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Healing hands

Glamorous masseuses are an increasingly common sight in casinos and cardrooms these days – hooray! Gambling sat down for a chat with one of these talented ladies, Soraya from the Xhilarate company, for an interesting insight into her trade

Gambling: Hi Soraya. What are the main types of massage that you offer in a casino or poker room setting? And for the uninitiated, what do these massage techniques involve? Soraya: Given that players are seated upright, we tend to concentrate on the shoulders, neck and head with some lower back work for players who choose to flip their chairs for the massage. We also have a professional on-site massage chair on hand if anyone wants to step away from the game (or during a break), which enables deeper, more thorough middle-to-lower back work.

The core routine is based on a blend of eastern massage techniques, including Indian head massage, Shiatsu and Ayurveda. Ultimately though, for longer massages the therapist will tailor the techniques to the individual each player.

How does head massage improve concentration? What are the immediate benefits to poker and casino players from having a massage? Poker and casino players tend to accumulate a lot of stress in their shoulders and neck without even realising it because they are often concentrating so hard on the game. With poker especially they are sometimes sitting in the same position for several hours and, as games can go well into the early hours of the morning, they can suffer mental fatigue as well as physical exhaustion from sitting for so long. Having a massage while playing can relax the mind because they have someone looking after their physical stress, gently improving their posture and massaging away the physical tension accumulated during the game. Massage can also wake up the mind and improve circulation. Our intention is always to rejuvenate the players with an invigorating massage that is gentle but firm. Having a massage means the players feel more comfortable and relaxed, which leaves them free to concentrate on the hands they are playing and of course makes the game so much more enjoyable.

You also work in offices. Would you say that gamblers are typically more or less stressed than office workers in your experience? Which of the two are generally more uptight when you start to massage them? It depends on which game and which office. If we are talking about the trading floor of a big bank then I would say the workers there are pretty stressed out. Just as players at big World Series poker events can get pretty stressed. As a general rule though, I would say office workers are more stressed than poker and casino players. Gamblers have the advantage of changing surroundings, waitresses bringing them food and drink and the general fun atmosphere of a cardroom or casino.

In Gambling’s experience of observing masseuses at work during major poker events, there are occasionally players paying for a massage purely to flirt with the masseuse. Is this a problem you encounter a lot?

Of course, when you put gorgeous girls wearing glamorous corsets in a room full of poker players and gamblers they are going to create a little stir and players are going to try to flirt. However, the Xhilarate Girls are much more than pretty faces; we are professional massage therapists and players soon realise that. Practically speaking it's a bit difficult to flirt with the girl behind you so sometimes a poker player will pay for their friend opposite to have the massage! In all seriousness though, poker players are generally very well behaved and fun to be around. I know a lot of the regular players by their first name, especially the ones who get frequent massages and they know me too. The regulars are now more likely to ask for my opinion on their hand than for my number.

Do non-regulars often ask for your phone number then? How often do customers try their luck in getting more than a massage?

Yes I do get asked for my number a lot but it comes with the territory and you learn to deal with this politely and effectively very early on. The casino floor is very different from the cardroom and sometimes customers will ask about private visits and 'extras'. It's not just men that ask either – one of the most flirtatious people I've met on the casino floor was actually the girlfriend of a gambler! However, I have never been in a position where I have felt really uncomfortable. It helps to be able to remind people that there are cameras and microphones everywhere, although it rarely comes to that in my experience. I did once do a massage in the salon privé for a guy who didn't speak great English and within a few minutes of beginning the massage he was on his knees trying to chase me around the room! I somehow managed to communicate pretty fast that a back massage was the only thing on the cards and things were fine after that.

What advice would you offer to poker players to keep feeling fresh during long tournaments when they’re seated for many hours at a time? Drink lots of water. I see a lot of players drinking alcohol during the game, even professionals, which is fine but poker is about stamina and if you have a few glasses of something like red wine too early on that can be detrimental to you later in the game. Also, try not to eat anything too heavy for the same reason. You don't want to peak too early and feel tired halfway through the game. Fatigued players often make silly mistakes and sometimes get so tired they forget about wanting to win the tournament and go all-in for the hell of it. Try to vary your posture even if that means turning your chair around. Poker tournaments can sometimes feel like long-distance flights and people tend to forget they haven't gotten up out of their seat or stretched their legs for a while because they are so engrossed in the game. Finally, have a massage!

What attributes does a good masseuse need? In my opinion, being a good masseuse is more about your attitude and energy than massage technique, although obviously the training we receive is the bricks and mortar of the profession. Being an outgoing person with warm, flowing energy is paramount and means you are more likely to have a natural flair for massage. Players respond really well to personality and the masseuse is an energy giver, which means their state of mind is very important. People say you can hear a smile on the other end of the phone; similarly I think you can feel the warmth of a person though the massage they give you.

What’s the biggest tip anybody’s ever given you? I get asked this question a lot but I don't like to say because it's misleading. Tips are like a lottery – you have to be in it to win it, but each night is so different you just never know how much you will make. For example you might be massaging the winner of a big pot or tournament and get credited with bringing them luck but that's all down to chance. Let's just say I have met some very generous people in the casino.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? What would you ideally like to be doing? Although I love the massage work, I am an actress and trained in film and TV. Things are slowly taking starting to pick up for me as I only graduated from drama school a few months ago but 10 years is a long time and ideally I'd like to be an internationally recognised film actress by then. Maybe I'll play a little poker too after all that I've learnt!
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