A Tipping Point

Know how dealers make a living before deciding how much or little to leave

by , Feb 1, 2011 | 2:41 am

Chad Harberts

OP-ED

I recently set off a minor controversy when I mentioned to @Pokerati that a Red Rock Casino poker dealer complained that new Heartland Poker champion Rob Perelman (@veerob) didn’t leave a dealer tip at the conclusion of the tournament.

First, I do not know Rob at all and was not making an accusation against him. I merely passed along the information because I knew @Pokerati had been covering the tournament. Second, as with any tournament cash of any size, Rob is free to spend or not spend his money any way he pleases. (He later tweeted that he tipped $2,000 on his $158,755 cash. The confusion being that he left the tip the next day after most of the dealers were gone and not directly after the tournament.)

Still, I believe the practice of tipping is an aspect of poker that merits discussion. Certainly, there is no standard for tipping in cash games or tournaments, and a lot is left to chance when the casino and other players alike rely on winners to pick up the check.

You may not agree with me to tip 10% of winnings of more than $10,000 in a poker tournament, but you can certainly agree that .00025% is extremely low!

Mike Caro makes a number of salient points when it comes to tipping in both cash games and tournaments in his article from 2006 here. How one player tips in poker is probably no different than how the same player tips at a restaurant or when getting a haircut.

Some players think that the part of a poker tournament buy-in withheld from the prize pool should cover everything. I have heard that of the house cut for the HPT main event (a $1000+100 tournament), $50 went to Red Rock Casino and $50 to the Heartland Poker Tour. I find it a little incredulous that a Las Vegas casino would split the house cut 50/50, but it’s possible.

When you think about the house cut, it is much like getting a meal in a restaurant. If you pay $50 for a nice meal it’s not because the food you ate cost $50. That $50 covers food costs, the server, the cook, the utilities and rent and leaves a profit for the restaurant owner. The server gets paid whether you leave a tip or not. The difference is that if you don’t leave a tip, that person is making $2.13 an hour. If you leave a tip of 15% to 20%, that same server can make a living wage.

Some players think that house cut is a huge profit center for the casinos. That house cut does afford some profit for the casinos, but that money has to pay a lot of people. At the WSOP, the house cut has to cover the labor costs for hundreds of dealers, floor people, servers and tournament staff.

At smaller casinos, where a tournament can literally use up every available table and dealer, this house cut is what the casino earns off its tables since there is no rake during a tournament. I manage a 40-person tournament in a four-table poker room. The tournament typically takes three hours. Until the tournament gets down to 30 people or less, every table is full and there is no place to host a cash game. The house cut makes up a percentage of what is lost in cash-game rake. This obviously doesn’t apply in a bigger casino that can afford to have a separate tournament room from its regular poker room.

# # #

As a poker dealer, I have been asked about tipping and how poker dealers are paid. Most poker dealers sign up for the Internal Revenue Service tip compliance program through their home casino or in any casino in which they are dealing a tournament. The formal part of tip compliance is: Under the Gaming Industry Tip Compliance Agreement Program (GITCA), a gaming industry employer and the Internal Revenue Service work together to reach a GITCA that establishes minimum tip rates for tipped employees in specified occupational categories, prescribes a threshold level of participation by the employer’s employees, and reduces compliance burdens for the employer and enforcement burdens for the Service.

Essentially, poker dealers (and other casino employees) are taxed a certain amount per hour for every hour they work. The rate of tip compliance is higher in bigger and busier poker rooms, less in smaller and less frequented rooms. What is consistent is if you are working eight straight hours at Aria on a Saturday night, you are taxed a certain amount per hour your rate of pay (i.e. minimum wage). If you are “dead spreading” at Excalibur at 8 AM on a Monday and don’t get a game for the first two hours, you are still taxed at your tip compliance rate.

The upside is that poker dealers in the tip compliance program keep all of their own tips. They are not reported to the IRS. They are not taxed. They are not shared. These tips are what make up the majority of a poker dealer’s wages. For a full-time Las Vegas poker dealer you can expect that your bi-weekly paycheck, after taxes and insurance, won’t buy you more than a bag or two of groceries. Your tips, however, can afford you a car and a home.

I know many a dealer who would rather be pitching cards in a four-table casino in the suburbs than in a high-stakes game on the Strip.

As I have been on the felt as both a tournament casher and a tournament dealer, I have seen both sides of this dance.

In a typical situation where the top 20 players of a tournament are getting paid, the tipping breakdown generally goes like this – 16 through 20 make a very small profit but they are willing to throw a few bucks of their profit to the dealers because they are happy to have survived the bubble. Finishers 15 through 5 are happy they cashed, but upset they didn’t cash big. They generally tip small or not at all because they have the mentality that tipping the dealers is the top finishers’ problem, not theirs. This is not true for all players, but I see it happen more often than not.

The top cashing players usually all tip based on what they think is fair – from 1 percent to 10 percent, but usually in the 3-5 percent range.

Here is where human nature really kicks in. If I buy in to a $120 tournament and win $3,000, I think I generous tip is in order. I would tip $300. However, most players I have run across do not think about the $2,880 profit they just made, but instead, think about the $300 they are about to give away. And that seems like a lot of money.

