I was at the D in Downtown Las Vegas playing craps a few weekends ago, when I witnessed a soft hustle. Let’s discuss the soft hustle.
Before I describe the soft hustle, I have to walk on eggshells and give some disclaimers. First off, I love casino game dealers. I have personal friends who are dealers and I want them to make lots of money. I also have employees who rely on tips, and I want them to make as much money as their hard work entitles them to earn. So this article is not about attacking anyone who relies on tips or sales to earn an income, and it certainly is not about discouraging dealer tips.
Having said that, I am not a fan of the soft hustle. I train my staff to deal with customers honestly, and the soft hustle, while not outright ‘wrong’, borders on the shady. Customers and gamblers deserve better.
WHAT IS A HUSTLE? THE TECHNICAL STUFF
In order to understand the ‘hustle’, I have to define and describe it. If you want to get to the nitty-gritty part, skip down to the playable audio, where the subpart is titled, ‘A Real Instance of the Soft Hustle’.
A hustle is when a person takes a course of action with the objective that he or she will receive a benefit, result, or reward which would be above and beyond what would normally be expected for that situation. I’ll provide some examples below just to clarify, but that’s the technical and neutral definition of ‘hustle’.
Not all hustling is bad. Hustling can be positive and desirable. When a baseball player hits a routine ground ball that should be an out, if he ‘hustles’ hard enough to first base, he might earn that base. In other words, he should be ‘out’ based on his batting result, but his intense run to first base is done with the objective of obtaining a result that he would not expect for his routine grounder. That’s an example of a positive hustle according to the definition that I stated.
In this article, I am talking about the dark side of the hustle. The dark side of the hustle is a cousin of the scam.
DARK SIDE OF THE HUSTLE VERSUS THE SCAM
What makes a hustle negative? It’s the added element of deception:
A hustle, as viewed in the negative light, is when a person takes a course of action that he or she knows or reasonably should know that the he or she cannot fulfill, thus creating an unjustified expectation in the other participant’s mind, with the objective that he or she (the ‘hustler) will receive a benefit, result, or reward which would be above and beyond what is normally expected for that situation.
It’s the same definition of ‘hustle’, but with the added element of ‘creating an unjustified expectation in another person’s mind that the hustler knows or reasonably should know that the hustler cannot fulfill.’ In other words, simply stated, there is some deception involved.
The difference between a hustle and a scam is a matter of degree. Both hustles and scams involve making claims that the speaker or actor knows or should reasonably know that the speaker or actor cannot fulfill, in an effort to obtain a greater reward than which the speaker or actor would normally be entitled.
Scams are usually accompanied by outright fraud and deception in an attempt to achieve an objective to which the speaker or actor would be entitled to no benefit or consideration if the truth was uncovered. If the truth was uncovered in a hustle, the hustler might be entitled to the normally accepted benefit or consideration.
Scams, if not legally dubious, are usually ethically and morally clear. A hustle is usually morally or ethically ambiguous and usually involve some sort of white lie or exaggeration. A hustle is usually not a crime because if it’s a crime, then it’s a scam.
Just in case you’re curious, on the scale of behavioral influence techniques – with the scam being above the hustle – below the ‘hustle’ is ‘puffery’, which is a legally accepted term. If you think I’m making this up: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puffery
Puffery is below the dark hustle because it’s somewhat socially acceptable to puff in order to obtain a result. While you should not trust a salesman to give you unbiased information about a product, it’s somewhat socially expected that the salesman is going to puff when describing his goods or services. Caveat emptor, as they say. The social allowance makes puffery less unacceptable than hustling or scamming, even though all three – scamming, hustling, and puffing – are related to behavioral influence techniques.
THE SOFT HUSTLE AND THE HARD HUSTLE
What is the ‘soft’ hustle? Take my definition of ‘hustle’ and add the word ‘implicit’:
A soft hustle is when a person takes an implicit course of action that he or she knows or reasonably should know that the he or she cannot fulfill, thus creating an unjustified expectation in the other participant’s mind, with the objective that he or she (the hustler) will receive a benefit, result, or reward which would be above and beyond what is normally expected for that situation.
A ‘hard’ hustle is:
A hard hustle when a person takes an explicit course of action that he or she knows or reasonably should know that the he or she cannot fulfill, thus creating an unjustified expectation in the other participant’s mind, with the objective that he or she (the ‘ustler) will receive a benefit, result, or reward which would be above and beyond what is normally expected for that situation.
Most people would just call a hard hustle a plain old ‘hustle’.
EXAMPLES OF THE HARD AND SOFT HUSTLE
Hard hustles can come in varying degrees. Examples of a ‘hard’ hustle if it’s happening at a roulette table:
Example 1. ‘Play this number, and I’ll hit the number for you.’
Example 2. ‘Put your money on this number, and I’ll hit it for you. When I hit it, just be sure to take care of me.’
