Vegas is a service economy and many workers
their living from tips.
Every dealer, from
the low roller joints to the Bellagio, makes minimum wage (or barely
more) from the casino itself. Dealers, cocktail
waitresses, cabbies, and bellhops depend on your support for their
livelihood. Tipping isn't a reward for good service, it's the
normal way that poorly-paid workers are supposed to be able to make a
decent wage. Think of tipping as part of the cost of your
entertainment while you're in Vegas. And proper tipping isn't
expensive, either. When you add it up you'll see that the money
you spend on even proper tips will likely be a small, small fraction of
all the money you'll spend on your whole trip.
Quick Tipping Guide
$1/every drink or two
Slot Attendants (hand pays)
0.5% to 1%
15% if they drive safely
Private Bus Drivers
$2 on pickup
$1/bag; $2 min.
Bellhops & Airport Sky Caps
15% of pre-tax amount
|$1/person or 10%
$20 to try for a free room upgrade
Why we tip in the first place
Many people think that we tip to reward good
service, but that's not it at all. First, tips
are given specifically so that low wage earners can earn a decent
living, since they make minimum wage otherwise -- sometimes less.
Second, tips are given to prevent bad service, which is
absolutely not the same as rewarding good service. I'll
explain in a minute, but first let's look at the low-wage issue.
The normal minimum wage in the U.S. is $7.25
an hour, but tipped employees can be paid as little as $2.13. Yes,
$2.13. Now, some
have higher minimum wages for tipped employees, and Nevada is one of
them. In Nevada the minimum is $6.55 to $7.55 an hour for tipped
workers. That would put such workers only barely above the
federal poverty line if they never got any tips. Sure, workers
are "just doing their job", but the custom is that their job is
partially paid for by the customer, in order to prevent bad
service. Which takes us to the next point.
By having the customer shoulder part of the
burden for the worker's wage, a business can make sure customers
get better service. If a business paid 100% of the worker's
wage and there was no tipping, workers would have little incentive to
provide good service. Those who say "The business should just pay
proper wage so I don't have to tip," are forgetting two
things. First, if that happened, the cost you paid for your meal
(or whatever) would skyrocket. Second, without a tipping system,
you could expect service levels to go way down. So remember, you
tip not because the service is good, you tip as long as the service
By the way, tipped workers do report
their tips to the IRS. The IRS isn't clueless, and they expect
tipped workers to report a certain minimum of tips. So in fact,
those workers pay taxes on those tips whether they actually received
them or not.
How much to tip Cocktail Waitresses
Casinos provide free drinks
(alcoholic and otherwise)
while you're playing any game. A waitress comes around every
in a while to take your order. Just like the dealers, cocktail
waitresses are paid minimum wage by the casinos and make their
livelihood from tips. The standard tip is $1 per drink, but even $1
every other drink still means nearly $40,000/yr. in
for a waitress, even after their 20% tip-out to the bartender, so
that's what I tip.
Place the tip on the serving tray. You
can tip with casino
chips if you like.
Waitresses record who
ordered what based on
where they're sitting in the casino, so if you move don't expect the
waitress to remember you -- when she gets to you tell her that you
moved and what you ordered. Waitresses work different sections of
casino so if you move out of your waitress' section don't expect (or
ask) her to come find you to deliver your drink. Cocktail
can't bring you food of any kind, not even peanuts, so don't even
The casino is well stocked, so there's no need to ask whether they have
your particular drink -- just order what you want since they probably
have it, and if they don't the waitress will tell you.
Just because a cocktail waitress is
dressed in a sexy outfit
doesn't mean it's okay for you to touch her, or to say
anything suggestive. Don't take the drink off the tray yourself,
because that can upset the balance of the tray and cause the waitress
to drop it.
Don't ask a cocktail waitress which slot machines are the loosest --
all slots in a casino generally pay out about the same amount, and the
odds are against you in every single one of them. If a waitress
actually answers you by telling you which machine she thinks is good
then she's either brand-new or she's playing your na´vete. (More
on slot machines.)
For more we recommend the website of an
actual Vegas cocktail
All dealers make minimum
or barely more, for
their salary, even at the best casinos in town. Don't
think that their
tips are gravy on top of their salary -- for dealers the tips pretty
much are their salary. And they pay taxes on those tips,
like the cocktail waitresses. Obviously dealers at the
make more tips than
those at the low-end joints. It's a fairly broad range: Dealers
generally make between $11k to $52k a
year depending mostly on which casino they work at. On the
they can make as little as $5250 a year at the El Cortez (based on the
$21/day figure reported in the Dealer's News in 2002), to $80k
year at Caesar's Palace. (Here are some other figures for dealers' yearly income at various casinos from
Tip dealers at least $5 per hour,
no matter how much you're betting, and whether you win or lose.
is a lot less than other guides recommend, so let me explain where it
comes from. Remember that the main point of tipping is to make
sure the worker gets a decent wage. If there are an average of
three players per table each tipping $5 per hour, that's
$15/hour. Add that to the $7.25 in minimum wage, and the dealer
is getting $22.25 an hour, or $45,000 a year. That's a decent
middle-class wage, and well above the average wage in the U.S. If
you think your dealer deserves more than that, then you can certainly
tip more. But do know that dealers' tips are all pooled together,
so there's really no way to reward (or punish) any individual dealer.
