"Everything, my whole life, has been a big scramble"
When Jess Smyth was working as a poker dealer she met a lot of different people. She’d do five nights straight, clocking on at 10pm, clocking off at 7am. “Apocalypse hours,” she says, “you wouldn’t see anyone.” At one point, at the Leicester Square casino, she was spending intense 90-minute spells officiating tables, dealing cards and keeping order. While she maintained a professional appearance, internally it was often an emotional ride. There would be the drunk guys from Chelsea flashing their cash at the end of their night, career gamblers checking into games like it was a factory job, and chancers. Men – it’s always men, she says – who would turn up with their modest savings in the hope of leaving with a bulging wallet. Those were the tough ones. The people truly taking a gamble. “It was definitely the most emotional job I’ve had in my entire life. I must have cried so many times,” she recalls. “You’d get guys coming up to you saying, ‘you’ve just lost my month’s wages – thank you very much.’ Other guys would be like, ‘I can now take my child to Disneyland!’ It was a big ball of emotion. You have to be like the mum of the table – take everything on, take everyone else’s problems on and hold it together.”
Even though the hours were unsociable, the clientele sometimes challenging and the constant exercising of her brain with the maths exhausting, the money was “grand”. She started playing poker for a short while, but stopped when she got cocky, lost £500 and decided she’d like to see some daylight.
That nocturnal commute from Hammersmith to The Hippodrome was the 19-year-old’s favourite job to date. And even though she’s still young, she’s had a few. The first was probably waiting tables in her family’s restaurant in the old town square in Marbella, Spain. Much later on, once she turned 16, she took a job at Hollister at Westfield shopping centre, Shepherd’s Bush. She reckons she “stuck out like a sore thumb” and quit retail after a couple of months. In between that and the casino she’s worked as a fundraiser for British Red Cross (daytime) and a tequila bar waitress (night time). She also went to Beer School, worked in a draft house and, at one point, was employed as a babysitter for a family in Switzerland for two months.
“I feel like with every job it’s important to learn something new,” she reasons, thinking about her packed C.V. “If you’re not learning something new you’re never going to feel happy about what you’re doing.” Right now, her LinkedIn profile would read: bar worker (helping in her parents’ pub) and musician.