Back in the UK we don’t tip much or often. We might tip a taxi driver or a hairdresser and very occasionally we might invite a barman to ‘have one for yourself’ but that’s about it. When we visited a casino in the UK we never used to tip because, until the introduction of the Gaming Act 2005, tipping was illegal! Even after that changed it took a very long time for winning gamblers to get into the habit of sliding a chip to the dealer.
Vegas, even more so than the rest of the USA, survives on tips. I spend much of my Vegas time at the poker tables and it never ceases to amaze me how many players just don’t know the realities around them. Poker dealers in the better rooms in town are smart, knowledgeable and very good at what they do, they endure all manner of abuse from players yet they’re paid only the minimum wage by the casino. To feed themselves and their families they are all heavily reliant on tips. It’s accordingly customary (not compulsory) to tip the dealer just $1 when you win all but the smallest poker pot. If you don’t this is called ‘stiffing the dealer’.
If you win a monster pot or a hand that took a long time to play out then tipping the dealer more than the minimum is a nice thing to do. A good dealer can deal up to thirty hands an hour. Of these up to ten will be ineffective for one reason or another leaving the dealer twenty hands to earn their money. You might think a minimum of $20 an hour on top of their minimum wage isn’t too bad but they’re only earning tips when they’re dealing. Watch an individual dealer during his or her shift and you’ll see that they may be assigned to a table with no players, ‘brush’ i.e. clear up, move chairs and fetch chips for players or even stand and wait because there are more dealers than players.
During this time they earn nothing in tips which is all the more reason to tip them when you win and they do their job properly. I get so exasperated when a player wins a big pot and stiffs the dealer that I’ve been know to tip them myself. They should always say ‘thank you’ and the very great majority do. If they don’t then you have my full permission to stiff them!
In the better poker rooms you may also have your chips brought to your table by a chip runner. They save you the hassle of walking to the cage and changing your bills. Given them a Dollar when they do this for you. The same principles apply.
I’m sure some of you are muttering that it’s the casino’s job to pay their employees and why should you do it for them? To an extent that’s true but good service should always be rewarded not least to encourage it being repeated. Poker dealers, by the way, are unlike table game dealers in that they keep their own tips rather than pool them across a shift so you really can ensure that the people who deserve it benefit from gratuities.
By table games I mean pretty much every other game found in a casino that isn’t poker so this includes Blackjack, Three card Poker, Roulette etc. These staff don’t keep their own tips, instead they’re pooled across the entire shift. Not just the dealers but supervisors and floor managers get their cut too. Whereas a poker dealer will slip their tip into a pocket, a table games dealer will put it into a sealed box or drop it through a slot in the table. These are then collected at the end of the shift, aggregated and shared as part of the next wage packet.
Obviously you’re not expected to tip at a table game each time you win. Doing this at Blackjack for example would soon see you lose all your money. Instead it’s good practice to tip when you leave the table or if you have a bigger than usual win. Alternatively I like to make the dealer suffer with me and instead of just giving them a $5 chip I make a $5 side bet for them. You’ll sometimes see experienced players put another chip just above and to the side of their own bet – this is for the dealer. The same rules apply as they apply to your bet. If you win so does the dealer, if you lose so do they and the chip goes back into the table rack and not through the gratuities slot.
Some dealers like to play with you as it enhances camaraderie, good spirits at the table and a feel good factor. The more you enjoy yourself the more they tend to get tipped so it’s better all round. Some dealers don’t like seeing their potential tips lost to the house. Sometimes I invite them to choose whether to play or just to take the money. They go up in my estimation if they elect to play. Sometimes I just make them play anyway. Very occasionally you hit a big hand at a table game and are paid big odds and so, then, are they. See their face light up!
There aren’t many of you out there who stiff the cocktail waitress but there are a few. No, I’m not being rude. You get free drinks in Vegas when you gamble, including alcohol; that’s one of the things that make it great. Of course, the house gives booze away to get you drunk so you gamble and lose more but we’ll overlook that for present purposes. When a cocktail waitress comes by you ask for whatever it is takes your fancy and when she passes by next she’ll bring it to you. Custom is to tip her $1 after all you haven’t paid for a drink that would cost you $10 elsewhere in the property.
The custom to tip $1 has been the same since I first went to Vegas in 2000. Inflation isn’t working in favour of waitresses and poker dealers. $1 is now frankly a bit tight, I think $2 is more appropriate. If you want to tip more just do so. You’ll find that if you do the waitress seems to come around that little bit more often than if you tip $1 or nothing at all! A productive policy, I’ve found, is to tip big the first time, say $5 and she’ll keep coming back to you whilst others around become parched. Incidentally, if a waitress is unusually nice to you it’s not because she wants your phone number, she’s usually trolling for tips.
When I think of who else I tip in Vegas one such person will be my housekeeping attendant (chambermaid to you and I). There’s a division of opinion here; whether to tip small each night of your stay or larger at the end of it. The reasoning behind tipping each night is that the person servicing your room may change. I personally think its a bit daft tipping for room cleaning every day so I just do it when I leave.
What I tend to do is put all my coins in a pile and add to it any left over slot machine tickets. How many times have you been left with 49c or some similar useless amount at the end of a slot session. You can’t do anything much with it so why not take the ticket back to your room and leave it as a tip? You don’t notice it and by the end of a week or more a healthy and appropriate gratuity has appeared.
I will also tip a shoeshine man, the guy who opens the taxi door for me, after I leave my seat in the buffet (it must be a soul destroying job clearing up in a buffet) and I have been known to tip the man or woman who assigns me my room on check in. You may be surprised how placing a bill next to your passport gets you a room upgrade or some free stuff – not a $1 bill though, you might end up next to the ice machine!