Dealers - FAQ
Bob from Hooksett, New Hampsire
I haven't studied card clumping, but in my opinion it is not a legitimate advantage play. I have never known a professional gambler or writer I respect to give card clumping any respect.
Eric from Columbia, USA
For this question I deferred to a friend of mine who is a blackjack dealer in Biloxi, here is what she says:
Every casino differs as far as tokes however there is somewhat of an average. Your typical dealer will average anywhere from $9 - $11 in tips and makes an hourly wage of $4.50 to $5.00 per hour. So I always like to think we average $15 an hour. Some of the bigger casinos like the Grand and Beau Rivage, however, make more than that. Their toke rates stay at $14, $15 and $16 per hour so they make close to $20 an hour (that's including their hourly base pay). You only get benefits (insurance, 401-K) if you are a full-time employee. Some casinos will make you a full-time employee automatically after 90 days while other casinos will keep you part-time until full-time positions are available.
John from Niagara Falls, Canada
You're right, it is more likely the dealer will make a pat hand. From my blackjack appendix 2, the following are the probabilities of the dealer's final total given a 5 as an up card. This assumes the dealer stands on a soft 17, which I believe is what you do.
- 17: 12.23%
- 18: 12.23%
- 19: 11.77%
- 20: 11.31%
- 21: 10.82%
- bust: 41.64%
Assuming 8 decks, there are 16*8=128 10 point cards in the deck. Eliminating the ace there are 52*8-1=415 possible cards under the ace. Thus the odds of a blackjack are 128/415 = 30.84%.
Chris from Gaithersburg, Maryland
This would be a bad play. For example, my blackjack appendix 9B shows the return both ways by playing 10 and 6 cards against a dealer 7. Hitting has an expected loss of 39.6% of the bet. However, standing has an expected loss of 47.89%. There is no easy explanation I can give why hitting is better. You have to consider everything that can happen, weight it by its probability, and take the sum. Overall hitting is better of two bad plays.
Hobbes from Toronto, Canada
The casinos switch dealers when it is time for someone to go on a break or go home. Switching dealers does not change the player's odds unless the player is a card counter and the game is single- or double-deck, where a new dealer necessitates a fresh shuffle.
Sarah from Chicago, USA
There is no firm standard but I would recommend tipping about half your average bet per hour. More for good service, less for bad.
Mike from Jacksonville, USA
That was nice of you to tip generously. The Wizard definitely supports tipping the dealers when given good service. I’m 99% sure that you were just lucky. If the dealer did have the ability and will to cheat for the players he probability would have arranged for an accomplice to get the big wins and they would have split the money later. I have heard of stories of dealer overpaying players who tipped well, as long as they always tipped back a portion of the overpayments. Of course I don’t approve of any form of cheating.
Brian from Greensburg, U.S.
The vast majority of the time the player makes a bet for the dealer. This is done by putting the tip on the edge of the betting circle, close to the dealer. Think of the tip as orbiting around your bet, where the betting circle is the path of the orbit. If you double down you may or may not also double the dealer’s tip. If you split then I believe you must also make another bet for the dealer. Sometimes when a player leaves the table he will just leave a tip for the dealer, like on a table in a restaurant.
Thank you for the compliment. To answer your question the dealer will just ask you what you want to do. Normally all decisions in blackjack must be visible, however this is the only exception I can think of. However if you want to avoid being asked when it is your turn simply hold up you index finger to denote that you want one card. Most dealers know what this means. Coincidentally I just learned yesterday that in Bulgaria if you wish to double you put your extra bet behind the original bet, and if you want to split you put it next to the original bet.
Another reader wrote in to state that in North Dakota it is the state law to follow the Bulgarian rule for doubling and splitting.
While you may like a low-volatility game the next guy may like a high-volatility game. I do indicate the standard deviation of most games here but that is about as far as I care to go with this angle. I believe the gambler should pick his game partially according to its volatility but once playing always play by the proper strategy and never hedge your bets.
One Asian female dealer where I work regularly does $200 or more a night in tips. She has done this dozens and dozens of times. I have done it once or twice. Is she doing something so completely different than what I do? I hardly think so. In fact I know so because she and I both worked at another casino where I was a floor supervisor and she dealt (we both deal at the casino where we are now) and she didn’t do anything special. In fact she hardly said anything at all to the players!
