How gratuities work in the casino, and why a little generosity can go a long way
By Rob Wiser
To tip, or not to tip? It’s a question you’ve probably wondered about at times in the casino. I certainly hope it has at least crossed your mind; after all, you wouldn’t stiff the valet or the guy who lugged your bags up to your room, would you? So why should it be any different with the person who’s been dealing your cards for the past hour?
Nevertheless, there’s quite a bit of confusion over when, and how much, it’s appropriate to tip dealers and other casino personnel. Tipping is a very personal choice; there’s really no “correct” percentage, as there is with a restaurant bill. There are, however, some general rules of thumb—and some misconceptions that deserve to be cleared up.
Tipping Your Dealer
A lot of players fail to understand that dealers are part of the service industry and rely on tips to make a living. The base salary for dealers is usually minimum wage, or close to it.
A good dealer, like a good waiter, is going to serve you in a professional and courteous manner. The big difference between the two professions is that part of the dealer’s job is to take your money when you lose. This is where it can start to feel personal. A player on a losing streak tends to think, “the casino’s gotten enough of money. Why should I tip, on top of it?”
This attitude is understandable, and dealers are used to it. It’s also why contrary to popular belief, they actually want to see you win. The dealers don’t get a cut of your losses, nor do they get penalized if you win a bunch of the casino’s money. Their job is simply to deal the game and keep things moving along.
Once in a blue moon, you will come across an unprofessional dealer. I remember playing blackjack one time at a Strip casino and getting crushed by a terrible run of cards. Every time I lost a big bet, the dealer would grin and say “ouch!” or “that’s gotta hurt!” as he swiped my chips away. Talk about adding insult to injury. Needless to say, I didn’t fork over a gratuity, and he didn’t deserve one.
Otherwise, as long as the game is being dealt in a professional, pleasant manner, it is appropriate to tip your dealer periodically regardless of whether you’re winning or losing. There are several ways to do this. You can give it to the dealer directly, usually before you get up to leave the table. Just slide the chip (or chips) towards them. The other method, which dealers prefer, is to place a bet for them. Their job can get tedious, and by making a bet for them you’re injecting some excitement into their routine.
To do this at a blackjack table, place a chip on the layout next to your bet. It doesn’t need to be the same amount as your main bet; it can be any amount you want. Then, if you win your hand, the dealers wins, too. The $5 bet you placed for them is now a sweet $10 tip. (I usually tip this way, once or twice per hour. The size of the bet I place for the dealer depends on how well I’ve been doing.)
Craps, a more complicated game than blackjack, involves a crew of dealers who can help you out in various situations. For example, if you’ve been making the same bets and forget to make one, or forget to take odds on your pass line bet, they can remind you. Therefore, it never hurts—and can actually help—if you make a bet for the dealers soon after you start playing. Get them on your side. (It’s best to place your bet for the dealers on the pass line, since it has better odds than the various proposition bets.)
Dividing the Pie
In most casinos, dealers pool their tips and split them. If you want to know whether your dealer gets to keep tips, or has to pool them, just ask. Some players will tip a bit more generously knowing that the money is going directly into their dealer’s pockets.
Pooling tips is a policy that makes sense for casinos. Otherwise, the dealers working at the high-limit tables would rake in huge bucks—some high rollers are known to tip thousands of dollars—while the dealers at the low-limit tables would barely make a living. Pooling tips encourages all of the dealers, no matter what area of the casino they’re stationed in, to be courteous and professional.
This can, however, create friction among the dealers. I remember a friend of mine, a gorgeous blonde with a vivacious personality, used to deal roulette in the high-roller area of a Strip casino. The players loved her and would toss her $100 chips left and right, yet she had to share it with all the other dealers—including a few surly curmudgeons who worked the low-limit tables and couldn’t care less about customer relations.
There’s a legendary story about Kerry Packer, the late Australian mogul and one of Vegas’ highest rollers, offering his cocktail server the greatest tip of all time. He asked her what her largest debt was, and when she told him she’d just purchased a home, he told her to bring him the mortgage paperwork so he could pay it off. According to legend, she quit on the spot so that she wouldn’t have to share it with her shift mates. (Hey, wouldn’t you?)
Whatever the casino’s tip-sharing policy is, your generosity will be appreciated.
Most people simply tip out of courtesy; others think tipping big will help them win. If you want to spread the wealth, go right ahead. Everyone loves a “George” (casino-speak for a generous tipper). However, it won’t influence the outcome of the game at all.
Tips for Slots
When you win a slot jackpot over $1,200, the machine will lock up and an attendant will come to verify the win, have you fill out a W2G form for tax purposes, and “hand pay” you. (Some casinos set their machines to lock up at lower amounts.) A lot of players feel one percent of the jackpot, or in that neighborhood, is an appropriate tip for the attendant. For a $1,000 jackpot, this would mean a $10 tip.
Some players give tips to slot attendants in the hopes of gleaning some “inside information”: which machines are hot, and which ones are due to hit. The attendants appreciate the extra cash and might point you towards a “lucky” bank of machines, but as we’ve explained many times in Strictly Slots, no machine is ever “due to hit.” Each spin is a random, independent event. For some players, chatting with the attendants and trying to get a scoop is part of the fun; just don’t take their advice too seriously.
The Truth About “Free” Drinks
The one person you should always tip every time—without fail—is your beverage server. “Complimentary” means the drinks are free, but it doesn’t mean the service is. Most players aren’t aware that when you stiff a cocktail waitress—or get up and leave before she can bring your order—she technically has to pay for that drink. To put it simply (the actual formula is rather complicated), each time a waitress orders a drink from the bartender to serve to a customer, the drink is recorded in the computer, and she is responsible for paying the IRS tax on that drink.
When the drinks are “free,” a dollar per drink is a good tip. Whether it’s a glass of champagne or a bottled water, every beverage counts as one. This is why you should tip regardless of the type of drink, and tip for each one. If you request a glass of ice with your Diet Coke, $2 would be an appropriate tip, since it’s technically two drinks and they’re taking up that much space on her cocktail tray.
Tipping beforehand can be a smart move with cocktail service. You’re letting the waitress know right off the bat that you’re an appreciative customer, and she’ll likely give you the fastest service possible. Even if it takes a long time for the waitress to come around to take your first drink order, just assume she’s got her hands full and tip her as you normally would. It might mean better service on the second round.
Members of the service industry have a saying: the word “Tips” stands for To Insure Proper Service. In other words, they don’t think tips should be viewed as a reward; they believe the purpose of a tip is to make sure you get the best possible service. If you’re settling in for an afternoon at the blackjack table, or at the slots, you might as well tip early and set the right tone.
Of course, you don’t ever have to tip if you don’t want to. Casino employees are used to stiffs; you’ll never hear them complain about it (not publicly, anyway). But a little consideration can go a long way, and why not spread some good karma around? After all, if there’s anyone in the casino you want rooting for you, it’s the people handling the cards and paying out the jackpots.