It is not every day that a Maltese sets a world record. Stephen De Raffaele is one of the few.

He recently received official acknowledgment and a certificate from Guinness World Records after dealing blackjack for over 50 hours at a stretch.

A pit clerk at the Oracle Casino in Bugibba, Mr De Raffaele spent a gruelling, record-setting, consecutive 51 hours and 33 minutes dealing blackjack at the casino.

He dealt hand after hand, stopping only for a 15-minute break every eight hours in accordance with the guidelines set by Guinness World Records. In those eight hours, Mr De Raffaele could not move away from the table and had to stand straight - a challenge in itself.

The 39-year-old from Mosta first decided to attempt to set the new world record in the spring of 2000, but since Guinness World Records had never had a similar request, it took 18 months of correspondence, the establishing of rules and regulations and preparation before the challenge could be held.

His perseverance and determination paid off, however, when at 12.10 a.m. on a Monday morning on August 27, he played the final hand of his 51-hour marathon to the cheers of his wife, parents, guests and casino team mates.

Mr De Raffaele knew that he wanted to do "something big" with blackjack the first time he dealt the game at training school in 1997. His managers had also suggested that, being a "good dealer" - which implied being "quick, accurate and knowing what`s going on" - he should attempt to set a world record.

For Mr De Raffaele, the hardest part was, funnily enough, getting Guinness World Records to establish the rules since no other attempt had ever been made.

He started preparing for the challenge eight months before and his training first consisted of adding up the numbers on car registration plates and kept on increasing in intensity as time went by.

"I used to deal to myself, pretend I had my opponents, and practise paying them, or taking their money, depending on whether they won, or lost."

Mr De Raffaele not only had to work on his concentration and familiarity with numbers, but also had to build up his physical stamina and learn to stay awake.

He would finish work at 4 a.m., drink a coffee and start dealing to himself until 1 p.m. On his days off, he would practise dealing from 10 a.m. to the next morning when he would wake up his children for school.

Guinness World Records now have Mr De Raffaele`s authorisation to publish his name in their book, but it is up to them whether to do so or not.

Mr De Raffaele`s achievement meant that he has fulfilled a dream. "I only wish that someone would try to break my record so that I would be faced with another challenge to break his."

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