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Gaming Guru

Jeff Simpson

Jeff Simpson hears how tip sharing works, and works well, from an experienced hand

30 April 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- If you believe the wailing and hand-wringing of dealers worried about the Wynn Las Vegas tip-sharing system, you'd think the plan was a direct assault, not just on dealers, but on the American way of life.

Wynn Las Vegas is stealing our tips, and if Steve Wynn isn't stopped, other casinos will copy his insidious system, they say.

I've been talking to a lot of dealers lately, gauging their reaction to the ongoing controversy about the Wynn Las Vegas tip pool.

Most dealers I've spoken to, whether they toss cards or push dice at Wynn Las Vegas or someplace else, say they oppose Wynn's system of including front-line supervisors in the tip pool.

The former floormen and boxmen, now called "service team leaders," get a 40 percent or 20 percent share, respectively, of a full dealer's share of the tip pool, a change Wynn said would give dealers incentive to become team leaders and improve customer service on the casino floor.

Wynn told me recently that customer service is improving and that the Wynn dealers remain the best paid in the world.

Adding team leaders to the dealer tip pool diluted the pool by 15 percent, but Wynn said improved service will result in bigger tips that should eventually more than make up for the initial drop in dealer tip income.

But Wynn isn't the first to adopt the system.

A couple of dealers I spoke to knew of a casino where supervisors already share in the tip pool.

I was skeptical, but I checked. And they were right.

There's been tip sharing going on in Nevada for longer than many of today's dealers have been alive.

Not in Las Vegas, but in Laughlin, at Don Laughlin's Riverside Resort.

Casino legend Laughlin is a smart guy.

The man who pioneered the Colorado River-side town and built and still owns his Riverside Resort is an icon.

And when I spoke to him on Thursday, he laughed when I asked him if he had heard about the tip-pool controversy at Wynn Las Vegas.

"Sure," he said.

When I asked him if his supervisors shared in the tip pool, he proudly said they did.

And his front-line casino supervisors get "about the same" share as the dealers, Laughlin said. "It's been working beautifully for 41 years."

When I asked him why he includes his supervisors in the tip pool, he said it was simple.

"The floorman has more to do with service than the dealers," Laughlin told me. "They greet the players, they rate 'em, and they are the ones who comp them for a meal."

When I asked if the tip-sharing made dealers angry, Laughlin said the dealers agree that the system is superior - and no wonder, since they also get the most tips on the river.

"When they all share, there's harmony among management and employees," Laughlin said. "There's no hatred and no jealousy. Everyone is trying to provide good service."

I think it is ridiculous for state lawmakers to try to tie the hands of innovators like Laughlin and Wynn.

The state Assembly last week passed Assembly Bill 248 by a 32-10 vote, with unanimous Democratic support. The bill is a clumsy attempt to bar tip-sharing arrangements like those in effect at the Riverside Resort and Wynn Las Vegas.

Lawmakers shouldn't presume to know what is best for workers on the casino floor.

Two decades ago Wynn made a similar move that caused some controversy among tip earners, specifically doormen at shows.

At the time, almost all tickets to a show carried the same price. If you wanted a great seat, you tipped the doorman a lot. If you didn't want to get stuck in the back or behind a pillar, you toked.

And the doormen sometimes made $1,000 or more a night, while the show, and the hotel, made nothing on the demand for better seats.

Wynn thought that was ridiculous, and started selling tickets to designated seats. Better seats cost more.

Instead of the doormen making a bundle, the show's producers and the hotel made the extra money - as they should have.

Wynn is not proposing a ban on tipping dealers, although he could.

He's just allowing his service-providing team leaders to share a small part of the toke pool.

The Wynn dealers are still making a very good income.

The Senate should let AB248 die, and if it doesn't, Gov. Jim Gibbons should veto it.

Jeff Simpson is business editor of the Las Vegas Sun and executive editor of sister publication In Business Las Vegas.