Do poker dealers pay to work?
June 19, 2005 11:13 PM   Subscribe

When I was at the Indian casino tonight, the dealer mentioned that he had to pay the casino to work there. Was this BS or standard casino procedure?

He couldn't go into much detail but after one of the players at the table tipped him, he said something along the lines of him having to pay the casino a set amount to work each night, and then he was allowed to keep the tips. I honestly do not understand how he could make a living this way because the dealers I saw were averaging about $1 to $3 in tips an hour. I've heard of exotic dancers having to pay high-end clubs in order to dance there, but I didn't know this happened in casinos as well. This was at a $4/$8 limit hold em game if that matters. Was he totally BSing in order to get more tips?
posted by Ugh to Work & Money (18 answers total)
I have never heard of that, nor do I think it's legal in Ontario at either government or Indian casinos. Was it just a poker room, or a full casino?
posted by loquax at 1:34 AM on June 20, 2005

It's a full casino in Oklahoma, the Cherokee. For years they've done slots only, but recently a bill was passed and they've done blackjack for 6 months and started poker about 3 months ago.
posted by Ugh at 1:43 AM on June 20, 2005

What happened exactly, was that a guy at the table won a large pot and tipped the dealer around $2 (not enough in my opinion but that's beside the point). When the dealer put the tip away, he said something along the lines of "thanks, I was starting to think I wouldn't break even tonight." My best friend asked him what he meant and he continued on to say that the dealers pay the casino a set amount in order to work for the night, basically paying for a shift. Then they get to keep whatever tips they make as their salary. He said if you don't end up making any tips that night, then you have pretty much paid the casino out of your own pocket for 4 or 6 hours working. We were obviously shocked and he just kind of shrugged and said the good nights make up for the bad. He seemed as if he was telling the truth.

Like I said, I know there are strip clubs in Vegas where the tips are so profitable that they actually charge the girls up to $100 a night in order to work. It's normal and as far as I know, legal to do in that business, but I just can't see it for this little casino.
posted by Ugh at 1:58 AM on June 20, 2005

Maybe in Vegas they can get away with charging people to work there. I know it doesn't happen on the podunk riverboat casinos I'm familiar with. Sometimes the tipped staff will owe more in taxes on their tip earnings than they get from their hourly wages (see restaurant wait staff for more info). It can seem like having to "pay to work," but in that sense, every one of us does it. Also, it could include tipping out "behind the scenes" co-workers such as fill-window cage employees, breakers, and (possibly, though not likely) pit bosses.

I know nothing first hand about Indian casinos or Vegas though, but knew a few people who have worked in those places and never heard about this. What I did hear about was dealers (and slot attendents and cocktail waitresses and bar staff) making things up and playing up their personal lives ("My son's first t-ball game, just had our first daughter, just bought a house, saving for a honeymoon", etc) for a little extra tip. All part of the job really.

And if they were only pulling 1-3$ an hour in tips they were doing something wrong. I know poker players are a casino's worst tippers, but christ that's horrible...
posted by jaysus chris at 2:58 AM on June 20, 2005

Friend of mine works riverboats as a blackjack dealer, he doesn't pay to work. Sounds like BS for tips. Tell him not to accept any wooden nickels!
posted by Goofyy at 4:27 AM on June 20, 2005

Sounds like BS to me as well. I'd say the best place to ask is the Oklahoma gambling regulatory authority.
posted by mischief at 5:40 AM on June 20, 2005

People in Vegas that work the gaming tables in union casinos, at least, get paid pretty well + the tips. Aside from your union dues, you don't have to pay to work.

Maybe Oklahoma treats dealers like waiters and they get a fraction of the minimum wage that is taxed at whatever is perceived to be the full wage (including tips) so on a slow night he's not making money. He's not paying a "house fee" like strippers do, per se, but on payday he could get a check for $0.00.
posted by birdherder at 6:43 AM on June 20, 2005

I've never heard of that practice in the Minnesota/Wisconsin casino belt. One of the quasi-political talking points I've heard over the years is that "casinos provide employment to reservation residents", including large profitable Twin Cities area operations offering jobs to members of less prosperous northern tribes, so it seems highly unlikely that pay-to-work would happen around here.
posted by gimonca at 7:01 AM on June 20, 2005

This is common practice for strip joints. Strippers pay to be able to get on stage and make tips. I wouldn't be surprised if casinos did it as well.
posted by nitsuj at 7:11 AM on June 20, 2005

I would hope the dealer is getting more than $3/hour in tips. I just got back from Vegas and it's standard practice to tip a little on every pot you win. So the dealers there were cleaning up. Well, it was the Bellagio.
posted by trbrts at 8:25 AM on June 20, 2005

I game at the Cherokee Casino in West Siloam Springs (about an hour east of Tulsa.) The dealers there pay $5 an hour to deal, although the casino is required to pay them the "minimum tipping wage" of $3 an hour or something close to that. (I think it's the same sort of wage paid to waiters who are expected to be tipped to supplement their income.)