The same source of the @veerob tip told me that the second-place finisher was a local Red Rock 2-4 limit grinder who tipped $7,000 on his $79,059 cash. A 2-4 limit player is lucky to make enough just to stay ahead of the rake. Generally, that player would look at a $79,000 cash like hitting the bad beat and tip accordingly. Again, this tip is unconfirmed.

Every poker dealer has heard the tipping horror stories. My friend and fellow dealer @scarletlv told me of a player who tipped a half eaten candy bar. I have dealt in a casino where quarters are raked and players would tip 25 cents on a $45 pot. At a major downtown casino last summer, a player profited more than $2,000 in a tourney, but was so angry about the bad beat that knocked him out of the tournament that he slapped two quarters on the counter for the dealers and stormed out of the room. You may not agree with me to tip 10% of winnings of more than $10,000 in a poker tournament, but you can certainly agree that .00025% is extremely low!

# # #

I have dealt a number of poker tournaments in various casinos and have many friends who are dealers in Las Vegas and in other places. No matter the size of the tournament, the number of entrants or the location, the same number comes up time and time again with poker dealers — $10 per down. That is what most tournament downs (30 minute dealing sessions) average. That means that most poker dealers make $20 per hour for dealing a poker tournament (before taxes). That may seem like a lot of money, and certainly it is above the poverty line, but look at it this way:

SALARY
$100,000/yr.
$75,000/yr.
$50,000/yr.
$40,000/yr.
AVERAGE PER HOUR
$48
$36
$24
$19

And that’s for full-time dealers. With the supply of dealers being vastly higher than the current demand, most dealers are not full-time employees. They are extra board personnel and temp hires who take jobs where they can get them.

Locals and low-limit players are typically great tippers. They make sure they push you $1 or more after every single hand they win. Generally, bigger game players and tourists are terrible tippers. I know many a dealer who would rather be pitching cards in a four-table casino in the suburbs than in a high-stakes game on the Strip.

In the end, poker dealers are no different than servers, bartenders, valets and a whole litany of service industry jobs in Las Vegas. We do what we do because we like it and it affords us a living.

But the next time you hit that beautiful river card and take in a huge pot, take a beat and think about the hard-working person in the box making the game go smoothly.


Chad Harberts is a full-time poker dealer/supervisor at the Club Fortune Casino in Henderson, NV, and co-founder of WastedAcesPoker.com. You can follow him on Twitter under @chadharberts.


  • Kevin Mathers

    For the past couple of years, the Heartland Poker Tour has donated a portion of the prize pool from their tournaments to the DAV.

  • Jonny Z

    just a thought, perhaps the host poker room could inform winners of how many drops there were during the tournament so the tipper could perhaps more accurately estimate what a good tip might be.

  • Pat

    I play in smallish (80-man $125) tournaments that last about 6 hours. As they begin a down I toss the dealer $2 and inform them that I do not tip from my winnings. At the start of each new down (every 30 minutes) I tip another $2 if I’m still in the tourney.

    If every player did this, the dealers would average $35-$40 per hour in tips.

    The players would end up tipping only $4 if they were knocked out in the first hour and about $25 if they won the tournament.

    I would like this to be a mandatory practice with no additional money taken from the buy-in. That way the dealers would make a decent wage and the players wouldn’t be pressured to tip an exorbitant 10%.

    Charge the players $4 per hour that goes directly to the dealers.

  • coopio

    In my mind, the right pay for a solid dealer is about $40k to $50k per year. It is a tough job at times and it’s not for everyone, but for them to earn anything more than that is just silly. $20 to $25 per hour is about right.

  • zachdealer

    All of you cheep west coast tippers stay the fuck out of Florida. Thank you

  • http://www.piefarmerdiaries.net PieFarmer

    Two questions from a non-player.

    1. Are the tips paid per down, so that all dealers get a tip, or does the tip paid by the winner(s) get shared with the other dealers in the tourney?

    2. Do casinos give winners tax information on the tip as well as the winnings?

    THX

  • Blindraise

    Placing this:

    You may not agree with me to tip 10% of winnings of more than $10,000 in a poker tournament, but you can certainly agree that .00025% is extremely low!

    Above right under the section about Rob and his tip makes it look like thats what he did, which is incorrect.

    You fail to mention that now ALOT (if not most) of casinos take an extra amount out of the prize pool for the dealers. AND then there is the “dealer add on” which I would guess that 99.9% of the players take since it usually adds almost 50% more chips to your starting stack.

    I believe that in the casinos were more transparent with the amount of money they take, more specificly how much of that money goes directly to the dealers, then people would be willing to tip more.

    Take the Deepstack at the Venetian being played right now. A $340 event = $300 (prize pool) + $40 (House) + $10 (dealer bonus add-on). Then in addition they take 3% of the prize pool for tournament staff. Thats $59 PER PLAYER or over 17%. Now how much of that actually gets to the dealers?

  • benjammin509

    Why would anyone go to Florida anyways?

