The Lowdown on Prop Players

Poker as a casino game is an interesting choice of entertainment – unlike the other casino games, you have a great deal of control over the odds and you aren’t directly playing against the casino unless you’re playing Caribbean Stud. The casino’s profit comes from the rake they impose on the pot, taking a percentage of the money being played for. The peril here, however, is that games need to be kept going and can’t ever fall into being short-handed (that is, having fewer than five players at the table). So how does the casino keep the action going?

With prop players.


Prop (short for proposition) players are intended to keep a poker game going or even start one up by interacting with some players and encouraging them to get playing. Because poker is at its core a social game, it’s hard for casinos to directly get a game going and they rely on players starting the game themselves. This is where prop players come in – they start playing, chatting and generally breaking the ice for other players to get the game going. If a table loses a player and is in danger of falling apart, the prop players swoop in to the empty seat and start playing, keeping the other players engaged and moving on once the momentum is restored. This method helps to keep tables full and games moving, which is good for players and the casino. But despite how handy they are, prop players seem to be a dwindling minority nowadays – so what’s the deal?

A history of prop players

The dilemma of poker’s popularity and a casino’s drive to make money has lead to a number of inventive practices in order to capitalise on the game’s popularity. In the past, the casino employed players much like the prop players in order to keep games going and entice punters to have a go at the cards. But these players weren’t props, they were shills. A shill was a player who played with the house’s money and any money they won went straight back to the house. This practice is now seen as both immoral and, in a great many, places, illegal. Hiring a skilled player to clean up and make sure the house makes a profit on top of the rake is no longer the done thing. Instead, prop players get paid an hourly wage from the casino but they have to play with their own money and they get to keep any money they win.

This important distinction makes the prop player a noticeably different job than that of being a shill, you’re expected to play well but the casino doesn’t make a gain if you win. In addition, it’s required that the dealer identifies the prop if asked to by the other players. This important distinction is what makes the prop player different from the shill – it’s fully above board, mentioned to the players if there is one present and the casino does not see a direct profit from the prop’s playing.

The move to online

While this method of prop play works for the bricks and mortar casinos, what about online? At sites like Betfair Casino, the poker room is entirely digital. Prop play for online poker rooms is a different beast, because the demand is far greater and the ‘casual’ players are unlikely to be walking by. If they’re on the site, they’re interested – all the prop player needs to do is keep the game going so that the drop-in players can play a few hands. In the early days of online poker, where you’d have various low traffic sites all vying for attention and queues for rooms, this style of prop play was viable for the online sphere, but once online poker began to grow with the internet, this style of prop play began to fall out of favour.

Nowadays it’s unlikely a site will need a prop in order to get the game going as the larger sites have an increased capacity and the calibre of players is generally much higher, this shifting of supply and demand will have an adverse effect on any potential prop players. If you’re hoping to make some money then playing online as a prop player becomes less and less of an appealing prospect – you’ll always be on tables that need attention to become good for the general players, you’ll be working at games that aren’t always going to guarantee you a profit and you’re playing with your own money.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that online prop players are reducing in number – but the number of players still at work in bricks and mortar casinos is relatively stable. But with the drive to play online, more and more poker players aren’t encountering prop players. So, it may not be that prop players are vanishing, just that (like many other casino roles) they simply aren’t making the transition to online.

But what do you think? Have you ever encountered a prop poker player? Let us know in the comments below!

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