Las Vegas Bartender Used to Be a Man’s Job. Not Anymore.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
March 26 2013 7:30 AM

What Happened in Vegas?

Why are Las Vegas bartenders now mostly women?

Bartender Varia Dellalian, representing Lebanon, competes in the Diageo Reserve World Class Global Final cocktail competition on July 10, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Female bartenders are becoming increasingly common in the once male-dominated world of Las Vegas bartending.

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Young, beautiful, sexy female bartenders dart around behind the mahogany bar serving drinks to anxious customers and pocketing generous tips. The bartenders are dressed in very low cut V-neck midriff tops displaying surgically enhanced breasts and low-slung, hip-hugging, skin-tight stretch pants that reveal muscled abdomens and tattoos right above the buttocks. Tao, Marquee, Pure, Lavo, Ghostbar—all nightclubs in Las Vegas casinos. The music blasts, and the crowded dance floor rocks. These clubs are huge—50,000-60,000 square feet on multiple levels. Not long ago, only men held bartender jobs in Las Vegas, but in little more than a decade, female bartenders have taken over the majority of the jobs in the casino nightclubs. There are still young male bartenders here—good-looking, muscular guys who sport black vests, black shirts, and ties, but they are in the minority now. And there are none who are over 35.

A decade ago about 80 to 85 percent of nightclub bartenders were men; today women represent about 60 percent of the club bartenders. Why have women moved in? The answer has to do with how Las Vegas has changed. After the city’s attempt to market itself as a family-friendly destination failed in the late 1990s, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority adopted a new advertising motto, “What happens here, stays here,” to attract a young, hip customer base. Besides the motto, the casinos have added “pleasure pits,” “ultralounges,” “European” (topless) pools, and nightclubs, all of which restrict access to adults only. The sexy marketing scheme, combined with the new venues in the casinos, has been wildly successful.

Advertisement

And its unintended effect has been to squash the once hallowed profession of the male bartender. Las Vegas has always sold sexy, of course. But there were clear hierarchies. The women were cocktail waitresses or dancers in the shows. But bartenders were men—often middle-aged union members who were proud of their bartending skills. There was an occasional female hired for her expertise in bartending, not her sexy appearance. But as the casinos were increasingly owned by major corporations that were more “brand” focused, they imposed additional “professional” hair and makeup requirements on the women. Darlene Jespersen served bar at Harrah’s Casino in Reno, Nev., for almost 20 years when she was fired in 2000 for refusing to follow a new companywide policy that required her to wear makeup. She sued, alleging sex discrimination because her male cohorts did not have to wear makeup. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit saw it differently. It ruled against Jespersen. According to the court, the makeup requirement did not unreasonably sex-stereotype her and it imposed no greater burden on her than the rules that men shave and keep their hair short.

At least for certain jobs, the casinos have gone well beyond makeup requirements for women. While cocktail servers on the casino floors have traditionally dressed in fairly revealing clothing, management in the upscale casinos on the Strip worry that aging servers do not project the right image, and they want more exposed flesh. So some have redefined the jobs of servers as “models” and “bevertainers,” and they hired young, sexy women and dressed them in even skimpier costumes. Besides serving drinks, bevertainers and models entertain by dancing and parading through the casino. Casinos believe that the new job descriptions will help them evade sex and age discrimination lawsuits because looking young and sexy is a legitimate job qualification for a dancer.

Even card dealers have seen a change. Since the late '70s and early '80s casinos have hired female card dealers who compete head-to-head with men for their skills and wear the same androgynous clothing to work. But alongside the traditional dealers, a few casinos have added “dealertainers” who are young, sexy women hired for their looks. They spend some of their time dealing cards and then move to stages near the card tables to sing and dance. When I asked a middle-aged, former female craps dealer what she thinks of the new dealertainers, she said, “The blonde with the boobs and belly hanging out, G-string and heels is doing everything she isn’t supposed to do: compromising security of the game, making a mockery out of our profession. It disgusts me.”

  Slate Plus
Slate Archives
Nov. 26 2014 12:36 PM Slate Voice: “If It Happened There,” Thanksgiving Edition Josh Keating reads his piece on America’s annual festival pilgrimage.