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To Tip or Not to Tip the Dealer

Breaking down a basic question of casino etiquette. By Al O’Grady

Let’s assume for a second that you are having a winning session at the tables. Do you tip the dealer? If so, how much? If not, why not? This is a very contentious issue and everyone has his or her own opinion. As a blackjack dealer, I certainly have a bias what I would like to see players do—but I would like to add some perspective for non-tippers that they may not have considered before.
You may have had a losing session where absolutely nothing was going your way. Murphy’s Law was written for days like these.
Image: Al O'Grady
A 10 was nowhere to be seen on all of your double downs; all of your 20s fell short to a dealer who drew to a 21; the dealer would never bust on a 4, 5 or 6. It was a never ending feeling that the Blackjack Gods were taking their vengeance out on you for reasons unknown. You feel that a kick in the teeth would be preferable to what you are currently experiencing. When you go through days like those, no dealer at any casino would be expecting a tip. However, even if it seemed like the world was coming to an end, you knew that the dealer was professional, friendly and sympathetic. All things considered, if you felt obligated to throw a chip or two the dealer’s way, then on behalf of all dealers I sincerely thank you.

No excuses

But let’s also assume that the situation has reversed. You can do absolutely no wrong. This game is easy. You are getting 10s on all of your double downs. You are getting 20s constantly and the dealer is busting continuously on his 4, 5 or 6. You are making a nice profit. You are about to quit your day job and have visions of independent wealth. At a $25 table, it is not uncommon for players to come away with $500, $1,000, $2,000 or more. So how much gratitude should you send the dealer’s way? If you tip, thank you. If not, let’s talk.
The first question is why not? Non-tipping players will have a plethora of excuses: Why should I? I earned it. I won it. It’s mine; the dealer had nothing to do with it. The dealer is trying to make my money, why should I reward him? Why should I subsidize the casino for underpaying its employees? Where do these dealers get their sense of entitlement? I have heard it all before.

Let’s break these excuses down one at a time. Why should I tip? I earned it. The dealer had nothing to do with it. Let me give you some tough love. You are right.

The dealer had nothing to do with it. Guess what? Neither did you. That’s right, you had nothing to do with it either. You probably implemented basic strategy. Did you invent basic strategy on your own? Are you paying royalties to those that came up with basic strategy? You might have purchased a book on blackjack but basic strategy is also free on the Internet. Who are you paying for that information? Your winning session was a result of someone else’s efforts for creating basic strategy of which you took advantage.

Basic strategy is nothing more than percentage plays in given situations and the cards came out in a random way that benefited you. If you are not playing basic strategy but your own strategy that you created, and you won, I won’t say that you were lucky. But I will say that you were not playing the percentages and the variance pendulum was swinging in your favor. The “I earned it” argument can only be used by card counters. Those players are using their mathematical and observational powers to pick their spots and bet higher in favorable situations.

The dealer is trying to take my money, why should I reward him? Again, I have a news flash for you. The dealer is not trying to take your money. The casino is, but the dealer is not. If anything, a dealer wants to see you win. That way he can get a tip. The dealer is not forcing you to sit down at the table. You chose to play. Do you have free will or not? The dealer is not trying to take your money, you are trying to take his.
Why should I subsidize the casino for not paying its employees? Casinos definitely underpay their workers and it is a fair point. But let me ask you this: If you go to a Vegas hotel, do you tip the waitress, the bell hop or the valet guy? You are subsidizing the casino for underpaying those employees, yet you will not tip the dealer. This argument is a double standard at best, hypocritical at worst.
Where do the dealers get this sense of entitlement?
This can be a fair point; however, it is very much dealer-specific. If the dealer is unprofessional, constantly making mistakes and simply does not care, I would not tip him, and you should not either. But the road to fairness is paved both ways. If the dealer is professional, if he does care and it has been a positive experience for all, and you have been winning, a tip is certainly in order.
Making friends and influencing dealers
Do you still need convincing? As a dealer, I always tell my players that I cannot be bought but I can be rented. By tipping the dealer along the way you are creating an ally. You have a partner in crime. The dealer is actually rooting for you to win and will actually help you, too. Let’s assume for a second that you had a momentary lapse in judgment and made a basic strategic mistake by asking for a card when you should have stayed. It is highly likely that the dealer will second-guess your action for you so that the correct play is made for your hand in that given situation.
If you are winning and not tipping, the dealer will not point out your mistake in your moment of weakness and will be more than happy to teach you a lesson.
Secondly, what if there is an issue where the pit boss needs to be called to the table to settle a discrepancy. If you are tipping, the dealer will state your case to the pit boss to give you the benefit of the doubt. If you are not tipping, the scales of justice will not be leaning your way.
Lastly, why would you want to make enemies? Dealers talk amongst themselves and you will get a negative reputation faster than a speeding bullet. You will be viewed as a cheapskate, a lowlife, a scumbag and every other unpleasant label you can imagine. The game can be hard enough as it is. Why make it harder for yourself?
If you tip, thank you. How much is appropriate? Believe it or not, it does not take much to satisfy us Two percent of your winnings is fine, but if the spirit moves you to spread more of the love, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Good luck at the tables and look out for a Casino Welcome Bonus.
*** Al O’Grady has been a blackjack dealer for over seven years. He is a freelance writer with an Economics degree and is currently pursuing a degree in Mathematics ***