Grand mother smiling at 70 - Sunday 12th of June 2005

Dee Evans, a witty redhead with sparkling eyes, doesn't look like she's been dealing cards for 49 years.

She's kept on smiling through the clouds of cigar smoke, the occasional obnoxious gambler, the different bosses and the ownership changes. She says her career will come full circle Monday when Harrah's Entertainment is expected to complete its acquisition of Caesars Entertainment, the parent company of Grand Casinos.

She worked for Bill Harrah, the founder of the global casino giant, during her first year in the business in Nevada.

At age 70, she's a mother figure to the people she works with at Grand Casino Gulfport.

"The gaming industry is a gift if you realize it," Evans said. "The whole world goes by these tables. I tell these kids I've never met a stranger because everybody is a friend when they sit down at a card table."

In 1956, Bill Harrah bought the Frontier Club in Reno, where she had begun working within an hour of having turned 21 on Jan. 29. Harrah tore the casino "down to the dirt," built a nicer property and rehired many of the workers, including Evans.

"The stage bar was close to the casino pit," Evans said. "I used to watch Wayne Newton when he was in teens. He would have to go out the exit when he was through performing. He wasn't old enough to be in there and his voice hadn't changed yet."

She worked for Harrah's casino in Reno and in Lake Tahoe from 1957 to 1965.

"Bill Harrah was a perfectionist," she said. "Harrah's Club was the Cadillac of the gaming industry. If you could deal at a Harrah's Club, you could deal at any club in the state of Nevada."

Over the years, she worked at several other casinos, including short stints at some in Las Vegas.

The celebrities she's dealt to include Pearl Bailey, the Carpenters, Jack Benny, George Burns, Liberace, Joe Frazier, Jonathan Winters, Justin Timberlake, Matthew McConaughey and Bill Cosby.

Evans followed her son, Laine Coolidge, to the Coast in 1994 when he was a shift manager at the Copa Casino. She hesitated at first, but said she she fell in love with the area when she and her daughter, Kim Neal, visited Coolidge.

He would later become casino manager at the Copa and is today the general manager of Gold River Casino in Oklahoma.

His mother's common sense and sense of humor have helped him succeed in the business, Coolidge said.

He recalled waiting at the baccarat pit of a Nevada casino one night for his mother to get off work. Coolidge, who was in his 20s and fresh out of the Marines, had to keep his temper in check as he observed the action.

"One particular party was a high-roller," Coolidge said. "He was an obnoxious individual, the way he was carrying on and some of the language he was using. As I'm listening to his, I'm getting upset."

When his mother's shift ended, he questioned why she hadn't asked her pit boss to put a stop to the behavior.

"I don't sweat the small stuff," he recalls his mother saying.

She told a joke, laughed and didn't talk about the incident for the rest of the ride home.

Evans advises younger co-workers not to let somebody's else's actions bother them.

"I've dealt to some of the biggest jerks that come down the plank," she said. "They make some of the funniest stories afterward."

Most of the time, dealing is a pleasure, Evans said. She compares the job to being an improvisational actor. She gauges the moods of the customers and interacts with them accordingly.

"It beats the hell out of working for a living," she said.

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