When I was younger, I had a few jobs where tips were an important part of my salary. One of those jobs was as a dealer, where tips (or tokes as we called them) are the most important element of your salary. I was a dealer in three of the Atlantic City casinos for a total of about six years early on, and sometimes I wondered about the system that split up all that tip money. There was a state regulation that required casinos to split the tokes on a weekly basis, based on the hours worked that week by all the dealers.
When I first started out, I dealt $2 and $5 blackjack in the busiest casinos I’ve ever seen. On some nights, you took your 20-minute break in the pit, because the crowds were so thick, you couldn’t get to the dealers’ lounge and back in time. I didn’t see many tokes at those low-limit games, but when I graduated to baccarat, I saw much more action and many more tokes.
Now, some of my supervisors in those days had worked in big Vegas casinos where either they kept their own tokes or divided them by shift or by day. So the busier shifts or days got better tips because they worked harder. In Atlantic City, dealers with seniority who had weekends off got paid the same as dealers who worked the busiest days and worst shifts.
Last month, I was reading a blog on LinkedIn by Tangam executives Ari Mizrahi and Victor Tanase talking about how attitude can affect a dealer’s ability to earn tokes. (The blog can be found on the Tangam website, Tangamgaming.com.)
“Earning higher tips is all about having good customer service skills: smiling when appropriate, having a professional yet friendly approach, addressing players by name, and most important, celebrating players’ wins,” the authors write.
They go on to discuss how to build a high toke rate by managing the games correctly. A dealer can have the best attitude in the house, but when there are too many or too few players, that attitude can go for nothing. Managers must understand how to deftly control the number of dealers versus the number of players, and not leave the company short during a surge in players or leave too many dealers on the tables as demand falls off.
They also talk about the methods of toke distribution—shift versus day versus weekly. This can be crucial for the reasons I stated above. With distribution on a shift or daily basis, you’ll have your best dealers—or at least those with seniority—bidding for the busiest shifts and days, providing your best players with your best dealers. The weekly distribution model discourages that.
But I wonder why we can’t go back to the old days where dealers kept their own tips. It happens in the poker rooms; why couldn’t it work on the casino floor? Yes, I know there’s a fine line between being friendly and helpful and hustling tips (a definite problem), but it can be controlled by attentive supervisors and pit bosses. I also know there would be some IRS concerns, but again, that can be handled rather simply.
One time when I was a baccarat dealer, I spent a week with a couple of crews dealing 12-hour shifts to a high roller from Hong Kong playing $50,000 a hand. After about a week he was even, but he recognized the great service we gave him and wanted to buy all the dealers Rolex watches as a gift. Management wouldn’t allow it because state law prohibited individual toking of dealers.
But can you imagine if your dealers could be recognized by your best players, and how that would change their approach to customer service? It would encourage great service and a positive attitude at all times. Would it take a little more policing of the relationship between players and dealers? Yes, but that’s why we have cameras and surveillance (which as a side note, need to be upgraded in almost every casino).
I know it’s occurring in some small Nevada and California casinos but haven’t heard any results. And why not try it in a destination resort? You let your bellman, valet parkers, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, etc. keep their own tips. Why not your dealers? Let’s give it a try and see how it works!