You make a good point. However I could argue that is violates open market economics to have women subsidizing men or Asians subsidizing Caucasians. That is essentially what is happening by tip sharing, by your own argument. As one white male to another I sympathize with your situation but I am also against institutionalized favoritism according to race or gender. So I believe that tip sharing should be optional.
- A dealer works the same game for an entire shift. There is a big disparity in how players tip depending on the game. For example Caribbean Stud and Let it Ride players are very bad tippers.
- Some shifts tip better than others. 75% of tips are earned on the swing shift.
- Our casino is close to the Canadian border and if a dealer gets stuck with Canadian players for the shift then he will go home broke for the day.
- The dealers who are friendly with the pit bosses will get the good games and good shifts.
Furthermore I disagree with calling tip sharing "institutionalized favoritism." If dealers share their tips, every dealer receives the same pay for putting in the same hour of work. Thus, it seems to me that tip sharing reduces institutionalized favoritism, rather than contributing to it as you allege. Letting people keep their own tips would mean the good looking woman would earn more than someone else doing the same job, simply because she is a good looking woman. That would be a policy of institutionalized favoritism.
Thank you for your comments but I stand by my opinion that tip sharing should be optional. That attractive women get tipped better may sound unfair but it is the free market at work. I would argue that a beautiful female dealer is performing a better service to the public just by giving people something to look at. I definite institutionalized favoritism as an institution (such as the casino) taking money from one class of people and giving it to another. Players may not tip fairly but as long as it is according to their own free will then it is not institutional but voluntary favoritism.
In the case of your casino if tip sharing were optional I would expect only the men who are not friendly with management would opt to join the pool. If the casino didn’t do a better job at rotating dealers and treating them equally then some dealers would quit, forcing the casino to take action. It may also lead to more female heavy workforce through attrition but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Men have a competitive advantage at other jobs, like lifting heavy objects.
It is hard to study economics, as I have, and not have a healthy respect for free enterprise. Tip sharing is a form of socialism, which will obviously benefit some, but as a whole will only results in inferior public service due to insufficient incentives.
In Scottsdale, the hottest casino to work at right now is a go for your own joint that has over 100 tables. The dealers there are consistently making several hundred dollars per day working there and everyone from across the country wishes they were there.
The only dealers that I see that wish it were pooled are those that lack personality or have poor dealing skills (or both). The only way those dealers make any money is to pool their tips. And just for the record, the top moneymakers at the casinos I’ve been at are ALWAYS men, and not even very attractive men. While some of the really attractive ladies do indeed make good tips without even trying (or so it seems), the best dealers are truly entertaining personalities with a fast, clean game.
Thanks for your comments.
Thanks for your comments. I had a feeling the other dealer was overstating the race/gender effect on tipping.
I side with the casino. The rules state the dealer stands on 18. The dealer has no free will and once she got 18 the 18 is firm. The extra card dealt does not alter the dealer’s 18 and it was correctly burned. In a one or two deck game some casinos will reshuffle in that situation.
No. Dealers are taught only the basics and nothing nearly that skillful. In fact if a dealer had that control he could simply get an accomplice to bet wherever he planned for the ball to land and they could easily make millions.
Good question. If the counter were tipping then the dealer has the choice of not telling and getting more tips or tattling to get on the good side of casino management. I think it in large part comes down to the attitude of the dealer, whether he is rooting for the player or the casino. Dealers who are loyal to their employer first will probably tell, and tipping may not help. Dealers share tips so the dealer you give your tip to may only get 1% of it. Tipping cynical dealers who resent tip sharing won’t buy you much cover. In my opinion dealers loyal to the casino are more likely to be women than men and Asians over any other race. One of my blackjack books goes into this in more detail but I can’t remember which one. The decision to tip is hotly debated in the counting community and many counters follow the Stanford Wong philosophy of only tipping if the cover it buys you is more than in value than the tip itself. This may explain the joke that the difference between a counter and a canoe is that a canoe sometimes tips. Other counters tip anyway whether they think it buys them cover or not because they believe in tipping.
