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Las Vegas Tipping Guide

Quick Tipping Guide

Cocktail Waitresses

$1/every drink or two

Dealers

$5/hr.

Slot Attendants (hand pays)

0.5% to 1%

Taxi Drivers

15% if they drive safely

Shuttle, Private Bus Drivers
$1

Valets

$2 on pickup

Bellhops

$1/bag; $2 min.

Maids

$1-2/day

Bellhops & Airport Sky Caps

$1/bag

Waitpersons

15% of pre-tax amount

Buffets
(drink servers)
$1/person or 10%

Front Desk

$20 to try for a free room upgrade

Street Performers
$1-2

Vegas is a service economy and many workers literally earn 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.

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 states 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 a 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 isn't bad.

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 once 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 earnings 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 the 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 waitresses can't bring you food of any kind, not even peanuts, so don't even ask.  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 waitress, CocktailDoll.com.


Tipping Dealers

All dealers make minimum wage, 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, just like the cocktail waitresses.  Obviously dealers at the nicer casinos 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 extremes 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 a year at Caesar's Palace.  (Here are some other figures for dealers' yearly income at various casinos from 2010).

Tip dealers at least $5 per hour, no matter how much you're betting, and whether you win or lose.  This 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 where 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 at Bellagio are tipping then I'm certainly going to tip, and probably tip more than usual.  Of course, you don't have to make it 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, not cash.  You 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 top 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.

Pooling

Almost every casino requires dealers to pool their tips.  As such, it's impossible for you to really reward a good dealer 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 other 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 is, that dealer will see little reason to give good service, if the tips roll in either way.

Casinos require dealers to pool tips for three reasons:

  1. 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.  Otherwise they might have to collect a separate tip report from each individual dealer.
  2. It equalizes the rewards.  Dealers on the higher 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 money.  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.
  3. 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 many 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 time soon.


Buffets

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

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 your car. (Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nov. 2000)

At the Wynn, valets make $9/hr. in wages and about $11/hr. in tips, for a total of $20/hr. (Las Vegas Sun, Aug. 2006)


$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.  Most 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 is fine.

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 calculate a standard tip: 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 that easily already, then my explanation probably wouldn't make any sense. :)

Happy tipping!

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