Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2006.
This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at email@example.com.
Lessons from MCU
— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —
Lesson 91: Props
Some casinos employ people known as proposition players or props, whose job is to fill short-handed games. The name comes from the practice many years ago of players approaching management and making propositions for compensation in return for their help keeping games going. Today, there’s no “proposition” to it. Employees are paid an already established hourly wage to gamble with their own money. How much they earn depends on how much they win. Their paycheck is additional profit or compensation against their loss.
The historic equivalent of props in Las Vegas were called shills. According to Mike, although shills were employed to start games or keep them going when short-handed, they were also trying to win money for the casino. Often, they were required to play by guidelines set by the management. Players were sometimes concerned about the fairness of a game when a shill was involved. Occasionally players would opt not to join a game with a shill. “That was silly,” Mike explains, “because the fact that shills were bound to a specific set of guidelines made them easy to beat.”
California casinos were generally known to pay their props more than Las Vegas paid their shills.
An advantage to being a prop or shill is the fact that you receive a regular paycheck. You are employed by a casino to do what you enjoy most, play poker. If you’re a shill, although you may lose, you can still be assured of steady income. If you’re a prop, you better win – or at least not lose very much. It’s easy for props to lose more than what they’re paid and go broke.
A drawback to the prop job is that you don’t get to choose the games you wish to play. You’re assigned to the table where you’re usually needed most. Mike says that a good prop needs to be flexible in abilities, be ready to start games for the casino, be able to play in short-handed games, and be willing to play a variety of games.
A prop that hides in a corner, reluctant to start a game or play in short-handed games, or believes that there must be four or five players already in a game before he joins, defeats the casino’s purpose of having a prop. Mike says that if you wish to be a prop, you need to make yourself valuable to the casino and be versatile.
Customers become annoyed when they wait for a full-handed game where there is a prop participating. Often, ill-mannered props overstay when the game is very weak or when they’re losing and trying to get even. The props’ services are no longer needed at that table since there are players waiting, so they should make a graceful exit, whether or not management alerts them to do so.
In California there are employees that are referred to as “silent props.” They are paid to play in particular games, to promote those games and keep them going. They aren’t transferred among different games, and they’re usually permitted to stay at a full-handed table, acting just as regular customers.
If you are considering being a prop, Mike suggests that you should be pleasant to play with, and you shouldn’t take it easy on other props, as that is frowned upon by regular players and really isn’t fair. This practice will quickly demean you in the eyes of your opponents. In addition, it isn’t the sort of PR that a casino wants.
Mike shared a management secret with me: Casinos prefer that their props not be big winners or big losers. Big winners are going to cost the casino profit by taking too much money from the customers. A big losing prop could result in a burned-out employee. The preferred prop is one who wins a little or breaks even.
I hope that I’ve satisfied your curiosity about the life of a prop. — DM