- Blackjack dealer makes a mistake in your favor. Do you point it out? Do you tip?
- The etiquette of challenging the dealer where you think he made a mistake in favor of the house against you.
- You wrongfully challenge the dealer, is anything more than an apology expected?
All three have happened to me within the last month. I am a small time bettor so the correction of a win or loss is not significant to me. I'd prefer not jeopardize the dealer's job.
This is a delicate question. Personally I just keep my mouth shut. Once in Atlantic City I saw another player correct the dealer for an overpayment and neither the dealer nor pit boss thanked the player for his honesty. If the casino doesn’t seem to care then why should I? I also view making the correct payment as part of a game. Also, no I do not tip. Sometimes crooked dealers will deliberately overpay players hoping to get tipped in return. This is highly illegal and at least in Nevada they treat cheating as a comparable crime to bank robbery. So I wouldn’t want anyone, including the dealer, to think I was colluding on a mistake-for-tip scheme. Another reason to not say anything is that the dealer will have to call the pit boss over and confess his mistake. Anyone can make a mistake once in a while but if the dealer is known to be mistake prone already then, yes, it could put his job in jeopardy.
Note: See my Jan. 9 column for a dealer's answer to this question.
Thanks for the kind words and patronizing the advertisers. I’m happy to post what you said. For the benefit of those new to this column this refers to a question in the December 27, 2004 column.
That is a good question. In general the nicer the casino the lower the probability of dealer errors. Dealer errors are also much more likely in new games as opposed to the old classics. Also, in my opinion dealer errors go in favor of the dealer about ¾ of the time. I have never heard of any standard. To make a rough approximation I would say dealers make an error on average once every 1 to 4 hours.
Here in Vegas, yes you can.
Tim from Cleveland
I do not know of any formal study. As you would expect dealer errors tend to decrease as the quality of the casino goes up. I have personally played thousands of hours behind the tables since I turned 21 years old 19 years ago (it seems like just yesterday). Based on all that play I strongly feel that most errors favor the house, probably about 80%. For example many dealers do not know that you still pay the ante bonus in Three Card Poker even if the player lost or the dealer didn’t qualify. (Bluejay got shortchanged this way because he wasn’t sure of the rule himself.) I’ve had a few dealers disagree with me on this rule, who were later correctly overruled by the pit boss. I wonder how many players, who don’t know the rules as well as I do, were shortchanged by these same dealers before I played. Of course the error is more likely to be corrected if the error favors the dealer. I tend to think the cost of errors to the casino is not very high because of the higher percentage in favor of the dealer. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the casinos actually made money from errors overall. If anyone in casino management has another point of view then I’m all ears to hear it.
I’ve said this before but as much as I respect dealers as a group they give out a lot of bad advice and misinformation. Splitting fours against a five or six is a frequent play where both players and dealers incorrectly rebuke splitting. Sometimes you hear people say falsely that you should never split "anything that starts with F", in other words fours, fives, and faces. That is true about fives and faces but the player should indeed split fours against a five or six if double after split is allowed. Otherwise the player should hit, except in single deck he should double if allowed. My blackjack appendix 9 shows in a six-deck game where the dealer hits a soft 17 the following expected values of 4,4 against a 6.
Hit: + 0.113365
Double: + 0.092929
Split: +0.207228 (double after split allowed)
Split: + 0.056954 (double after split not allowed)
Paul from Kent, Washington
I can think of three reasons that a supervisor would swap decks after a big win. The first is that the decks were worn and due to be swapped anyway. The second is they are concerned the deck is flawed somehow. The third is they are "sweating the money" and incorrectly think swapping decks will change your luck. I would bet that the third explanation is the most likely.
Mike from Vegas
I cringe and keep silent. It is my policy to not offer unsolicited advice. Why pick an argument? Also, I’m not trying to convert everybody to proper strategy. The casinos need some bad gamblers to subsidize the good ones.
