Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2006) in Poker Player newspaper.
See previous entry leading into this one:
I love poker dealers. I’ve befriended dealers, consulted dealers, dated dealers, married dealers, and daydreamed about dealers. That’s why it makes my heart hurt when we quarrel.
Last issue, the word was “Tipping.” I thought my column would be greeted warmly or, at worst, indifferently by dealers. For the most part, it seems that dealers were okay with my advice, but a few wrote me to make it known that they definitely weren’t. Their views are valuable, too. I’d like readers to think about what I said and about the alternative arguments from some dealers. Dealers, incidentally, often refer to tips as “tokes” – probably short for “tokens of appreciation” or something. So “toke” is today’s word.
To stimulate our thought process, I’m going to:
- Restate some of the key points I made in my last column.
- Share an e-mail from a dealer critical of that column. It is published with permission, and her name is withheld on request.
- Publish my response to her, which consisted mostly of my e-mail replies to another dealer. Sadly, I was not provided permission to include his e-mail text. I requested it, but as of this deadline, I haven’t received it, so I’ll leave his e-mails out. But you probably can guess some of what he said by my responses. I don’t think I’m going to win this dealer over to my way of thinking, anyway, because his e-mails seemed to become increasingly confrontational – something I was hoping to avoid. He wanted a retraction of my last column or a method of correcting the injustice. Unfortunately, I don’t retract opinions I continue to believe are valid. Nevertheless, he made some solid points, so I hope he’ll think that this column is somewhat more balanced (even though I still believe the last one was fair). So, I’ll publicly thank him for sharing his thoughts with me – and now it’s time to move our lives along to the next adventure.
Part 1: Key points from last time
- Much of it actually consisted of the text of a lecture I gave years ago.
- I’m in favor of tipping dealers routinely and appropriately (stated in the first paragraph).
- Tipping changes the value of poker hands and can dictate which ones can be played profitably. (That’s important advice to the player, because there are so many marginal hands that are worth only pennies in profit. When you tip, these same hands may actually become unprofitable. Note that I didn’t recommend not tipping for that reason. I recommended not playing those hands for that reason.)
- Some pros never tip (especially in big games), but I believe you have an obligation to do so. That’s because dealers are paid very low wages and expect to make up the difference through tips.
- Good players should prefer the tip method to casinos paying dealers more money directly. That’s because higher wages would most likely result in casinos charging more. For good players who are more selective about the hands they play, it’s better to make up the difference through tips, because they win fewer pots on average – thus paying fewer tokes.
- Lower-limit games are sometimes more lucrative for dealers than bigger games. Customarily big-limit game tips are a much smaller proportion of the pot size than in smaller games. Many pros tend to look upon tips as a fixed fee unrelated to the size of game. Oddly, the per-hour tip earnings for dealers in, say, a $100/$200 game can be less than in a $5/$10 game. Not always, but it’s not unusual, either.
- One dollar is the usual tip in $3/$6 games and games way up. (Actually, subsequent to the years-old lecture, $2 is becoming more frequent for the largest pots.) On small pots, such as stolen blinds, it’s often customary not to tip at all. I usually don’t, either.
- Beginners tend to tip a lot more, but it is not in the casino’s interest or the dealer’s interest to encourage excessive tipping. That’s because those players tend not to survive as long or return as regularly. By tipping reasonably, they’re apt to stick around and supply more dealer income in the long run.
- I tip more than average, but not extravagantly. I’m told the amount I tip is considerably higher than most other professionals. But, I feel I can survive the extra tax, and it makes me feel good.
- Some players choose to pay a dealer beforehand for that session. It’s the same given amount, win or lose. Dealers generally are content with this, because it means they’ll earn something even if the player never wins a pot. Strategically it means that the player can now play all marginal hands, because he isn’t going to pay a tip “penalty” for pursuing pots with very small edges. I don’t personally pay tips up-front. I gladly pay on a pots-won basis, even if it isn’t strictly logical.
- I estimated that if everyone followed my tipping advice it would mean from $40 to $60 an hour extra (above the low wage) for dealers. I’m guessing for most dealers that would constitute a raise.
Okay, there’s the summary. Is it anti-dealer? Apparently it is, in the minds of some. But, that wasn’t my intention. So…
Part 2: The e-mailed dissent
I read your last article on tipping and quite frankly was appalled. I understand that the math of tipping over time as a professional usually adds up to a large amount but there are a few other perspectives that I feel you have overlooked. I implore you to do some more math.
Most dealers today are either paid minimum wage or in my case less than minimum wage. If all players followed your method of tipping and I dealt an average of 100 hands a shift, which is the case in smaller rooms, my average in tips would hover around 50 to 75 dollars a night. Now with that math, gross would be around 250-375 a week. Add in taxes which takes about 28 percent of my paycheck, plus insurance payments, which come out to around 86 dollars a week. That would leave me with 94 to 184 dollars a week plus my great hourly rate of 5.25 an hour … a whopping 245 to 335 take home a week. With the average house costing $200,000 and an income of $70,000 a year needed just to qualify for a home loan, you tell me how this is possibly a living wage.
Cost of living
I realize that tipping a quarter or fifty cents was the going rate about 20 years ago but don’t poker dealers deserve a cost of living increase along with the rest of the country?
