By Steve Beauregard
Winning a poker tournament is such a rush, it’s easy to overlook the fact that a tip for the tournament dealers is in order.
Unlike regular cash games, dealers are not tipped for each pot won, as no one is going to give a dealer a tournament chip. (And the dealer would not be pleased to receive one as a joke).
This is why poker tournament dealers are tipped at the end of the tournament – after tips are pooled and collected from all who donated. As a rule, you can give your tip immediately when receiving your winnings.
But how much should you tip a dealer in a poker tournament?
The problem is, there is not a set rule for poker tournament tipping, and everyone has their own ideas of what is fair. Some of the longest, most combative threads on poker forums like 2+2 involve the question of tipping after tournaments.
One thing most players agree on however, is that players who do not cash in the tournament, are not expected to tip the dealers.
For those who do cash in a tournament, tipping is usually dependent on whether or not a percentage of the prize pool has already been taken out for the dealers.
In many tournaments, dealers are guaranteed a tip (on top of their small wages) by one of two methods:
1) A cut from the prize pool
2) An optional dealer add-on fee.
First let’s talk about the number one.
In many tournaments, a small percentage, (often 3%) is taken out of the total prize pool and given to the dealers as a tip. The casino running the tournament will let the players know this ahead of time, usually in small print on a flier, or at the desk where you buy into the tournament.
At the Main Even of the World Series of Poker for example, it has been reported that 3% is withheld from the prize pool for “tournament staff.” However, it’s also been reported (by ESPN no less), that of that 3%, only 60% goes to the actual dealers. In this case meaning, dealers are given their small wages, often less than $8 per hour, and 1.8% of the prize pool.
The second option is what’s called the “dealer add-on.” This is when players are given the choice (before the tournament starts), to add to their stack by purchasing more chips for a set fee. Instead of going into the prize pool, or to the casino, the fee is then given to the dealers as a tip.
The dealer add-on is often included in many no-limit hold’em tournaments – particularly the smaller buy-in tournaments. In this situation, you’re given the option to pay an additional amount of entry fee (often anywhere from $5 to $25, depending on the tournament buy-in fee), to get additional chips. The add-on fee goes directly to the dealers, and almost every player chooses this option so that they can have as big a starting stack as possible.
In either case above, it’s acceptable to either not tip, or give a small 1 or 2% of your winnings to the dealers – especially in the WSOP Main Event example, where dealers only get 1.8% of the prize pool.
Whether the dealers have a cut taken out of the prize pool, or receive an add-on, they have been paid additionally by the players, and thus, giving a lot more is not necessary, so the argument goes.
In situations where there is not a separate add on fee for dealers, or in situations where a designated portion of the prize pool has not been withheld for them, tipping is customary.
Again, the tipping is done by players who cash, and those going home empty-handed have no expectations to tip.
Players cashing in the tournament should tip the dealers around the 5% to 10% area. To be fair, the 10% figure would be given by a very generous player, and is probably the exception, rather than the rule. And while the 5% figure is a good rule of thumb, or basis for reference, an extremely large win would call for a lower percentage.
Going back to our Main Event of the World Series of Poker example, the winner always receives a multi-million dollar payday. And with say, an $8 million dollar win, a 5% tip, or $400,000, would appear excessive to anyone who is not dealing.
Should you be fortunate enough to make a huge score, such as our WSOP example above, a 2 to 3% tip would be plenty generous – given that they are already given 1.8% of the prize pool. And if 3% tips in a tournament are already held out of the prize pool and given to dealers, a 1% tip would be more than gracious.
The main point in all of this is that the world of tournament poker – whether it’s the $50 buy-in at your neighborhood card room, or the $10,000 WSOP Main Event – needs competent, courteous, knowledgeable and professional dealers. That only happens when they are compensated well.
So be sure to remember forking over a little something to the dealers the next time you either just cash, or take down a poker tournament.