  • Pab

    If your in a decent size room and only making 20-25 a hour you need to find a new job. I worked in a 12 table room when I started 6 years ago and as a breakin I was makin 40-45 a hour. Now iv moved to a much bigger room and average 50 a hour.

  • http://www.heartlandpokertour.com NDSU BISON

    Rob bought the fun crowd at HPT red rock a couple rounds of drinks…..that all that counts

  • http://www.onlinecasinos247.com/ JoeAdams

    If you have trouble on tipping the dealer then online casino is the best place for you as there is no need to be bothered about tipping the dealer in an online casino.

  • Nick

    As a casino dealer part time and as a poker player, tipping breaks down to this:

    1. How much is being taken out for dealer pre tourney, dealer bonus etc. I think for a tourney win or more than a min cash 3% to 5% is a fair payout. If every player in a tourney gave 5% which about my standard, the dealers get a fair cut.

    2. In cash games, unless the dealer is being a complete jerk, every pot merits $1.00. Even if you are having a losing session. If you win a big pot, then the tip should increase based on size. When I am dealing and crushing someone on say roulette, and I hit their number, I am not expecting a tip. If I hit their numbers four or five more times, then that would be different.

    Tournaments are different than cash for a couple of reason.

    1. Variance is a lot higher. I may have played 9 tournaments this month and am down say 1000.00 If I win a tourney for say 1300. and tip 50.00 (4%) I am only up 250.00. That has to be taken into consideration. That is a generous tip based on my circumstance.

    Just a thought.

  • Chris Hartman

    Fifty cents is 0.025% of $2k, not 0.00025%.

  • Stevefnumber2

    i wish people who are not dealers could sit down and see what its like to push thousands of dollars around thinking “hey heres comes the tip ive been waiting for” and get the same tip as you would a 2-4 limit player who wins 40 dollar pots. hell there have been times i get better tips at a limit table than a NL table because they understand that we are working while entertaining and trying to provide a smooth game.  the higher limit players suck for tips (for the most part) i think the most perfect level for tips is the 2-5 NL level.

    for all of the online players, tough that you have to come play live but we as poker dealers do appreciate a tip. yes u get more hands per hour and there are no issues with rules and side pots and such but, just as a waiter/waitress we make less than min wage and LIVE OFF TIPS. we provide you with a service (some better than others) so tip accordingly please!

    this is for anyone, i feel if you suck out on the river, win a huge pot (whatever huge is to you) anything is better than nothing but the usual dollar tip after a huge pot just makes u look cheap. ive pushed pots well over $3000 and been STIFFED. mind you that during all that time that you are acting on your hand, as well as everyone else, i am not pressuring you into making a decision, the hand takes more than 3 mins to complete because of all the time being “wasted” and then to get nothing in return or a dollar just is bad poker etiquette.

    now dont get me wrong i am a player as well so i understand how hard it can be to make decisions but if you ever see me at a table you will know, i tip dealers if i am taking awhile on a hand WHILE IM IN THE HAND just for them being patient, and if i win they still get an additional tip. call me an overtipper but i dont want to be viewed in a negative way in the players eyes/dealers/floor/my own eyes for being so cheap. if you can afford to tip then why play? if u cant afford to play then thats your fault for showing up.

    please stop complaining about rake too, omg they took 5 bucks 4, 3 w.e they take that and that isnt much overall after the casino has to put up comp dollars for you, give rates on hotels, pay the dealers the measly little money they do, replace the felts, cards, chairs as they wear and break, and so on. poker is by far the least profitable game per square footage in any casino. if you dont like it then go try your luck at the house edged table games or SLOTS.

    example:

    you win a bad beat jackpot and the total jackpot is say $150,000
    you win say $75,000 what do you tip?
    me personally, i think taxes first so say i actually get (after 30% taxes) $52,500, i personally would say $5000 is a great tip but anything less than $2500 is a “joke” yes although still a great amount of money to pull for one night, its not like you had lost 52K that night so u didnt break even.  if you go out and eat and the bill is $50 and you want to stick to a tradtional 15-20% well you had to pay for the meal and pay the server for all the work. as a dealer you didnt have to pay me anything for the service and i just helped you win 52K practically for free? what do you think is appropriate?

    ive seen people win $6,000 and tip $15 for jackpots thats .0025% really?! i personally have been tipped .00833 on $12,000 jackpot winnings…again thanks its a great tip for one night yes but wow, you probably wont make that money again in one hand unless you are at wsop main event and just get your money back after being knocked out IF you make the money after 3 days or so and i give you this money in one hand in less than half a days worth of hours.

    if you disagree become a poker dealer and then after 6 months or so tell me how annoying it is to push tons of money all over at different limits and get a thank you dealer as the one white chip rolls your way after greens and reds flow like niagara falls their way lol cant wait till you push a huge pot and watch them dig through the sea of greens and reds to find that one white cuz they are too concerned about “overtipping” after rake, cheap drinks, and terrible rivers that you dealt before.

    all in all, for those who do not work in the business, understand that we as dealers (for the most part) have been on the other side of the table and know what its like to be a player. try putting yourself in our shoes. unless you know first hand how it works dont try and reason for being cheap on a tip

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