The $5 an hour supposedly pays taxes on their tipping winnings, according to the dealers I've talked to, so everything they earn in tips they take in free and clear.

As for your dealer, I don't know what was wrong with him, but at the $4/$8 tables I play, the dealers put out somewhere between 25 and 35 hands an hour. I'd say they're tipped at least 70 % of the time (would be higher, but it's hard for a player to want to tip after they split a pot three ways, or if it's only a $10 win.) Sometimes the tip is $1, sometimes $2 and sometimes $3. The good dealers, therefore, are clearing at least $20 an hour on average. The ones I tend to shortchange are the slow dealers who don't tell people when it's their turn to bet, push the pot to the wrong people and don't even announce what the winning hand is.

As a sidenote, Cherokee charges an enormous rake - works out to 10 or 15 percent depending on pot size. I've made a few hundred there but combined with a $5 rake for most pots plus a dollar or two for the dealer, it's hard making money at the $4/$8.
posted by Happydaz at 10:06 AM on June 20, 2005

It happens a lot in Atlantic City. I have some relatives that were dealers (poker and blackjack) and they used to have to pay.
posted by taumeson at 10:56 AM on June 20, 2005

I don't have links to back it up, but my understanding from various stories I've read over the last few years is that members of a tribal nation are paid shares of the profits of their casinos. So, perhaps, if your dealer is a registered member of the tribal nation, he is already receiving income from the casino, just not in the form of wages. Perhaps he is then supplementing this income with tip income.
posted by vignettist at 12:34 PM on June 20, 2005

I think the answer was already given: his employer may estimate, for purposes of withholding tax, the tips for employees for whom tips are a considerable portion of their compensation. If t = estimated tip income per hour; r = withholding tax rate; and m = minimum wage, it would not be very hard for m - r(t + m) to be less than zero.

However, he's being a bit sloppy, or dishonest, to allow his players to assume that he's paying the house to work, the way a barber or taxi driver leases for his shift, when, in reality, he's simply paying his taxes to the government. Tipped employees have a right to correct their tax filings to reflect their actual earnings if they turn out to be overwithheld.

(None of the above is disregard the possibility of kickbacks to the bosses ... which were a commonplace of "old" Vegas and Atlantic City but are the kind of things which have supposedly been eradicated...)
posted by MattD at 12:58 PM on June 20, 2005

This particular casino was in Roland, and that would explain why the tips weren't very big if you have any idea what that area is like. Let's just say it's not populated with the most sophisticated people in the world, and I say that being born and raised there.

Poker is a new addition to the casino, so that may have something to do with how little they were tipping, but it was still pretty sad. It was not unusual to see someone win a $40, $50, or $60 pot and just throw a dollar to the dealer. I would say the pot had to be over $30 for someone to even feel the need to tip.
posted by Ugh at 1:05 PM on June 20, 2005

It was not unusual to see someone win a $40, $50, or $60 pot and just throw a dollar to the dealer.

Are you supposed to tip on every hand? That seems a little over the top to me. I've only gambled a couple of times, and both times I was playing baccarat. I asked a pit boss (before I sat down) how the whole tipping thing worked, because until I'd watched the game for a little bit, I didn't realize you were *expected* to tip dealers.

The pit boss said it was common to tip when you got up from the table...which is what I did. I've noticed a comment or two decrying the *amount* of tip...but nobody has ever told me that there's a percentage that you're expected to tip. (Like food is 20%, and bartenders at least that.)

That said...the tipping culture in the US has just gone insane. Tipping replaces salary for far too many workers and I think it should be stopped. When I tip it should be because I appreciate the service of the individual, it shouldn't be a mandatory service fee.
posted by dejah420 at 6:36 AM on June 21, 2005

Are you supposed to tip on every hand?

Yes, in poker you tip on every hand that you win. The standard tip is $1 per pot, whether that pot is $50 or $5,000, though a lot of people (myself included) tend to get a bit generous if the pot is enormous, or if they're properly hammered or whatever.

You're generally not expected to tip if you win it before the flop (holdem) or on 3rd street (stud), though that will pretty much never happen in a 4/8 game anyway.

As far as the guy's story of paying to work there, I have absolutely no idea. I've never heard of that happening, but it's entirely possible.
posted by mosch at 8:10 PM on June 21, 2005

Random side note: in tournament poker the tips are expected to be handled by the winners. The only exception to this is large tournaments were tips are taken out of the buy-in directly, but even then they're common and appreciated.

Last year's WSOP winner tipped $75,000 on top of the $500,000 which was taken out of the prize pool for the dealers.
posted by mosch at 8:19 PM on June 21, 2005

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