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They Also Serve Who Stand and Deal

17 May 2000

Periodically, about twice a year where I live, an article on the subject of "customary gratuities" in the hospitality industry, written by some self-appointed pundit, appears in the local newspaper. "Never say never" goes the saying, but I am going to say it anyway: these articles never mention those in that segment of the hospitality industry, the gaming industry, with whom we gamblers interact the most. Of course, I refer to the dealers, those often, and often unfairly, maligned souls who have to put up with players' superstitions, stale jokes, criticism, and foul moods with a smile. Why is that?

The short answer is, I don't know, but I can think of three reasons. The first one is that not until recently (as in the last decade) has table gambling become legal throughout the United States. (OK, you can sit back down. What I meant was that it is no longer confined to Nevada and Atlantic City.) Hence, my guess is that many of the aforementioned pundits are not familiar enough with casinos to offer advice on "customary gratuities" in them, and the rest do not want to admit that they frequent such establishments, which suggests the second reason. Gambling has never been considered an honorable pastime or profession, and I submit that that perception, despite having roots in the 19th century, is applied to those in the business today. In other words, they are considered unworthy of consideration. There is also the problem that part of a dealer's job is to take the player's money when he or she loses, hardly an action for which the player is grateful.

I believe my third reason is by far the one most responsible for dealers being The Forgotten Ones: there is no convenient basis for calculating a tip. In a restaurant, a percentage can be applied to the bill; there is no bill at a gaming table. In a hotel, an amount can be applied to each piece of luggage; there is no luggage at a gaming table. I suppose we could use total action or number of decisions as bases, but who keeps track of them?

Myth: dealers are well paid. After all, they work in lavish surroundings and handle thousands of dollars each day. Fact: even dealers with five years of experience make close to minimum wage. Because they are in the hospitality industry, their employers expect them to get tips. Unfortunately, this is not as widely known as in other areas of that industry, probably because as children we future players were not allowed in the gaming area of a casino and therefore did not observe our parents tipping the dealers. (Compare this to the situation with wait staff in a restaurant, in which children are allowed, though based on a personal experience or two I could argue such should not be the case.) To make matters worse for dealers, most houses have a strict policy against soliciting tips in any way (known as hustling), and some even go so far as to frown upon any but the most cursory acknowledgement of tips by dealers to the tipping player. In other words, dealers are between a rock and a hard place: they rely on tips for a living wage, but have few champions of their cause in that regard, nor are they permitted to be champions themselves.

A discussion of the philosophy and general practice of tipping is beyond the scope of this article. Whether one chooses to tip or not is a personal decision. All I will say is that if one considers tipping other members of the hospitality industry (e.g., the cocktail waitperson) to be appropriate, then one should consider tipping dealers to be appropriate as well.

How do you tip a dealer? Any way you want to. The direct approach, called a hand-in, is simply to put chips on the table and indicate that they are "for you" or "for the crew". By far the most common method, however, is to place a bet for the dealer(s) that will win when you win. Such a bet can be made in addition to your own bet on the same thing, or it can be made separately (e.g., eleven on the comeout, hardway for an even point number).

Almost all casinos require that dealer bets be taken down if they win unless the player specifies otherwise; the dealer gets the bet in addition to the profit therefrom. However, most houses allow the player to specify that he or she is controlling the bet, in which case the dealer takes only the payoff. (A controlled bet made along with a player's bet on the same thing is called a "piggy-back", so a player with a $30 place bet on 6 could hand the dealer $6 and say, "Piggy-back yourself on 6." The dealer would then win $7 and the $6 bet would stay up.) Most houses also allow dealer bets to be parlayed, providing the player gives specific instructions to that effect when the bet is made. For example, "Dollar hard 6 for the crew; parlay to five if it hits."

How much do you tip a dealer? Any amount you want to. (Table minimums do not apply to dealer bets, by the way.) There really is no standard, and I will not presume to offer one. I will, however, offer a suggestion. I consider a dealer's base salary as covering the minimum effort required to run the game: booking bets, taking losing bets, and paying winning bets. I reward any level of service above that minimum, the amount depending on the extra effort expended to render that level of service. I tip dealers who are friendly. I tip dealers who "learn" my betting style and remind me when I appear to deviate from it (e.g., by forgetting to take odds). I tip dealers who shift into overdrive during a big hand to keep the game moving. In general, I tip dealers who make my session an enjoyable one. (Of course, when Lady Luck is taking no prisoners, "enjoyment" becomes a relative term.)

Dealers have to take your money when you lose, but they are not the enemy. They have no control over the dice, and they own no portion of the chips in front of them. (In fact, every dealer I have talked to is on the player's side for the simple reason that players with chips tip better than players without chips.) So, the next time you get the dice, ask yourself if you are having fun. If you are, consider putting a buck or two for the crew beside your Pass Line bet, or making that "yo" a two-way. Because there is no customary gratuity at the table, dealers appreciate everything they get regardless of the amount, and believe me, they will find ways to express that appreciation.

The Midnight Skulker
The Midnight Skulker has been playing craps for over three decades and has played almost everywhere in the country. He is a computer expert and a frequent contributor to Internet newgroups, where his opinions and observations have earned him much respect.
The Midnight Skulker
The Midnight Skulker has been playing craps for over three decades and has played almost everywhere in the country. He is a computer expert and a frequent contributor to Internet newgroups, where his opinions and observations have earned him much respect.