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One Time, Dealer: Tipping -- Pros vs. Joes

by Dealer Chick |  Published: May 22, 2019

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Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a dealer on the circuit grind? Have a question about behavior, etiquette, or anything else related to running a poker game? Do you want to know what dealers really think about while they’re pitching cards? What it takes to become a dealer? How you should treat dealers? Are dealers people, too?

Send your questions for The Dealer Chick (TDC) to editor@cardplayer.com, and read on for more advice, adventures, and real talk about life on the road for a traveling poker dealer.


Hey Dealer Chick,

Who are the best tippers? The pros or the Joes? 

- Signed, I Love Redbirds



Dear Redbird,


A pro grinds the tournament circuit/cash games for a living. Joes/Janes (because women play too, duh) are casual weekend players that use discretionary income to enjoy their favorite pastime. Who tips better? Let’s discuss why they don’t tip.


For a pro, their agreement with their backer, or the amount of make-up they owe said backer could be the reason for zero tips. Pros log countless hours at the poker table in the hopes of doubling someone else’s money. If the pro gets lucky enough to cash, most of their winnings are already spent.


Like most people, he/she lives “paycheck to paycheck.” His/her paychecks are bigger, but also fewer and farther between. Another reason for zero tips is because he/she already paid the customary three percent to the dealers via tournament fees. Or, if playing cash, he/she fears not being able to beat the game because of rake and therefore keeps a tight reign on profits. For a Joe/Jane, he/she may be playing with money he/she can’t afford to lose, or he/she doesn’t play enough to understand tipping etiquette. Joes/Janes show up for something to do on a Saturday night and have no idea that tipping is the custom because he/she assumes the casino pays us above minimum wage.


There are countless more reasons why people don’t tip. What I mentioned above are common arguments I hear. Honestly, I get it. I grind these tournaments, too. The price for a hotel room climbs with every stop. The same tournament you paid $365 to play three months ago now costs $400, even though no one put more chips in play or extended blind levels to give you more bang for you buck. It’s frustrating to sit down to a cash game that charges a max rake of $6 per hand plus a jackpot dollar (and in some places no flop, still drop) when the level of customer service is barely above minimum. You’d find a cocktail waitress faster if you put her picture on the side of a milk carton.


I’ve discussed in previous articles what it costs a dealer to grind the circuit, so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say, we live paycheck to paycheck, bunk four to a room, and carpool to destinations to save money. I’ll be even more transparent and say yes, dealers make good money.


Back in dealer school, my teacher asked the class what amount of money we’d be happy making in an eight-hour shift. Most people said a hundred dollars, maybe one-fifty. He laughed and said, “In six months, if you’re not making $250-$300 per night, you’ll be pissed off.” I once worked as a substitute teacher. I made $70 per day, for a seven-hour day that granted me a half-hour break for lunch. While dealer pay is high compared to most vocations, I wouldn’t sit in the box for ten bucks an hour, and I don’t know any seasoned dealers that would.


Last month, I pushed a $12 pot to a young man playing cash. He said, “I can’t afford to tip you, I’m sorry.” Curious, I politely asked why not. He said because the rake ($10 per hour to play, nothing out of the pot) made the game too hard to beat. He couldn’t make a profit if he tipped. I explained to him that if he were playing an underground home game in the city we were in, he’d probably pay anywhere from $10-$30 per hand in rake. If he traveled to a nearby casino, he would pay $5 per hand. Dealers of my caliber will deal on average 38 hands per hour. Do the math. I asked him if he appreciated the dealing quality he was getting. He said yes. I said, “Do you expect me to work for free?”


This is the irony: many players expect quality, but they don’t want to pay for it. They lay their money down demanding mistake-free dealing because it’s their money we’re handling, but then they refuse to throw us a dollar. They think we want redbirds every hand. In truth, most dealers would be happy with consistency. We know how many hands we can produce, we know that a buck a hand adds up and we know that getting repeatedly stiffed is demoralizing. And folks wonder why dealers slow down ten minutes in on a dry down.


Then there’s the tournament player who wins $250,000 and tips nothing. Where else can you legally earn a quarter of a million bucks in three days? Okay, take off 30 percent for taxes then split the winnings in half with your backer. You still won $87,500 playing poker. You can’t spare a grand? I call. We grinded those three days, too. We hope for a nice payday at the end of the tournament, too. We also paid all our expenses up front and will be in the hole if we don’t earn enough. We love our jobs, we love our carefree lifestyle and we love the money. I’ll never deny that. But we put out a solid product that gives players a place to do what they love, plus a chance to win hundreds of thousands of dollars doing it. If everyone who cashed tipped one-to-two percent, dealers would be well compensated for their hard work and not one player would feel the sting.


Who tips better, pros or Joes/Janes? It depends on the person, not the reason why they play. I’ve gotten amazing tips from both and been stiffed countless times from both. A pro has a better grasp of my skillset and how difficult the grind is, but a Joe/Jane is less attached to their bottom line. All we ask is that players realize that good dealers care, work hard at their craft and have expenses, too. The low wage we earn from the casino doesn’t cover our cost to do this job. Since you wouldn’t work for free, instead ask yourself this: how many hands would you see in a self-deal event? ♠