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Alana Roberts

Federal Stats on Dealers Criticized

26 August 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Nevada gaming dealers make less money than any other dealers in the country, according to newly released federal statistics.

But state employment experts say the numbers are misleading, claiming that casino dealers don't fully report their incomes because they underreport their tips.

Wage data from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates Nevada's overall annual average wage ranks 29th of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Nevada's average wage is $34,060 compared with the national average of $37,020. The semiannual report of wages, taken in May 2004, was released Thursday.

The numbers show that dealers make an annual average wage of $13,410.

That wage doesn't accurately reflect what Nevada dealers probably make, said Jim Shabi, an economist with the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. Shabi said DETR is the agency that compiles the wage survey information for the BLS.

"You can be sure tips are never going to be 100 percent accurately reported," Shabi said. "The mix of jobs in the state is clearly one that is skewed toward the lower end."

Shabi noted that the survey is a detailed one that strives to get the most accurate data and includes the reporting of tips, but that tipped occupations are difficult to gauge.

"It's a comprehensive survey, but tip income is one of those areas that is difficult to survey," he said. "It's one of those areas where Nevada is unique because such a large percentage of jobs are tipped."

Arte Nathan, chief human resources officer for Wynn Resorts, said one possible reason for the misrepresentation is the varying ways companies handle their dealers' tips.

"Most dealers today, they pool their tips," Nathan said. "So some companies put them on the paycheck, some do not. Some of them when they pool they give them the cash every day. Unless they're on the paycheck the dealers aren't going to report them because they don't want to get taxed."

Nathan suggested that the way the questions are asked could determine the accuracy of workers' answers.

"There are dealers in town that are making in excess of $60,000 to $70,000 in tips," he said. "If they are just asking base wages they've got the correct answer. Unless you ask the question, 'What is your total compensation including tips?' you aren't going to get anything more than what you've got. That could hold true for a lot of tipped classifications."

Yvette Monet, an MGM Mirage spokeswoman, agreed with Nathan's assessment.

"This number in no way reflects what dealers in Las Vegas are making," Monet said.

Minnesota had the highest average wage for dealers at $26,050.

Other Nevada hospitality positions ranked fairly high on the BLS survey. The wages of Nevada's skin care specialists ranked first with an average of $47,240 per year; Nevada's maids and housekeepers ranked 4th, with an average wage of $21,370; hotel and resort desk clerks ranked 4th with an annual wage of $24,120; gaming managers ranked 4th with an annual wage of $73,750; restaurant cooks ranked 5th in annual wages at $24,100; chefs ranked 8th with annual wages at $39,430 and waiters and waitresses ranked 16th with $16,280 in annual wages.

The data shows that the District of Columbia has the highest wage earners in the nation with a median wage of $45,040, but Shabi said that area has higher unemployment.

Nevada currently has an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent.

"Wages aren't the whole picture," Shabi said. "You always want higher paying jobs. Every economic development department in the country, whether they're the Nevada Development Authority, they're looking to get clean, high-tech, high education jobs. The problem is everyone is trying to get the same jobs. Nevada has done a passable job of diversification of jobs. We're still dominated by gaming."

He noted that the state's wages have risen steadily since 1989, at a rate of about 3.5 percent per year, at or better than the rate of inflation, which means Nevada workers' wages haven't lost ground to inflation.