You probably never met Leon Dabasol. He was a hard-working craps dealer in Reno, Nev. For the last decade and a half that I knew him, he worked two jobs, and was on his feet eight to 16 hours a day dealing craps.
Leon passed away, suddenly, a couple of months ago from a heart attack. I understand that heart disease runs in his family.
He was born in the Philippines, and like the many Filipinos I have met in my gaming career, Leon was kind, soft-spoken and generous of spirit. He shared that with the many dealers he served with over the decades of his gaming career, spent both in the limelight and the shadows at the same time. Fellow former and current dealers know what I mean.
Dealing craps is the most fun, as well as the most challenging, dealer job in the casino. The game is fast-paced and confusing. Players are often slow-paced and confused. For 15 years, I watched Leon handle this environment with class and grace. I watched him deal with drunks, nasty people, newbies, slow “dice setting” craps shooters, scufflers, unresponsive seniors... as well as some of the nicest and most generous craps-playing casino customers you could ever find.
When I play craps, my casino game of choice, I rarely converse with dealers or players, preferring to be immersed in “the battle.” But for some reason, I always said hello to Leon and called him by name. In return, he always said, “Hello, Den.” Not “Dennis,” not “Mr. Conrad.” Only “Den.” My sister and my late father were the only other ones who have called me “Den.” And Leon. And now he is gone. I miss his welcome already.
The last two times I played on Leon’s craps table were just before, and just after, my first ever trip to the Philippines. We talked about the Filipino people; the way craps is dealt in the casinos there; if Leon had interest in returning to his home country to work in its budding casino industry; and about my dinner in Manila at Claire’s, a true locals’ dining experience.
And then, the next time, my next visit, he was gone. “Did you hear about Leon?” one of his fellow crap dealers asked, with that tone where you know something is wrong. “No,” I said, “is he sick?”
“He’s dead.” Crap dealers are known for being direct.
Somewhere between sadness and shock, I flashed on the hundreds of interactions that Leon and I had at the same craps table over the years. The “presses of the six and eight,” his encouragement after a “winner 10,” his sympathy after a “seven out,” his gratitude for “a bet for the boys.”
Strangely, I didn’t walk away from that craps table after hearing of Leon’s passing. I stayed. And I played, dedicating that session to him.
And like most sessions spent with Leon, I lost. But yet that was his gift—he always made me feel like a winner. And I’ll bet he’s laughing somewhere now, knowing I couldn’t win one in his honor, just like I couldn’t in his presence.
Leon is one of those unsung heroes in the casino industry. Some would say “he was just a dealer;” like they might say “she is just a guest room attendant.” And they would be wrong.
When you can touch hundreds of guests so consistently, so positively, for so long, you are not an employee, but a star. And although Leon’s star may not be glowing any longer at the Sands or Silver Legacy crap tables, it shines on in the countless people whose lives he touched for so many years, in so many ways.
Goodbye, Leon. You are missed, and not forgotten.
And I’m glad you called me “Den.”