To toke or not to toke

Nov 13, 2006 3:19 AM

It used to be a debate about how much to tip, not why. But the math people complain that casino tipping simply cuts into their overall theoretical win/loss percentage, so they try to keep it to a minimum.

I can’t imagine the geek-inspired agony involved in that decision-making process.

I’ll address the top for video poker players, mostly because I rarely go into casinos for any other game.

First, some casinos set their machines requiring hand pays to very low amounts while others keep it at the W2G level. I attribute this tactic to casinos not willing to pay competitive salaries to their employees. What results is "tip-intimidation" for some players because of all the hand pays, even for small amounts such as $200 or $400.

The players’ response to so many extended palms is to reject tipping as a viable option and not come back. I don’t blame them one bit.

What about cocktail waitresses? Well, I always tip them a buck when they bring me a drink of any sort. And if they’re particularly charming and/or have that certain look, I might give them more.

It irks me to see some people cheerfully order a drink after hitting a good hand or two, then five minutes later when the drink is being delivered the server gets stiffed because the irritated player hit a losing streak.

Similarly, because I play at bars quite often and I’m usually ordering something, I always tip the bartenders the same as I would the cocktail waitresses. The drinks could be free or they could be costing me a ton. Either way, it’s always a good idea to have a happy bar keep. When they’re happy, they seem to be more interested in your thirst level than when they’re a million miles away.

When I’m playing in any casino I usually wind up with at least one ticket to cash in at the booth. I always go to the ticket machines when they’re under $800 because that seems to be the limit at some of the places I’ve played.

But when I have to go to a booth or cashier, I never leave a tip no matter what the amount. Why? I used to, but after thinking about it for the past few years I came to the conclusion that all I’m doing is the same thing I do when I go to the bank to cash a check. Does anyone tip the bank teller?

Now, let’s get back to hand-pays. Overall, what we as players are doing is risking our money hoping to get lucky against casino odds, in order to either get some of their money or get some of ours back.

One of the annoying approaches many casinos have is, on hand pays of $1000, for instance, they pay the winner nine $100 bills and the rest in $20s. They might as well be sticking their hand in your face. In scenarios such as this, I’ve never given a dime tip to such entrepreneurs and I never will. If they don’t do that then in the past I’ve handed out tips.

Why not? Certainly, I’m not concerned over what teeny percentage I’m "giving away" from my winnings. It is the very last thing on my mind. But what I AM thinking is what is the tipping actually for, what extraordinary service is it that I am supposedly rewarding?

After careful thought, I came to the conclusion that all I’m doing is waiting to be paid for being a customer who’s playing against casino odds, while the casino simply wants me to lose, and they want me to lose as much money as I can get my hands on, and then some.

But when I suddenly win — let’s say a $20,000 royal flush — I did nothing but get lucky, and there was no one helping me along. In fact, most employees don’t even really notice what the video poker players are doing. So when the person with the cash comes out to pay me, what are they really doing that deserves being rewarded by me — a customer risking his own money?

Tipping for any reason in a casino is of course up to the individual, but when I read how some players love to bestow gifts upon their casino hosts, I cringe. At the end of the day the joke’s always on the player, because the host is doing nothing but using every marketing tool at his or her disposal in trying to attain their main goal — empty your wallet.

Go ahead, make their day and tip them again.