Poker Dealer Jobs in Las Vegas

Chad Harberts
OP-ED

I recently set off a minor controversy when I mentioned to @Pokerati that a Red Rock Casino poker dealer complained that new Heartland Poker champion Rob Perelman (@veerob) didn’t leave a dealer tip at the conclusion of the tournament.

First, I do not know Rob at all and was not making an accusation against him. I merely passed along the information because I knew @Pokerati had been covering the tournament. Second, as with any tournament cash of any size, Rob is free to spend or not spend his money any way he pleases. (He later tweeted that he tipped $2, 000 on his $158, 755 cash. The confusion being that he left the tip the next day after most of the dealers were gone and not directly after the tournament.)

Still, I believe the practice of tipping is an aspect of poker that merits discussion. Certainly, there is no standard for tipping in cash games or tournaments, and a lot is left to chance when the casino and other players alike rely on winners to pick up the check.

You may not agree with me to tip 10% of winnings of more than $10, 000 in a poker tournament, but you can certainly agree that .00025% is extremely low!

Some players think that the part of a poker tournament buy-in withheld from the prize pool should cover everything. I have heard that of the house cut for the HPT main event (a $1000+100 tournament), $50 went to Red Rock Casino and $50 to the Heartland Poker Tour. I find it a little incredulous that a Las Vegas casino would split the house cut 50/50, but it’s possible.

When you think about the house cut, it is much like getting a meal in a restaurant. If you pay $50 for a nice meal it’s not because the food you ate cost $50. That $50 covers food costs, the server, the cook, the utilities and rent and leaves a profit for the restaurant owner. The server gets paid whether you leave a tip or not. The difference is that if you don’t leave a tip, that person is making $2.13 an hour. If you leave a tip of 15% to 20%, that same server can make a living wage.

Some players think that house cut is a huge profit center for the casinos. That house cut does afford some profit for the casinos, but that money has to pay a lot of people. At the WSOP, the house cut has to cover the labor costs for hundreds of dealers, floor people, servers and tournament staff.

At smaller casinos, where a tournament can literally use up every available table and dealer, this house cut is what the casino earns off its tables since there is no rake during a tournament. I manage a 40-person tournament in a four-table poker room. The tournament typically takes three hours. Until the tournament gets down to 30 people or less, every table is full and there is no place to host a cash game. The house cut makes up a percentage of what is lost in cash-game rake. This obviously doesn’t apply in a bigger casino that can afford to have a separate tournament room from its regular poker room.

# # #

As a poker dealer, I have been asked about tipping and how poker dealers are paid. Most poker dealers sign up for the Internal Revenue Service tip compliance program through their home casino or in any casino in which they are dealing a tournament. The formal part of tip compliance is: Under the Gaming Industry Tip Compliance Agreement Program (GITCA), a gaming industry employer and the Internal Revenue Service work together to reach a GITCA that establishes minimum tip rates for tipped employees in specified occupational categories, prescribes a threshold level of participation by the employer’s employees, and reduces compliance burdens for the employer and enforcement burdens for the Service.

Essentially, poker dealers (and other casino employees) are taxed a certain amount per hour for every hour they work. The rate of tip compliance is higher in bigger and busier poker rooms, less in smaller and less frequented rooms. What is consistent is if you are working eight straight hours at Aria on a Saturday night, you are taxed a certain amount per hour your rate of pay (i.e. minimum wage). If you are “dead spreading” at Excalibur at 8 AM on a Monday and don’t get a game for the first two hours, you are still taxed at your tip compliance rate.

The upside is that poker dealers in the tip compliance program keep all of their own tips. They are not reported to the IRS. They are not taxed. They are not shared. These tips are what make up the majority of a poker dealer’s wages. For a full-time Las Vegas poker dealer you can expect that your bi-weekly paycheck, after taxes and insurance, won’t buy you more than a bag or two of groceries. Your tips, however, can afford you a car and a home.

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