Mark S from Sault Ste. Marie
I’m on your side. If this could be done then dealers could easily conspire with players and share in the profits. Yet I never hear of this happening. A good test would be to get somebody who claims to be able to influence the roll and have him attempt to land it in a particular half of the wheel as many times as possible over 100 spins. The more times he makes it the greater weight his claim will have. The table below shows the probability of 50 to 70 successful spins. For example, the probability of 60 or more successful spins is 2.8444%. Common confidence thresholds in statistics are the 90%, 95%, and 99% levels. To beat a 90% confidence test, in which the probability of failing given random spins is 90%, the number of successful spins would need to be 57 or more. To beat a 95% test the number would need to be 59 or more, and at 99% the number would need to be 63 or more.
Probability of at Least 50 to 70Successful Roulette Spins
Tim from Madison, WI
For procedure questions like this I like to turn to Brian S., a casino manager and former regulator. Here is what he said.
In my estimation, the dealer should have called the supervisor over before burning the card on his own. The dealer shouldn’t make decisions like that. If I was on the floor, I would have asked the player at 3rd base if he wanted the burn card or the next card in the shoe. If he selected the next card, I would not have shown him the burned card. He may still have been upset by the outcome, but I bet he would have stayed at my table.
Jarrod from Sydney
Thanks for your comments. That sounds more or less like the usual policy in Vegas as well.
Jarrod from Sydney
Training is much more informal here. I asked a friend of mine who was a former dealer about this. He said assuming you were already a dealer at a high-end Strip casino, they might have you go to a 2-hour training class in the casino on company time to learn the game. An economy casino might ask you to get the training elsewhere on your own time and dollar.
John from Austin
Casinos don’t like to back up cards because it may cause some players who won because of the mistake to lose. The general policy is that if there is a mistake more than one card back then the hand is ruled dead. However often casinos will bend the rules a bit to keep the players happy. For example, last month I was playing blackjack at the Venetian by myself, when I doubled down. The dealer never saw me make the double down bet, thinking I stood, turned over his cards, and hit is own hand with a 4. I then brought the mistake to the dealer’s attention. The pit boss gave me the choice of accepting the 4 as my double down card or it could be burned for the next card in the deck. I chose to burn it and the next card was another 4, and I ended up losing. Although I was happy with how it was handled the pit boss told the dealer to push my bet anyway, which I thought was very nice and beyond the call of duty. To get back to the issue, as long as the floor gave you back your full bet then I think that was procedural.
Larry C. from Daly City
My flashing blackjack dealer strategy shows what to do in any situation where the dealer accidentally exposes his hole card. However, most players don’t have that memorized, incluing me. In cases like this where the dealer’s two cards total nine or less you may use basic strategy, assuming the dealer’s up card is the sum of his two cards. Using that rule of thumb, all three players played correctly. Contrary to what the dealer said, the player has every right to use any information gleaned from dealer errors like this. Not only would I have ignored the dealer’s comment, I would have kept playing, hoping he would do it again.
This is far from the first time I have heard this claim, and I am very skeptical of it. Most dealers also believe myths like a bad third-baseman will cause the other players to lose in blackjack, so as a group they are not the most skeptical bunch. What I think is happening is they remember the times they were successful at attempting to control the spin, and conveniently forget the times they were not. Much like they remember the times the third-baseman took the dealer’s bust card, but forget the times he saved the table.
If dealers really could do this, it would be easy to have a confederate play, causing him to win, and causing other players to lose, to make up for it. As long as they were following proper procedures for the spin, and didn’t appear with the confederate in public, it would all look completely legitimate. Yet, you never hear about this happening. I suppose the believers could say that those doing it are just keeping a low profile, but that is what believers in worthless betting systems say too. If this were as easy as the roulette dealers where you work claim, the cheating problem as a result would be rampant.
Jim Y. from Downey, CA
I don’t believe it. Dealers are not the most skeptical group, often believing all the usual gambling myths. Usually the term "house shuffle" refers to the way the dealers are supposed to shuffle. For example, shuffle twice, riffle, and shuffle again. In this context, she seems to be saying she could alter the shuffle to the player’s disadvantage, which I doubt.
David from New York City
I think you’re over-tipping. I think a good range is 2% to 5%, the greater the win, the lower the percentage.
