Being a croupier (i.e., one who manages a craps table game) isn’t as easy as it might seem.

Which is why a class of aspiring croupiers, who hope to land a job when Cripple Creek casinos introduce table games this summer, were busy learning their trade this week.

“Running a roulette wheel isn’t as difficult as craps,” said Lou Gutierrez, who will manage the new table games at Bronco Billy’s, Cripple Creek’s largest casino. “That’s only a four-week class. But craps is more difficult, and we require a 12-week course.”

What does it take to be a croupier?

“The first thing we look for in all our employees is good presentation, a nice smile, a customer-centric attitude,” said Bronco Billy’s co-owner Mike Chaput. “But after that you need some technical skills.”

That starts with everybody’s favorite classroom subject – math.

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“We gave all of our applicants a math test – 20 questions, none of them really too difficult, the kind of thing you could pass easily if you paid attention in high school,” Chaput said. “To qualify, you had to get at least 15 right.”

Once applicants pass the test, they need to learn the complex rituals of the craps table.

Gutierrez, who mastered his skills in Las Vegas, said that although being a croupier is a learned skill, you can’t do it without certain innate faculties.

“You have to have 20-20 vision, good peripheral vision, really good hand-eye coordination, and table awareness,” he said. “Running a craps table isn’t like being a blackjack dealer, or running a roulette wheel, where you’re the boss, and it’s your table. In craps, it’s you and two ‘box men.’ It’s a cooperative thing, you’re all working together.”

The box men stack chips with one hand, and pay out with the other.

During the class, held in a nondescript building just west of “casino row,” students methodically stacked chips on practice tables.

“Watch,” Chaput said. “You see how the guy on the left stacks with his right hand and pays with his left? That’s one box man – the other stacks with his left and pays with his right. You have to be able to do both, and it’s a lot more difficult than it looks.”

One of the students, Colorado Springs resident Becky Thompson, was optimistic that practice will make perfect.

“It looks so easy, but it’s real hard,” she said. “I’m getting good at it, but I come here early, and I practice at home. I really want one of these jobs, so I’m taking it real seriously.”

Bryan Cox, a Manitou Springs mountaineer who has taught rock climbing for many years, said that he applied to the casino because he’s “looking for a change of career.”

“It’s difficult, but I think that it’s a mental challenge, too,” Cox said. “Just being aware of what’s going on around you, and doing everything instinctively. I’m looking forward to it.”

At $40,000-plus annually, the pay is commensurate with the obvious difficulty of the position.

But Chaput seemed confident that he’ll have the proper people in place when the tables open July 2.

“We know that we – and all the other casinos – will be able to hire some really good employees from these classes,” Chaput said. “We’re partnering in this class with the Midnight Rose, and there’s another class at Pikes Peak Community College. We’re glad to be growing, and hiring people, especially now in tough economic times.”