Tia Oja: “You can’t let anyone bully you”

Tia Oja is a 25-year-old proud feminist, as well as a communications student and professional. Prior to this, however, she worked in a Finnish national betting agency’s gaming club as a croupier for one and a half years. We sat down with her to talk about her experience in this field of work.

Why did you decide to become a croupier?

At the time, employment rates in the communications sector weren’t the best, as media houses were laying a lot of people off. I turned to customer service and I first worked in Alko for four months, until I stumbled upon a job advertisement looking for “extraordinary” customer service workers in a new gaming club in Espoo. I recognised myself in that description and applied!

What are the skills needed to become a croupier?

First and foremost, you need to be a people person. You also need to be patient and persistent, and definitely assertive.

Did you feel like you had these skills before becoming a croupier, or did you gain them while on the job?

I feel like I had them before, but they definitely got polished during my time as a croupier!

What kind of training did you go through after getting the job?

We had some basic training in which we learned the three main table games: blackjack, dynamic poker (against the house), and roulette. It lasted one month. We had an awesome woman training us, who not only taught us the games, but also how to carry ourselves in the workplace.

We also had to learn the cards and hands—I myself had never even played poker before!

I feel like you would also need some sort of mathematical training to work as a croupier?

Definitely! It’s really important to get things right, because it’s people’s money at the end of the day. The trickiest game in this sense was roulette, as you have to sum up several multiplications, for instance 35 times 5 plus 4 times 17. When I started to study communications I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with math anymore, but life had something else in store!

What lessons did you learn as a croupier?

I got to know myself and what I am ready to tolerate, which I guess any customer service person can say they learned about their job. Croupier is a profession where you can and should stand up for yourself and other customers. You can’t let anyone bully you. I also find I have a much lower tolerance for nonsense.

Did you work and study at the same time? If so, how did this affect your grades?

I did! I was already working when I got accepted to the University of Helsinki. I would go to school in the mornings, and then have a night shift.

I promised myself that if my grades went down, I would cut down my hours or quit. Luckily, my grades were good in the end, so I didn’t have to make any compromises.

After working in this environment, what are your thoughts on Finnish gambling culture?

I wouldn’t gamble at all myself; I have spent so much time in the environment that it wouldn’t feel like a recreational activity. It’s actually a very multicultural environment, as many customers come from countries where gambling is forbidden. You really get to see the worst and the best of people and humanity.

What I found really amusing was the superstitious idea that women are bad luck. Some men refused to play with me! The hand you’re dealt with is based on luck, not on what there is between one’s legs…

On that note, were most of your customers male?

Yes, the majority of the people who gamble in Finland are men. But actually, among my co-workers there was roughly a 50/50 split.

Did you have to handle any unwanted attention? Do you have any tips to apply to daily life?

Gambling usually runs hand in hand with alcohol, so unwanted attention was definitely a thing. I had zero tolerance for sexual harassment; I’d usually tell people that it was their first and last warning. Some would take offense and say that I was ruining all the fun because I wouldn’t let them objectify me while I was dealing! But when I’m in charge of a table, I’m also in charge of everyone having a good time. Somebody trying to put me down does not fit the scene. So I would calmly and firmly say this attention was unwanted, although hearing nasty words did happen, of course. But that would then be dealt with.

Some other people did get it and apologise, but the first option would be the most common because there are women who refuse to make a big deal out of this as they don’t feel comfortable. I believe women should stand together, and operate a collective zero tolerance policy. Anyone with a basic understanding of social cues should know what’s acceptable to say.

Now that you moved on to a job in your field, do you miss anything about being a croupier?

I miss the people, both customers and colleagues. Like with any customer service job, people are the worst and the best. There can be some really horrible people, but some young people actually give me hope about the future. For instance, 18 year-olds visiting for the first time after becoming legal were generally well-behaved, and sexual harassment was not an issue with them. I never had to correct youngsters about inappropriate behaviour. It’s as if the future generation is starting to take as a given the things that women need to go on and on about regarding sexual objectification.