Al from Melbourne, Australia
Sadly, ignorance can go pretty high up the ladder. I don’t dispute that an expert can clock the wheel on a very slow spin. However, that issue aside, changing dealers does not change the odds. There is no such thing as a lucky or an unlucky dealer. Superstition is a difficult thing to let go of. As I have said many times, the more ridiculous a belief is, the more tenaciously it tends to be held.
Ron from State College
This is true of all table games, not just craps. The policy against coloring up, except when leaving, comes down from management, so don’t blame the dealers. A good dealer is supposed to keep the player well armed with chips at the level he is betting. Coloring up goes against this purpose. It will lead to chip shortages, causing the player to ask to break down the big chips, which wastes time. There may also be an unstated purpose that the player will be unlikely to bet the big chip.
John G from Reno, NV
I don’t play much poker, so had to ask David Matthews what a "dealer’s add-on" is. Here is what he said.
The dealer’s add on is an additional and optional fee you’re given when you register. The add-on money is given to the dealers only as a way of compensating them for their time dealing the tourney. Normally you get an additional number of starting chips, 2500 instead of 2000, for example.I agree with Dave. Let me take that further by saying I also oppose shaking down players in tournaments with optional fees like re-buys and wild card purchases, unless those fees are somehow returned to the players, which is not the case usually. If the tournament would otherwise not be profitable for the casino, please just drop the pretenses and make the players pay more up front to enter.
Tipping whether you buy the add-on or not should always be optional. If I had bought the add-on I would be less inclined to tip. By the way, I always buy the add-on. I am not sure if it’s mathematically correct from an EV standpoint but it just seems like the thing to do if I’m going to play the tourney in the first place.
If there were no dealer add-on, I do think it is appropriate for the winners to tip the dealers. If forced to say, I would suggest 1% to 2% of the win, and the less the win, the greater the percentage. In the situation in question, I would reduce the tip by the product of the total dealer add-on money and the ratio of my win to the total win. If that makes the tip zero or negative, then you do have a dilemma. I would probably do as I do when restaurants put on a mandatory 18%-20% tip, just put down a token small amount for appearances’ sake.
Larry from Las Vegas
The wages are pretty low, not much more than the minimum wage. The minimum wage in Nevada, as of this writing, it is $5.85/hour if health insurance is provided and $6.85 otherwise. However, tips can add to that significantly. At most casinos in Vegas, the dealers pool tips. The only exceptions I have heard of, where dealers keep their own tips, are Caesars Palace and Hooters. Following is a chart of average tips over an 8-hour shift for one week in November, 2008. These figures are quoted, with permission, from The Dealer's News. My thanks to Ron Saccavino.
Average Tips — November 2008
|Green Valley Ranch||$156|
Update: The Dealer's News appears to have been discontinued since this question was published.
Daniel from Philadelphia
Let's ignore the house edge for the sake of simplicity. If the player’s two stopping markers are a win of $5,000 or a loss of $35,000, then the probability of reaching the winning marker is 7/8. The probability of doing that during 30 consecutive trips is (7/8)30 = 1.82%. So, this could easily be just good luck. I’d let him play until you determine why and how he is beating you.
This brings to mind a very good book I just read, Casino-ology, by Bill Zender. The main thrust of the book is that casino management is much too paranoid about advantage play. The overreaction to it is slowing down play and annoying legitimate customers, the cost of which is much more than what is saved by catching a few extra advantage players.
Shawn D. from Pittsburgh, PA
I asked the Bone Man of NextShooter.com about this one. He said there are two reasons for the tap. The first is a way of thanking the player for the tip. A good dealer will verbally thank the player making the tip while making the tap. The second is a measure to keep the dealers honest. It has happened many times where dealers pocketed tips in casinos where tips are supposed to be put in a pool. Game security is not my strong point, but procedures like this are put there to make it harder to cheat, and easier to get caught if you do.
John G. from Reno
For the benefit of other readers, a "dealer’s add on" is an optional purchase of additional chips in a poker tournament. Usually the cost per chip is less for the dealer’s add on than the original entry fee, in which case buying it is a good value. To answer your question, I think you are perfectly justified in reducing the tip if you come in the money, whether or not you purchased the dealer’s add on. I would liken it to tipping at a restaurant if they already added an 18% service fee. An appropriate winner’s tip, in my opinion, is whatever the dealers would have been tipped had they been dealing cash games over the duration of the tournament, less whatever they took in from the dealer’s add on.