While I'm a big advocate of tipping, I'm frequently
annoyed by dealers who have a sense of entitlement, and expect me to
tip big just because I won big. If you're such a dealer you
can feel free to write in and make your case and I'll likely print it,
but the first thing I'll want to know from you is what do you think a
decent annual wage for a dealer is? Because if you expect more
than the $15 an hour in tips that I recommend, then I think we all want
to know why you think you deserve more than that.
I'm a bit of a communist
when I tip. If I see that a dealer is making $30/hr. from other people
overtipping, I might not tip at all, even if it's at the Bellagio and
I'm betting black. But at a low-end casino like the El Cortez
dealers make as little as $21 a day, I might tip twice what I
normally do even if I'm betting red. A typical dealer at the El Cortez
needs my $10/hr. more than a typical dealer at the Bellagio needs my
$5/hr. Though of course, if none of the other players at my table
are tipping then I'm certainly going to tip, and probably tip more than
usual. Of course, you don't have to
this complicated. Just
make sure you're tipping at least $5/hr.
Remember that you're not tipping for good service,
you tip as long as the service isn't bad.
How to tip dealers
Tip the dealer with chips,
can make your hourly tip all at once or spread it out throughout the
hour. Either way, I suggest tipping right when you sit down,
because then the dealer will be friendlier.
You can give the chip by tossing it towards the dealer, or
you can make a bet for him, which is more common.
The normal way to bet for the dealer is to place the dealer's bet
beside your own bet. If you win then the dealer gets both the
chip you bet for him as well as the payout chip. But there's a
much better way to tip that I'm going to let you know about.
Instead of placing the tip chip next to your bet, put it on
of your bet.
Be sure to tell the dealer that the bet is for her
so she knows you tried to tip even if you lose. Then if you win,
give the dealer only the winning chip, and keep the original tip chip
on top of your next bet. If you get a streak going then you might
be able to tip
the dealer five times off a single effort! I did this once at the
El Cortez with a $5 chip, winning ten hands in a row, and netting the
dealer $50 for the streak. It cost me only $5, and in a few
minutes she made more than twice what El Cortez dealers typically make
in a whole day.
Almost every casino requires
dealers to pool their
tips. As such, it's impossible for you to really reward a good
or punish a bad dealer. If you don't tip a bad dealer, then all
of the dealers make less money. While this isn't fair to the
dealers, we still suggest you decline to tip bad dealers. That's
because if we can't apply an incentive for dealers to give
better service, then at least the other dealers can, through peer
pressure. Also, if you tip a dealer no matter how bad the service
that dealer will see little reason to give good service, if the tips
roll in either way.
Casinos require dealers to
for three reasons:
- It makes the bookkeeping easy. Casinos just
collect all the tip money themselves, count it, take the taxes out of
it for the IRS, and then distribute the money to the dealers.
they might have to collect a separate tip report from each individual
- It equalizes the rewards. Dealers on the
limit tables get more tips than those at the lower limit tables, so tip
pooling ensures that all the dealers get the same amount of
course, an obvious counter argument is that dealers on the higher limit
tables have earned those positions by virtue of seniority or
excellent service, and thus have earned the higher tips they make.
- It reduces the possibility of collusion with the
players. If a dealer gets to keep their own tips then they're
likely to cheat for a player who's tipping really well. This is
unlikely in modern times with video surveillance and stiff legal
penalties, but it's still a risk, and casinos don't like extra risk.
Of course, players and even
dealers would prefer that
dealers keep their own tips -- players because they want the ability to
reward dealers directly who give good service and dealers (at least the
good dealers) because they reap the rewards of the good service they
give. Wishing aside, this situation isn't likely to change any
All the etiquette guides say 10% at a buffet is
standard. Frankly, that
seems ridiculously high. Since a buffet server does nothing other
than handle drinks and clear plates, it seems they could easily serve
20 customers an hour. And if each tipped $1, that would be
$20/hr. on top of their minimum wage. So $1 per person seems
reasonable. If a buffet server disagrees, they're welcome to
write in to let me know what I'm missing. Incidentally, the website of the Rio Casino agrees with me that
$1 is sufficient.
Valets make $5-9/hr. in wages plus
$11-20/hr. in tips, for
a total of $16-$29/hr. A standard tip is $2 when you pick up
Vegas Review-Journal, Nov.
At the Wynn,
valets make $9/hr. in wages
and about $11/hr. in
tips, for a total of $20/hr. (Las
$20 to get a free room upgrade
This is less a tip than an outright bribe, but anyway,
you can usually get a free room upgrade by
tipping $20 to the
front desk. Not sometimes, usually. Put the
$20 between your ID and your credit card, then
casually ask if there are any complimentary upgrades available.
front desk staff will give the $20 back if they can't
upgrade you. Check out FrontDeskTip.com for more.
Tipping on the pre-tax amount for meals
According to the Washington Post food critic, it's
okay to tip restaurant waitstaff on the pre-tax amount of the bill,
rather than on the total.
And here's a handy way to
Sales tax in Las Vegas is 7.75%, so if you double the tax you'll be
tipping 15.5%. If you want to leave 20% -- well, if you can't do
easily already, then my explanation probably wouldn't make any sense. :)