can leave him feeling tired, even if it hadn't been a busy day.

But Mr. Wendel has fun, he said. Dealing big games in which people are betting a lot of money can be "kind of exciting," he said. The game is always the same, he said, but if someone is betting big money, "you pay more attention."

During one game on a recent day Mr. Wendel slid out a fresh hand of cards. Players tapped their fingers or waved their hands, asking for or passing on additional cards. Mr. Wendel kept sleek, fluid motions throughout each hand, sliding cards out, scooping them up to discard, handing out or collecting chips.

Mr. Wendel said some games were easier to learn to deal than others, and he picked them up one at a time. When he first started with black jack, he said he went through a six-week course for The Diamond Lady. Prior to that, he had only played around the kitchen table, he said.

Other games -- such as the numerous versions of poker -- can be different and yet very similar. "You have to pay attention," he said.

Mr. Wendel said he practiced the games outside of work to make sure he learned the particulars of each one. "I didn't want to look stupid," he said, smiling.

After dealing "for a week or two," though, "it becomes second nature," he said.

Now, on a good day, he said he can remember what he has dealt to each player. If he's dealing black jack, he can even total the cards just by looking at them, without having to physically add them in his head.

Mr. Wendel's smooth dealing sequence is mesmerizing."A good dealer makes it look easier," Mr. Wendel said, adding that most people won't see everything that goes into it, like the way the chips are broken down a certain way.

He said he also has read a number of strategy guides about the games, black jack especially, and said strategy tends to work much better than intuition. He said it's interesting to watch people play to see if they stick to a typical strategy, or if they go their own route.

On this day, like any other day Mr. Wendel was surrounded by slot machines that simultaneously played several tunes and bounced through a variety of light patterns. People scattered the casino and played slot machines, table games or simply walked around. Mr. Wendel readied the table as a few customers joined.

"How you doin'?" he asked as the group sat down.

Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Sept. 15, the 258th day of 2014. There are 107 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: The Rock River Illinois conference of the Methodist Church will hold its annual sessions this week in this city. About 200 ministers are expected to attend.
1889 — 125 years ago: The Brush electric company had prepared a new schedule of rates to become effective Oct. 1, with slightly increased rates to consumers.
1914 — 100 years ago: The Rock Island Aerie of Eagles made plans for the laying of the cornerstone of a new $50,000 Eagles Home. W.C. Maucker is to be master of ceremonies.
1939 — 75 years ago: Col. Charles A. Lindbergh spoke on "America and Foreign War" in a neutrality debate over nation wide radio hook-up.
1964 — 50 years ago: Two awards of the National Safety council were presented to the city of Rock Island today at noon at a meeting held in the YWCA.
1989 — 25 years ago: The final tallies are not yet in for the summer 1989 Quad-Cities tourism season, but officials are expecting the number of visitors to the area to be at least as good as, if not better than, 1988.

(More History)