Let me use this opportunity to state that I oppose all additional tournament costs, unless the extra money paid goes into the prize pool, which is usually not the case. Tournaments are usually structured in a way that paying the additional fees are a good value, so most players invoke the right, including me. Your odds of winning are significantly reduced if you don’t. However, if every player pays the additional fees, then they should drop the pretenses and just charge more for the tournament in the first place.
Indeed, in my experience dealers never pay the Ante bonus, as they are supposed to, when the dealer wins. I’ve seen this happen several times, and every time I had to summon the floor supervisor to get paid. To answer your question, the 2009 Gaming Revenue Report says that Nevada casinos earned $134,181,000 from Thee Card Poker in 2009. The house edge in Three Card Poker is 3.37% on the Ante and 7.28% on the Pairplus.
Let's assume the player bets both equally, for an average house edge of 5.325%. Dividing the profit by the house edge gives us the handle (total amount bet) of $2,519,830,986. Again, let's assume half of that, or $1,259,915,493, was bet on the Ante.
I roughly estimate the Ante bonus error costs the player 0.00072 of his Ante bet, on average, assuming the dealer always makes that error. So, over $1.259 billion bet, the cost of that error would be about $909,000 per year. However, to be fair, I'll say 25% of time the dealer won’t make that mistake, lowering that figure to about $682,000 per year. While that is a small fraction of the total amount bet in Three Card Poker, it is still not an insignificant amount of money. Hopefully this will educate players about this frequent error. Don't be afraid to throw the challenge flag if it happens to you or another player.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.
I’m not an expert on the fine points of poker rules, so I turned to David Matthews on this one. Here is what he says:
I play a lot of poker, mostly 2-5 NL and 5-10 NL. The rule is that oversized chips should be visible in front or on top, and if the dealer had known there were black chips, then the dealer should have requested that they be displayed. There is the conundrum of if the chips are hidden, how is the dealer going to see it? Stacks are also supposed to be one denomination. A stack of red ($5) chips on top of a $1 chip is considered a dirty stack because if someone were to eyeball the stack, they would likely guess the wrong number for the value. In this case, it would only be a $4 difference, but that’s the way it is. Interestingly, a stack of red chips with a $1 chip on top is not a dirty stack. I really think the dirty stack rules are a bit too much hassle.
Whether the chips were visible or not is a real problem in no-limit hold ’em, because as is demonstrated in this situation, there can be confusion. Unfortunately, the ruling by the Wynn poker staff was the correct one, but it really was unfortunate for the person with the losing hand.
I have had a similar situation cost me $600. I went all in on a bluff against a guy, and he had a bunch of chips on top of some bills. $100 bills play in most places in town. I said to him, "What do you have? 2 Bills?" He just nodded and didn’t say anything. I went all in. He called instantly with 3 kings. He actually had 8 bills, and the house made me pay it. I would not have tried the bluff for an "All in" had I known how much money he had. That was expensive.
That’s why I ALWAYS ask on all ins. Even if a guy has 5 red chips ($25) and he throws it in, I ask the dealer how much it is. Dealers get irritated sometimes and look at me like, "It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?" Also, players give me a hard time, too, sometimes. They tell me it’s obviously $100 or whatever it looks like. Doesn’t matter. I ask, "How much is it?" over and over again.
Another thing is I will usually bet a number rather than say "all in." If I had made a bet of $500 against the guy with the 3 kings, then it wouldn’t have mattered how many bills or what kinds of chips he had. I would have been on the hook for the $500 only.
I’m personally against having bills play on the table, because I constantly have to ask people how many bills. People get offended when you ask them over and over again, especially when they have less money on the table than other players, because they’re embarrassed to say, "2 bills." And then every hand I’m in with them I ask again, because you never know if maybe they added some bills to their stack in between hands. Or maybe they won a hand you didn’t see. In addition, just the fact that you ask someone how much they have might give away information about your hand.
I think paper should not play, and on 2-5 games and lower, the largest chips allowed in play should be $100 chips. My opinion isn’t a popular one, though.
This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.