In my last two “Casino Poker for Beginners” articles, I introduced you to the poker room personnel you’re likely to meet. These people are paid to be there. Who pays them? You do, directly or indirectly. The “indirectly” part is what they get in paychecks, which ultimately come out of the rake — those chips that the dealer drops into a bin under the table after every hand.
Let’s talk about the “directly” part.
Tipping is always a controversial topic. If you want to start an argument on a poker-related online forum, just ask how much you should tip poker dealers. Or, better yet, express a definite opinion on the subject, and watch how everybody proceeds to disagree with you. Ask 10 poker players how dealers should be tipped, and you’ll get 11 different answers.
I won’t pretend to have the definitive answer. But I can give you some general principles that I think should govern your decision, plus my own specific formula.
Let’s start with the general. I will be so bold as to assert that if your recipe for tipping, whatever the specifics of it may be, fulfills these principles, you’re doing it right, and you may safely and confidently ignore any detractors who think you should do it their way instead:
If everybody tipped the same way you do, the dealers, waitresses, and others who depend on tips for their livelihood would make an hourly rate with which they’re content. You either tip every person in the same position (e.g., every dealer) exactly the same, or the differences in your tipping are based on the person’s performance. You do not tip either more or less based on gender, appearance, or other characteristics over which the recipient has no control. You do not withhold tips to punish service people for things that are outside of their control. You are neither so stingy that you breed resentment from the people who are serving you, nor so generous that you seriously cut into your own profits. You feel good about what you’re doing. That is, you’re not feeling guilty for being a tightwad, and you’re not expending so much mental energy deciding how much to tip that it interferes with paying attention to and enjoying the poker game.
Now for the specifics — or at least the specifics that I settled on years ago, and that have stood me in good stead ever since.
I tip cash-game dealers one $1 chip for every pot I win or chop. It’s the same if I just pick up the blinds, or I win my biggest pot of the night. I increase that to $2 or occasionally even $3 if the hand takes unusually long to play out.
Hands might take longer because of multiple side pots, or because of the need to count down large stacks of chips, or because the floor had to be called to settle some matter, or because players had difficult decisions, each requiring time to think. The extra money is to compensate the dealer for the fact that he or she will get out fewer hands than usual in this down (a “down” being the time dealing to one table, usually 30 minutes).
I will tip an extra $5 if I win a high-hand jackpot. I also like to give a little extra reward to dealers who are exceptionally good. Once in a while a dealer really impresses me with how he or she keeps the game running smoothly, rapidly, and enjoyably. For such outstanding performance, I give the dealer an extra $1 chip as he or she is leaving for the next table, along with the message, “I like how you run the game.”
Similarly, I like dealers who consistently enforce the rules. Some dealers are reluctant to correct players who are talking about the hand in progress, or speaking in a language other than English, and so forth. Sadly, players who get called out — even in the most respectful manner — for breaking rules get embarrassed and tip less, which makes dealers gun-shy about rule enforcement. So when a dealer professionally handles a difficult situation like that, I do the same kind of end-of-down extra, with an encouraging message such as, “Thanks for handling things so well.”
Just as an aside, one of the reasons I prefer the two seats next to the dealer is that I can deliver those tips and messages quietly and semi-privately. If I’m in another seat, I might wait until I can catch the dealer away from the table, rather than have all the other players watching and listening.
Maybe something like once a year, a dealer will do something so outrageously insulting or unprofessional that I will stiff him or her — no tips for the rest of the down or shift. It would take too long to explain the kinds of bizarre circumstances that have led me to that “nuclear” option, but they’re very, very rare.
Those are guidelines I follow when tipping dealers in cash games. Tipping of tournament dealers is a separate matter, which I’ll address when I do an article on all aspects of tournament play.
There are only three ways to leave a cash game: If I lose all of my chips, I have no reason to stop at the cashier, let alone leave a tip. If I leave with a profit, I routinely tip the cashier $1. If I’m cashing out but with a loss, I don’t tip.
I realize that this is not strictly logical; after all, the cashier is doing close to the same amount of work either way. I admit that it is mostly an emotional point for me, in that it’s easier to give away a tiny bit of my profit than it is to deepen my loss.
So I repeat: On each of the specifics of my methods, one could argue that there are different, and even better, ways of doing it.
It’s rare that I play in a casino that uses chip runners, so I haven’t developed the habit of tipping them. On the occasions that I’m in a place that uses chip runners, I usually only think about tipping them long after it’s too late. It’s possible that this neglect means that I’m a horrible person. I’d like to think that if my regular places of play used chip runners, I’d have this process worked out better.
If the floor person does me some special service, such as counting out and bringing me a high-hand jackpot, I’ll tip a dollar. Otherwise, I have not found much call for tipping them. It would be unseemly, for example, to tip such a person for making a call in a table dispute that goes your way, just as a baseball player doesn’t tip the umpire for calling him safe at second base. Unlike the other people in this list, floor personnel are not being paid minimum wage, and are therefore much less dependent on tips to make a living.
I think $1 per drink (whether soft or hard) is both decent and standard.
I’ve asked a few dealer friends about my tipping protocol, and they have all endorsed it as one with which they have no argument, which pleases me.
One final thought: If there is a poker room where you think you will be spending a lot of hours over a long period of time — your “home room,” so to speak — err on the side of tipping more generously. You might be pleasantly surprised at all the ways the staff can make your time there both more pleasant and more profitable if they decide you’re a player who is worth extra effort to keep happy.
Robert Woolley lives in Asheville, NC. He spent several years in Las Vegas and chronicled his life in poker on the “Poker Grump” blog.
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