I consider myself a professional dealer. I cater to my customers, ensure that the game integrity is maintained, entertain my customers and try to make the overall poker experience a good one. I have several regulars that love me and take care of me and very rarely, if ever, do they ever tip so low.
I would like to think that it is because I take my job seriously and perform my duties well. However, how many dealers out there take such care? I know the answer already. I know there are several horrible dealers out there and I ask you why? It all boils down to money. I do not know of any dealer who considers a quarter to be a good tip or even an average tip. [Note from Mike Caro: Just to clarify, nowhere in my column did I suggest tipping a quarter, so this part confuses me a little.] The amount you are suggesting to tip basically reduces our profession to a minimum wage worker and what kind of quality are you going to get then?
I ask you how many times you have had to protect your hand because of an incompetent dealer, or how many times a game has been run so horribly that you would get up and leave rather than sit there? And you still tip the dealer the same amount as you would tip me, a dealer who takes the effort to run a nearly perfect game. Dealers are also like waitstaff. Do you not reward a person who is waiting on you with good service better than you would if you received mediocre service?
If the money is there, you will get better service and more qualified people for the job. And you will surprisingly get dealers who remember your name, try to get you the seat you want, give you inside information on where the best games are and overall try to help you make more money. I know I do that for my customers. If you consider publishing this please do not use my name. I wish this to just be a conversation between you and I and maybe to get you to reconsider what you wrote. This letter may be in vain, but I believe in at least trying. Thank you for your time.
Part 3: My response
Hi, (Name withheld) —
Thanks for taking the time to write. I’ve had feedback from other dealers, as well.
While I believe you’re misunderstanding the intent of my column and that the effect would be that dealers would actually earn more (especially in the bigger games where many pros — unlike myself — rarely tip at all), your points are interesting and well reasoned. I might consider publishing this and some of my responses without providing your name (as you requested I not reveal your identity publicly). Is this all right with you?
Here are some excerpts from responses I wrote to another dealer:
Response 1 (to a different dealer)
I greatly appreciate your taking the time to write to me. Actually, I think you might have misunderstood my column. I’m completely in favor of dealers being tipped. I tip MORE than the typical average amount — but it isn’t a ridiculous amount. I think many inexperienced players fail to survive games they could otherwise afford to play, just because they mistakenly overtip greatly.
I was just trying to set the record straight on what’s expected. I ALWAYS recommend doing at least what is customary, and that’s what I teach my students. However, it doesn’t serve dealers or players well to have a few novices tip away most of their funds in a short time. It’s mathematically clear that dealers collectively make more money when players survive.
Do the same
It sounds to me as if you deal in a game with atypically high tipping. It wasn’t my intention to hurt your income, but to describe what is expected nationwide. If I were to sit in your game (and you mention that I have) and most players were tipping extravagantly, I would either do the same or not play at all.
I hope this better explains my position, and — again — I appreciate your thoughts. Several dealers expressed agreement with the column. That doesn’t mean they’re right, though.
Oh, and by the way, I occasionally tip $80 on a $20.00 bill at coffee shops — and almost never less that 20 percent. Unlike some others, tipping seems just fine with me, and I resent the pros who are stingy or who never tip (not uncommon in larger games). But, I still think the points I raised are valid.
Thanks for your previous support of my teachings. I hope I can win back your respect in the future.
I reread both my column and your original response, trying to be objective. [Note from Mike Caro: That was what the dealer reasonably requested I do.]
It still seems to me that the column isn’t anti-dealer at all. If anything, it’s pro-dealer. But it points out a mathematical truth, that you can tip a dealer in advance, win or lose, and then it won’t affect your proper strategy — as it will if you tip when you win hands. Tipping only on hands won dramatically decreases the number of hands you can play profitably, since so many of them are marginal or break-even.
If you follow my recommendations, dealers will earn an extra $25 to $40 or so an hour, and more than that in bigger games where there’s so much short-handed play and more hands are dealt per hour. Additionally, there will still be the occasionally bigger tips from players who have won major pots or are feeling more-than-usually generous. I’d like to see dealers earn even more than that, and I tip more myself, but I think that’s a practical target.
I know dealing is a hard job, as I’ve had dealers in my employ, and my wife at one time was director of the largest crew of dealers anywhere (over 800, I think) — at the Bicycle Casino. Should a really accomplished dealer like yourself get extra tips? Sure. But, I’m embarrassed to say that I probably don’t honor that concept enough and tend to tip about equally across the board.
I’ve even found myself giving extra tips as compensation for dealers that other players are yelling at. [Note from Mike Caro: The reader should know that even if you do tip the best, average, and worst dealers the same per pot, the best ones still will earn extra, because they deal more hands per hour. This isn’t what I’m recommending you do; it’s just acknowledgment of a fact.]
You may be interested to know that I’ve never yelled at or been angry with a dealer, and I’ve never thrown cards. This next part isn’t probably something you want to hear, because it’s dehumanizing, but I kind of treat dealers like the weather. A mistake just happens. It might help me or hurt me, but I’m not going to waste mental energy fretting over it. Often I don’t pay any attention to who’s dealing. (I know, that’s bad.)
After quoting those replies to a different dealer, I addressed the current e-mail writer again: I hope those responses help to clarify my position. Let me know if you’d like me to publish your e-mail (without revealing your name).
Straight Flushes, Mike Caro
I guess that just about sums up the debate. I will continue to love dealers, even if I disappoint them sometimes. Let me know your thoughts. — MC