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Published: Monday, 7/9/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Casinos' opening spurs questions about tipping

Gratuities factored into wages of dealers, others

BY THOMAS OTT
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER
The Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland projects that its dealers will receive an average of $13 an hour in tips. The Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland projects that its dealers will receive an average of $13 an hour in tips.
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CLEVELAND -- Ohioans have been traveling out of state to gamble for years, but casinos are new in Ohio and those who never made the road trip may have a question or two about the etiquette for tipping.

Two casinos opened this year in Ohio: Hollywood Casino Toledo, on the East Toledo riverfront near Rossford, and the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland.

Customers have no obligation to tip casino workers, but they should keep in mind that many of the employees make less than the minimum wage, which is allowed under federal law because tips are factored into their compensation.

Dealers, who make up the largest bloc of employees at the Horseshoe Casino, are paid a base of $4.25 an hour, with the casino estimating that tips, on average, will increase the rate to more than $17. Slots attendants, beverage servers, and cocktail waitresses get $6.

If you decide to tip, questions arise.

Whom? When? How much?

There are no hard-and-fast rules, but the consensus on gaming and travel Web sites favors tipping $1 or $2 per round or drink to a casino's bartenders, beverage servers, and cocktail waitresses and 10 percent at the buffet.

Sources differ on how much to tip parking valets -- some say a buck or two is appropriate both when dropping off and again when picking up; others suggest giving up to $5 when the car is returned.

Winners tip the dealers in the poker room.

A dollar is common, but players may kick in more when the pots are large.

Slot attendants are easy to overlook unless a player wins a hand-delivered payoff, triggered when the jackpot hits the $1,200 threshold for notifying the Internal Revenue Service.

Gaming consultant Michael Shackelford, known for his Web site wizardofodds.com, conferred with experts and wrote last year that the tip should equal 0.5 percent to 1 percent of the slots payoff.

The Horseshoe's dealers take their tips, also known as tokes, exclusively in chips that can be converted to cash.

Throwing a chip to the dealer between games prevents mistaking a tip for a bet.

If confusion arises, a dealer will confirm the player's intent to tip, then tap the chip or chips twice on the table as an all-clear signal to the surveillance cameras and deposit the gift in a clear box emptied once a day.

Placing a bet for the dealer is a popular gesture.

In blackjack, the most common table game, players put the extra chips outside their betting circles; craps players shift, or "heel," the chip slightly off center atop their stack to keep it out of the path of rolling dice.

A dollar or two bet for the dealer is sufficient, even if the game's minimum is higher.

But Tosha Tousant, director of table games at the Horseshoe, said she knows of instances in which players have bet $500 on the dealer's behalf.

Players should not worry about the dealer bet not counting toward customer comps. The pit bosses don't tally every chip; instead, they keep general track of how long players stay and how much is wagered.

John Grochowski, a free-lance casino columnist and author based in Chicago, recommends tipping blackjack dealers every 15 minutes, in an amount equal to 10 percent to 20 percent of the bet made at the time.

Mr. Grochowski said he does not think it's necessary to tip every time a player wins in blackjack -- a game that comes with nearly a 50 percent chance of victory. He also disagrees with those who argue for tipping even when the player loses.

"If you're losing bad and losing fast, no dealer is going to expect you to tip," he said.

Critics argue that ensuring employees receive a fair wage is not their responsibility and that the Horseshoe and other casinos should simply pay better.

That probably would prompt a casino to cut back on customer comps or change house rules to limit jackpots, said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Casinos are reluctant to publicly tally their tips, probably for competitive reasons.

But if the Horseshoe's hourly wage projections for dealers are accurate, their collections are considerable.

The Horseshoe, which operates round-the-clock 365 days a year, schedules 250 dealers a day across three eight-hour shifts. If their tips average $13 an hour, as the casino estimates, they will combine to take in $26,000 a day, or slightly less than $9.5 million a year.

Every dealer's cut of the tips is the same because the Horseshoe Casino pools the money in 24-hour increments and distributes it evenly within job classifications.

The practice, which is common in the industry, could take away a dealer's incentive to influence outcomes, but Ms. Tousant said its primary purpose is to ensure parity for workers regardless of when they work or whom they serve.

Players, and some workers, might gripe, but most casino employees favor pooling, said Anthony Lucas, associate editor of the Gaming Research and Review Journal at UNLV.

If you don't tip, you're not alone, according to Mr. Lucas, a former casino dealer.

He maintains that a relative few casino-goers provide the bulk of tips, while the vast majority give nothing.



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