Poker players are notorious for nothing if not the ability to be different. Everyone comes to the game from a different walk of life, background or social class. In many ways, this leveller is what makes the game what it is. You could be sitting with anyone from anywhere and that is unlike any other game of its size in the world.
One of the many quirks of poker is the art of tipping. Around the world, social conventions dictate very different acceptable practices to how, when and where to tip. At the poker table, that worldwide variance often causes confusion or in some cases, conflict. This week, Poker Twitter blew up over the subject. But what is the best line to take?
How the Row Erupted
Lex ‘O’ Poker is not only a hugely popular poker YouTuber with over 47,000 subscribers, but an extremely active social media profile, so when he talks, people will listen and likely agree or disagree in their numbers. This week, he tweeted about tipping, following up his initial comment with the following explanation:
“I tip more or less according to speed, table control, friendship, attitude, etc,” he said. “The fast, efficient dealers with a great attitude get tipped way more. The size of the pot shouldn’t matter if you play poker for a living. I may tip smaller per hand, but I tip much, much more $ annually compared to the random rec. I may play 1,200+ hours a year, that’s a lot of $1 tips compared to the rec playing 300 hours a year. However, if poker is not your source of income than it doesn’t matter how much you tip. Everyone with a differing opinion on this doesn’t play poker for a living. Therefore, the statement doesn’t apply to you. If you play poker for a living its a business. U must treat it like one. Base tip allows you to thank the dealer for their service while also keeping a winrate. The purpose behind starting this thread is that I get tip shamed on my YouTube videos for throwing $5-$10 in a big pot. So I stated what my thoughts are on the topic.”
While there are obviously parts of Lex’s statement that could do with looking at in more detail, the biggest plus is that the comment got the industry talking at all about an issue that has raised its head a few times.
Bart Hanson’s almost immediate reply was to say, “I hope you don’t use this approach in live-streamed games.” To which Lex replied: “Last time I played Hustler Casino Live, I tipped $5+ [for] every pot I won. Mostly because I believe those dealers are some of the best in the country. My tweet was regarding regular public (non-streamed) games.”
That clarified Lex’s stance, but was he wrong or right? Are more tips better? Or does the amount per tip matter more than the frequency with which they are given? And when and how should you tip if you’re a poker player – and of what level? There were more questions than answers.
A Returning Industry
Poker dealers are, it is almost universally agreed, an underappreciated workforce. The first to lose their jobs in 2020, they are still criticized daily despite never being to blame for the cards they deal. When COVID-19 struck, many poker dealers were left with no option but to leave their jobs, and retrain in a different industry, affecting many people’s families.
Recent times have seen poker dealers lured back to poker, in no small part thanks to a recruitment drive at the start of the last World Series of Poker that saw dealers paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour with a $100 bonus after successfully completing their first shift. Dealers were then paid $15 per down for sitting at all tournament Hold’em bracelet event and side event tables, with $20 per down for all non-Hold’em bracelet events.
With the historic 2022 the World Series of Poker tournament approaching on May 31, @WSOP is actively hiring dealers and just announced a new pay structure. Here are a few words from Jack Effel, Vice President of World Series of Poker.
— Caesars Entertainment (@CaesarsEnt) March 21, 2022
Was this enough, and were dealers happy with these terms, and is the problem what casino operators or poker rooms are paying them as a basic wage? Two comments hint at the diversity of opinion on the subject, with one player commenting: “I thoroughly disagree with this. Dealers are the backbone of the industry. We would have no job without them. I tip a % based on pot with a +/- differential depending on speed, accuracy etc. And I believe that is correct, as a professional.”
In response, another countered: “Then they should have their unions try to get a solid hourly rate that’s not based on tips. Just remove the tipping and charge a higher rake. That way it properly charges the players who are dragging in more pots.”
So is being a dealer a performance-based job and if it is, should it be, or would this discourage new dealers from taking up a position?
Does Tipping Negatively Affect a Dealer’s Basic Wage?
One player never afraid to court controversy on social media is Charlie Carrel, whose comment on whether a refusal to tip dealers might positively influence decision-makers to change basic salaries in a positive sense.
If everyone stopped tipping dealers, would the market eventually force the casinos to pay the dealers real wages?
— Charlie Carrel (@Charlie_Carrel) October 26, 2022
As you might expect, the blowback from Carrel’s question almost immediately warranted it being asked. One follower asked the British poker legend: “Do you tip dealers at cash tables in the UK?”, to which Careel replied: “No, only in private games.”
Another said that his suggestion was ‘an interesting idea’ but that “Casinos would likely just stop offering poker if they had to take any kind of financial hit or couldn’t find dealers to work.”
This was a common response and the threat of this would likely dissuade a lot of dealers from working. One player said: “Ultimately I think if that happened they would rake you more to cover higher wages so essentially it would balance out the same, the difference is in the current system the winners are mostly paying the extra which is also better for the recs/losing players.”
Carrel, however, disagreed, saying, “If they rake higher, then people go elsewhere, or stop playing. I don’t think that would necessarily happen.”
With many responses hinting at the disparity in tipping cultures between the United States and Europe, then Australasia and the U.S., the only clear fact is a simple one. Dealers are not yet currently recompensed for the immense service they provide the poker industry, solving the problem is a lot more difficult than identifying it.
Image credit: World Poker Tour / Tomáš Stacha.