Dealers: Don’t drain toke pool!

Apr 24, 2001 8:21 AM

The cards are flying at the World Series of Poker but that doesn’t mean the dealers are happy campers.

Operating under a new rule this year, the world’s biggest poker tourney will dole out 3 percent of its prize money to Binion’s Horseshoe employees. And that has dealers wondering what this means for their paychecks.

Casino owner Becky Behnen has yet to say exactly how many workers will share in the pot, stoking fears that those employees’ gain will be the dealers’ loss.

If this year’s prize pool matches last year’s $15 million - and there’s every indication it will - a 3 percent split would total $450,000. But while early action has been strong, dealers have another concern: Players may tighten up on tokes, knowing that Binion employees will rake money off the top of the pot.

"Dealers don’t get a lot of tips the way it is,’’ said one longtime player who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Two percent is common (among some players).’’

With dealers making minimum wage, tokes pay their bills. By contrast, cashiers and other non-gaming positions mentioned by Behnen as potential pot-sharers earn salaries three or four times larger than dealers.

"Most dealers are looking for a score (at WSOP). They’d like to make $3,500 to $5,000 in three weeks,’’ said one player. "It’s a high-stress job because casinos allow big players to verbally abuse dealers.’’

But early talk of a dealer walkout fizzled. With big pots on the line and WSOP importing table help, the card shufflers were not dealing from a position of strength. And Binion’s is playing hardball. Paul Phillips, a local player, was 86’d by Behnen last week after he publicly complained about the 3% program.

While Phillips was barred for speaking his mind, there are no first amendment rights in a casino.

"There’s no problem with Binion’s taking that kind of action against a patron," Keith Copher, chief of the Gaming Control Board’s investigative division, told GamingToday. "They have a right to refuse service to anyone."

Dealers, speaking privately, wanted to know what kind of split they could expect going in. Behnen said she wanted to look at the revenue before committing.

"It’s Binion’s right (to institute prize-sharing). We’re in America. It’s not illegal or amoral. Players are also entitled to not like it and vote with their own pocketbooks,’’ said Barry Shulman, publisher of Card Player magazine.

Early indications are that the players are undaunted. The first game in the tournament drew 615 entries, up a solid 24% from last year.

Prize-sharing has become more common in recent years. Behnen’s brother Jack, for example, instituted a 3 percent rake at his riverboat casino in Tunica, Miss., where entries were up 22 percent this year. Proponents of such formulas liken them to mandatory tips that restaurants often set for large parties.