Leave it to Steve Wynn to stir up a controversy that could dramatically alter the way tip income is handled in Nevada casinos.
Last week Wynn announced that tip revenue — which has made his dealers the highest paid on the Las Vegas Strip — would be shared with pit bosses and table game supervisors who often earn about half of what dealers take home.
Wynn said the change was to correct the "outrageous" disparity that currently exists between dealers, whose average income is about $100,000 a year, and their supervisors, who earn about $60,000.
Wynn officials estimate that the policy change — which goes into effect Sept. 1 — would result in an average $10,000 reduction in wages for dealers, and increase supervisors pay to about $95,000 a year.
Wynn said that he would implement "incentive programs" for dealers to help offset the drop in income. Those would include cash bonuses for customer service, adherence to policy and attendance.
The tip-sharing with middle managers would be a first in Nevada’s major casinos.
The reaction from dealers was predictable — most who would speak on the subject said the policy was "unfair" and simply a "cheap alternative" to paying higher salaries out of the casinos’ bottom line.
Other critics of the policy change said it was "shortsighted" and could hurt the casino’s profitability in the long run.
"You’ve lost the division of labor and management that you need to ensure a high level of quality control and customer service," said a Strip casino supervisor who asked that her name be withheld. "The dealers are driven by tips, thus they are sympathetic to customers’ needs, while supervisors are charged with watching out for the house by overseeing the integrity of the game.
"With supervisors sharing in tip revenue, they’re now allied with dealers and ultimately the customers," she said.
A Wynn official said that supervisors sharing in the tip pool doesn’t necessarily mean that they would automatically favor customers in all disputes.
Instead, it could lead to greater customer service, which could actually generate greater tip income.
Some casino supervisors at MGM and Harrah’s properties, which offer no such tip sharing, said they might be inclined to seek a similar position at Wynn Las Vegas if the policy changeover is smooth and works out.
Conversely, some middle managers said they hoped the change was only the beginning of a larger movement that would reduce dealers to salaried employees, and return tip income to the table.
"I hope they eventually do away with tips and pay the dealers a salary, say about $40,000 to $50,000 a year, which is more than fair for what they do," said the casino manager at a North Las Vegas casino. "I think the casinos will benefit by having that extra money ”˜in play’ and will help increase their bottom line."
Some tourists on the Strip were amused by the controversy, but felt little sympathy for the dealers.
"I can’t imagine they make that kind of money, considering they’re mostly just hustlers anyway," said a visitor from Southern California. "I’ve played at casinos outside of Las Vegas, and the dealers are by far nicer, more courteous and generally happier than these dealers. Maybe this will serve as an attitude adjustment for them."