How to Tip the Dealer Fairly (Without Losing Your Profits)
The amount that you choose to tip the dealer can have a pretty big impact on your bottom line, especially in small stakes games. If you're playing in a $1/$2 no-limit hold'em game and tipping five dollars or more per hand, you're probably going to be wiping out any profit from that game.
In a live $1/$2 game, a reasonable win rate for a skilled player might be $20 an hour. At a tipping rate of five dollars or more a hand, you might be tipping out $10 to $15 or more per hour of play, which is eliminating almost all of your profit. It is however in the best interest of the players that dealers make reasonable wages since we want the good dealers to have an incentive to stick around and keep dealing.
Competent dealers might be able to deal out 30 to 35 hands per hour in an average live NL game. If they're getting tipped one dollar per hand, they would be making $30 or $35 in tips per hour in addition to any salary. If you're playing those smaller stakes live games, tipping one dollar for every hand won is completely standard tipping protocol.
For those who would prefer to tip higher amounts, two dollars is generous. However, any tip of five dollars or more is almost certainly wiping out the vast majority of any profit that can be expected in a low stakes game.
To really see the effects of this to your own bottom line, start tracking all the money that you spend at a casino or a card room. Write down all the tips for a few sessions and see for yourself how big of an impact managing tipping amounts can make.
In general, I'm very pro‑dealer and there are a few things you can do to support your dealers in addition to tipping appropriate amounts.
Make it a point to keep the game moving quickly when you are at the poker table. Look for ways to help the dealer keep the game moving quickly, such as helping move the button in between hands. Just be sure to always tell the dealer you did this, so that the button doesn't get double-moved.
Little gestures like this help dealers more than you think. They will permit them to deal more hands and thus earn more tips per hour. You also benefit because more hands per hour means an increased hourly win rate.
This should go without saying, but you should also always be respectful to the dealer. Don't blame the dealer or berate him or her if you lose a pot — it is not the dealer's fault!
Think for a second about how this idea is so counterintuitive. Imagine you go to the mailbox one day and receive a letter with bad news, such as a unexpected bill. Would you blame this on the mailman? Of course you wouldn't. The people delivering your mail have no control of what type of mail you get each day — they only deliver based on the stops on their route. Similarly, it doesn't make sense for you to blame the dealer for losing a poker hand.
You also should never chastise dealers if they make a mistake as it will almost always make the situation worse. Everybody makes mistakes, including dealers. When a player berates a dealer, it will often make the dealer uncomfortable and prone to making even more mistakes.
If you see a mistake at the table, it is well within your right to point it out, but don't reprimand the dealer. Doing so will only slow down the game and create a poor atmosphere for recreational players.
In a very high stakes games, the average tip might increase to up to five dollars a hand, but most players will not tip much higher than that. This is because really good poker players are aware of the impact tipping makes to their bottom line.
Once last critical point to note is that you should not vary tip size based on the size of the pot won. However, it is often okay to vary the size of the tips based on the skill of the dealer. Good dealers might get tipped a little bit more in a hand, even though the size of the pot won was smaller. This type of reward is key to incentivizing good dealers to stick around.
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