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December 19, 2014

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People who make Las Vegas work:

5 women you want to have drinks with in Las Vegas

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Sam Morris

Cocktail waitress Maria Elena Reveles at the California.

Anyone who has tried walking through a busy casino knows how difficult it can be to slip through the crowd without bumping into someone.

Now try to do that carrying a tray full of drinks — and wearing high heels.

That's what Las Vegas' thousands of cocktail waitresses do every day. Many have done it for decades.

The city's longest-serving cocktail waitresses say their jobs are about more than just drinks. Many consider customers family members. They've bonded with them.

And the women, in many cases, are a large part of the reason why customers come back.

Meet five women who make people feel at home in casinos:

    • California dreamin'

      Maria Elena Reveles has an award-winning smile. Literally.

      This year, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority honored her with a "Hospitality Hero" award for her service at the California casino. Reveles said it's her smile that keeps customers coming back.

      "To me, this is like showtime," said Reveles, who won a national talent competition for Boyd Gaming employees for belly dancing. "This is my performing time, and I love to perform. "I come with my best smile and a sincere smile," she continued. "I try to look at them in the eye when I ask them if they want a drink. It makes it more personal. I'm the type of person who likes to make people feel at home. That's how I'd like to feel if I came to a place on vacation."

      Reveles didn't start out as a cocktail waitress. She got her hair stylist's license at 18 and worked in a salon for three years before a friend at the Golden Nugget told her she could make better money serving drinks. She started at the California in 1984 and hasn't left.

      "I've had other chances to go do something else," Reveles said. "But no, this is what I like to do."

      And Reveles has no plans to leave anytime soon.

      "I'll do it until I'm 85," she said. "Unless I hit the Megabucks jackpot. Then I won't be doing it."

    • Arizona Charlie's angel

      The day after Pamela Moore's father died, she heard a knock on her door. Outside stood a group of customers from Arizona Charlie's Decatur, where Moore has served cocktails since the casino opened 24 years ago.

      "They had taken up a collection," she recalled. "They had brought food."

      The customers wanted to thank Moore for the years she spent serving them in the casino's bingo room. Moore has brought customers birthday presents and shared Thanksgivings and Christmases with them.

      Some of the people she serves tell her she looks like a movie star. They compare her to Connie Stevens, the 1960s bombshell, or Marg Helgenberger from "CSI" and "China Beach."

      Moore began serving cocktails in 1976 at the Silver City casino on the Strip. She frequently delivers drinks to people before they order them.

      "I know what they like because they come here regularly, so I see them come in and try to have their drink ready for them," Moore said.

      But Moore can do more than serving. She's as handy with a hammer as with a cocktail tray. She has bought several houses, restored them, then sold them.

      Still, she's not ready to hang up her apron.

      Serving is "actually a job that keeps you feeling young," she said.

    • Golden Gate's goodwill ambassador

      Gloria Harris started at the Golden Gate Casino as a change girl in 1974. "I was the bill breaker," she said.

      When a job opened up serving cocktails, she applied and was promoted. She managed to raise four children, now ages 30 to 40, off her tip money.

      Harris enjoys training younger women just starting out in the hospitality business. Serving goes beyond being able to carry a tray of drinks, she said.

      "For the hotel, we are the goodwill ambassadors," Harris said. "We can make this a pleasant trip, or we can make it a very bad trip. We want each experience to be enjoyable so they can always come back and know they will be treated well. That's what we tell all our girls — treat the $5 player just like you would the $50 or $100 players. They've all worked hard to make their money to come to the Golden Gate."

      Harris says she isn't bothered by the scantily clad young women who surround her each evening dealing blackjack and taking turns dancing behind the tables. The Golden Gate is packed again after years of dwindling crowds because of them, she said.

      "They are the spice of life," Harris said. "I'm telling you, since they put the bar outside, then they brought in the dancing dealers, it has turned this place around. We've been happier, we've been flourishing. Downtown is coming back."

    • Ol' Blue Eyes at the Riviera

      Karen Crawford was shocked the first time a casino customer tried to give her his room key with a wink and a nod. By now, she knows how to handle inappropriate advances.

      "Some people think that's what cocktail waitresses do, but that's another profession," Crawford said. "You learn how to do these little comebacks that don't put them down but let them know. Now, I just say something like, 'I'm sorry, I don't do rooms.'"

      When Crawford started serving drinks, she had to earn her stripes at the Troubadour Club before anyone would hire her on the Strip. She was hired at the Riviera in 1977.

      "You had to put in 2,000 hours of work before you could get a job on the Strip," she recalled. "Now they just throw girls out there with no training."

      Crawford's mother and step-father worked as dealers at the Riviera.

      "It really was like a family here," she said. "All I ever wanted to do was serve cocktails."

      Crawford did accept one invitation to a man's room. But it was only to serve drinks. The customer was Frank Sinatra.

      "I don't remember much, because I was so nervous," she said. "I didn't want to do anything wrong. But I remember this: his eyes really were that blue."

    • Serving more than drinks at Sam's Town

      June Drao does more than serve drinks to her customers at Sam's Town. She has taken people to doctor's appointments and helped them get legal papers notarized. She has celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and weddings with them. She even went to one longtime customer's funeral.

      "Most of our customers come here every day," said Drao, who has worked as a cocktail waitress at the casino since 1985.

      Drao's first job was working as a credit manager for a lumber company.

      "This is my chosen profession," she said of waitressing. "You never know who you're going to meet and how you're going to change their lives — or how they're going to change your life."

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    1. Karen has served me drinks at the Riv. for years now, I recognize her, and when she and a couple of other long time members of the waitstaff there are on duty I just know how well I'll be taken care of, from water to beer or mixed drinks. Their service garners higher tips from me than the wait staff at other establishment's. I can hardly wait for my next visit to LV and the Riv in about four weeks, if, for no other reason than to renew aquaintance's. They sure do make me feel at home. Thank's Ladies.