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The Time Has Come

Letting dealers keep their own tips can improve customer service, dealer efficiency and player loyalty

The Time Has Come

Dealers keeping their own tips.

These five words have spread fear through many a table-games operator. Why? Is it a reference to the past, when dealers in Vegas pocketed their tips during the shift, or to collusion, or to players being hustled to tip whether they wanted to or not?

I’m here to tell you: Don’t be afraid.

I, too, was hesitant to operate a keep-your-own-table game operation. Twenty-nine years of working in pooled-tip operations in Atlantic City clouded my perspective about dealers keeping their own tips. After 11 years as vice president of table games operations at Pechanga Resort Casino, and a couple of stints as general manager, I quickly saw the error of my ways. We had a successful poker operation where dealers kept their tips, and we had minimal issues.

Right from the start, I saw that the majority of people just wanted to work and take care of their families. They came in each day to do the best job possible, not to collude or steal or hustle the players. The dealers wanted to be successful, primarily from an economic perspective.

How many of us have watched our best dealers fill up their toke boxes every day, only to have the dealer next to them do everything in their power to keep players off their game? Say goodbye to that daily scenario when your dealers take charge of their own performance, and benefit directly.

Here are the positives, and the structure you’ll need to put in place to run a successful keep-your-own operation. It’s not all-encompassing, but these are the basics:

  1. Customer service goes through the roof. Dealers are friendlier, engaged, and do an all-around better job of servicing your players.
  2. Game pace improves. You can continue to do analysis and hand counts, but in general, hands per hour will increase exponentially. Sometimes, they deal too fast.
  3. Flexibility. If you need to open more games and you don’t have the staff, good luck in a pool operation. When dealers keep their own, they’re much more willing to work a longer string, because they know they will benefit personally.
  4. Hiring. You’ll rarely have a dealer shortage, as your property will always be inundated with applications.
  5. Dealer skills. To run the operation properly, dealers should deal all the games, if possible. They’re more willing to sign up for game training and deal all the games should it be part of the hiring criteria.

But no operation is truly perfect, and here are some inherent issues you’ll have to deal with:

  1. Game strings must be fair. Certain games generate more tips, and dealers will perceive an unfair advantage if more of those game types are on certain strings. Our response was always to make sure dead spreads were at a minimum.
  2. High-limit tables are prime real estate. If they have the skills, all dealers should get the opportunity to deal those games. Jealousy is a common factor, so spread the wealth to keep it to a minimum.
  3. Supervisor morale. When they see how much a dealer can make during their shift, this can become an issue. Though I’m not a fan of the dual-rate position, it becomes a mainstay along with more experienced gaming employees who aren’t interested in dealing. If you can hire part-time floor, they also can be a valuable addition.

The following key structures must be put in place to make it a successful operation. These are not all-encompassing; again, just the basics:

  1. 100-percent tax compliance. Toke boxes are locked, and only the cage has the key. When going on break, boxes are left in the pits under surveillance cameras, and are cashed out at only at the end of the dealer’s shift, or if it’s too full, which does occur.
  2. Weekly reports show what each dealer made in tips. This should be reviewed by the head of the department and surveillance. It’s a good tool to check for anomalies in how much a dealer made during the week.
  3. A percentage of tips must be applied to cover health-care benefits, 401(k), etc. Normally, the hourly wage will not be enough to cover these expenses and taxes. Most times, the take-home of tips is set up as a 70/30 split, with 70 percent going home with the dealer as cash. You should have flexibility with your payroll system, so dealers can leave up to 100 percent and get a check each week with all their wages included and taxes taken out.
  4. Separate cash-out cage. If possible, dealers should have their own cage to cash out their tips at the end of the shift, and at a minimum, their own area in the main cage. It expedites the process and keeps a consistent and private interaction between cage personnel and the dealers.

There are many variables that come into play when moving to a keep-your-own operation that will be unique to your property. You must continue to make game protection paramount. A zero-tolerance policy of no hustling goes a long way.

I can guarantee that when it’s done well, letting your dealers keep their own tips will enhance your customer’s experience and raise the morale levels of your dealing staff.

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