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Casino House Players - Shills

by Jesse Knight
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Poker Shills
Shill - An employee who plays on house money and helps to start and fill games.


Obviously, poker rooms are in business to make a profit, and management tries to maximize the revenue they get from their existing stream of customers. This means getting them into games as quickly as possible, so they begin paying rake. Players also want to be able to get into poker games quickly, and if they are made to wait too long, they may wander off and never return. This leads to both dissatisfied customers and lowered revenue for the house. To prevent this from happening, management will try to get games going as soon as they are viable, and keep them going as long as possible. This can be challenging. Demand for various games can be inconsistent, as players show up at random. Slow periods throughout the day can put pressure on games to break, and there are times when a game is almost viable, if only there were one or two more players. These are a few of the reasons many poker rooms use paid players to help them start and save poker games. Paid players come in several varieties, and will usually be identified by the house upon request. Types of paid players include shills, proposition players, and hosts.

Shills are poker room employees who play only when they are need to help start a game or help keep an existing game from breaking. They play with house money, and do not have much of a vested interest in the outcome of their play. If they lose, the house takes the loss, and if they win, the winnings go into the till. Their purpose is only to fill the seat until a customer comes along who wants it. Since they are using house money, they are often given guidelines about how to play, or else it is understood that they are to play conservatively. This keeps them from winning or losing too much, both of which can be bad for the house. If they lose too much, the drop will not be enough to cover their loss, and the game will lose money. If they win too much, they may bust or intimidate the weaker players, which can cause the game to break, which is exactly what they were trying to prevent in the first place. A casino may have employees who are specifically designated as shills, or it may use idle employees, such a floor man or an out of the rotation dealer to shill as needed. Shills were once used frequently, but are rarely used anymore, except for in small rooms where the staff is expected to shill as needed to save a game.

Proposition players are similar to shills except that they play on their own money. They cover their own losses and keep what they win in the games. They are compensated by the house for their time and for the rake they pay while playing in the games, and in return, they must play or get up from the games at the direction of management. Casinos usually prefer to use proposition players (commonly called “props”), rather than shills, to support weak games. There are several reasons for this. First of all, it is risky and unseemly for the house to have a vested interest in the outcome of a poker game. Since props play with their own money, the house is not exposed to any downside risk from staking a player in the game. The use of props also prevents the house from ever having to take a win directly from the game, which some customers, especially those on the losing end, find objectionable.

Beyond this, the purpose of having props is to maximize revenue for the casino, and they tend to be the most effective and efficient means for doing so. This is especially true for large poker rooms. Large poker rooms often have several games in dire need of players at any given moment. They also tend to have a fairly steady flow of customers coming in. They use props to hold games together temporarily until they can fill them with incoming customers. When this happens, more often than not, the props are needed somewhere else. Props are also used to start games, both in the mornings and during other game building periods. In some casinos, it is not uncommon for a game to start with more props than customers. As more customers arrive, the props are removed one by one.

In addition to props or shills, casinos may use hosts as paid players Hosts are typically used in games that require special attention, for example, high limit games and newly introduced games. Hosts take an active role in organizing and running the game that they are hosting. Their responsibilities include promoting, recruiting players, ensuring customer satisfaction, and sometimes babysitting the game. They are typically paid slightly better than props, sometimes receiving a percentage of revenue, and they function as a liaison between the customers and management.

Usage: Shill For The House, Shills In Use, House Shill

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