Both examples are hard hustles because the speaker is creating an explicit impression in the listener’s mind that the dealer can control the ball and hit a number. It’s explicit because the dealer is openly, expressly, and unambiguously putting the idea in the listener’s mind that he can control the ball. Of course, if the dealer really can control the ball and give away chips, then it would not fit the definition of a hustle.
An example of the soft hustle would be:
Example 1. ‘Play this number. Trust me.’
Example 2. Dealer says, ‘play this number’ and then the dealer winks at the player.
With the soft hustle, the roulette dealer never actually tells the player that the dealer will be able to hit the number, however, a reasonable conclusion from the dealer’s communication is that the dealer will be able to hit the number or have some control in hitting that specific number more often than 1 in 38 times. The communication is implicit because it requires the listener to pick up and understand non-verbal communication.
Sometimes, what appears to be a soft hustle is not a soft hustle. The dealer might just be a fellow gambler who is sharing her hunch. The dealer might also just be a friendly gambler making innocent banter with a customer. Whether or not something is a hustle or just innocent banter is based on the intent of the person. It all comes down to intent, which must be judged based on the totality of the situation.
So before you accuse a friendly dealer of attempting to hustle you, be sure to observe the overall interaction. It may be an innocent conversation.
A REAL INSTANCE OF THE SOFT HUSTLE
I am not going to identify anyone involved, so I’ll keep identities private.
I walked into the D and waited for a friend who gave me permission to record his dark side play. He was going to play big on the dark side and thought it would be cool to have it on video for RoadGambler.com.
As I was waiting for my friend, I decided to play roulette. At some point during the game, the dealer looked at a player who was down to his last chips and told him to bet all his chips on one number. She looked and winked at him slyly. The number didn’t hit, and she let out, ‘awwww, sorry’, and the player walked away.
Well, she may have just been friendly, but I had an initial suspicion.
After my friend arrived, I started recording his dark side play. As I was recording the game, I was watching the roulette game that was positioned not more than three steps away from the roulette table that I was playing at earlier.
While I was at the craps table, I looked over and saw the dealer say to another player something like, ‘put it on one number’. It was loud, so I couldn’t hear exactly what the dealer said. But consistent with what happened prior, the player put his remaining chips on one number, lost, and walked away.
The supervisor rotated the dealer to the next roulette game, but that game was within view of the craps table. I kept an eye on the game, hoping to catch what I thought was a soft hustle.
A few minutes later, I saw that another gambler had lost a spin and was down to a small stack of chips. So I told my friend that I would be over at the roulette table for a moment. I quickly stepped over to the table and I was able to catch the soft hustle.
Here it is…
If this soft hustle is done 38 times, it should hit once. I saw her do it three times in about 30 minutes. The final player bet $14 on his final spin. A hit would have been $490. A player who believed that the dealer was able to control the ball in his favor would probably tip about $100 in this case. So if done often enough, it could result in about an extra $200-$300 per day in tips.
In the case of the D casino, the tips among the entertainment pit dealers – who do double duty as go-go dancers and dealers – are shared only among the dancing dealers, and not among the regular dealers. So her soft hustle would result in a greater share of tips due to the restricted tip sharing.
If you read my prior article on ‘Keeping your own’ tips, someone told me that one negative aspect of a KYO casino is that dealers will sometimes hustle players for more tips. After observing this soft hustle, I tend to believe it.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE SOFT HUSTLE
I differentiate between a soft hustle and an outright hustle because, supposedly, there is a degree of separation that makes the soft hustle a little less morally questionable. Life is sometimes about nuance and minor details. I train my staff on sales techniques, so I have some expertise on this issue of puffery and hustling. Those definitions above are mine, and I wrote them years ago when I was writing my Standard Operating Procedures for my businesses.
I’m always careful to warn my staff against hustling customers or patrons. It hurts business long term. That’s not to say that puffing isn’t allowed. All good salespeople puff, but there’s a difference between puffing and hustling. Puffing usually involves highlighting the positives, whereas hustling creates an unjustified expectation in a person’s mind. Of course, puffing, if done without restraint, can devolve into hustling and scamming. Like I said, it’s all on a scale.
Despite everything I’ve said, I’m not about to criticize this dealer for trying to earn more tips. I’m not going to say that what she did was wrong. That’s not for me to judge; but it’s for you to know, so when you score a big win, you aren’t guilt-tripped into giving a huge tip that you normally would not give.
Of course, if you normally tip $50 or $100 after a $500 win, that’s different because you normally tip large. Refer to my definition of ‘hustling’ in the negative light.
The way I see it, it’s up to you to decide whether or not the dealer is doing anything wrong. I documented the interaction for your education so that if one day you come across a soft hustle, you’ll recognize it. If you decide to tip large because the slot attendant told you that a machine was hidden in the back because it was ‘hot’, and you already knew about soft hustling, then at least you knew what you were doing and why.
It’s all about helping you make informed decisions.
Let me know about your thoughts on what happened. Do you think the dealer was out of line? Were her actions fair game?