When you play live poker, one of the decisions you have to make is who you are going to tip, how often, and how much. While this might not seem like a big decision, it becomes one if you’re a player who is trying to make a profit or playing for a living. You see, tipping at the poker room can be classified as a cost of business. While it’s not mandatory, there are a lot of reasons that you should be doing it even if you’re someone who is trying to make a profit.
That being said, you can’t be throwing money around and making it rain on everyone in the room that does anything for you. Every dollar that you tip takes away from your win rate. If you’re not calculating these costs into your win rate, you are doing yourself a disservice. Your win rate should be the exact amount of money that you’re expecting to walk out of the casino with. If I win $100, but I tip $10 of it away, my profit is not $100; it’s $90. If I put $100 into my budget or my plan to go pro, I’m going to always be short on money.
Now, if you’re reading this and you’re purely a recreational player looking to have a good time, this is probably not as big of a decision. An extra few dollars an hour is not going to break your good time. In fact, it will probably enhance it which is your main goal anyway. For those of you that profit matters, I want to talk about who you still need to be tipping, how often, and what I recommend as the correct amounts.
Before we go any further, I want to make something very clear. These are just my suggestions. I am not the Tip General. You are always free to do whatever you want when it comes to tipping. You can tip more than I suggest, and you can also tip less as well. The numbers that I am giving you are based on my 12+ years of experience in the industry as a player. These are the numbers that I have found are the best balance of taking care of the people working in the poker room while preserving my profit numbers in the process.
The person that you should be tipping the most frequently is your dealer. Why? Well, let me give you a few reasons. For one, its customary and you’re going to probably get a lot of glares from people if you’re not tipping the dealer. In fact, I’ve actually seen a lot of people yell at other players for not tipping the dealer.
The second and more important reason (for your bottom line) is that dealers will deal much faster to tables where they are getting tipped. If they’re getting more money for each hand they get out, they’re going to want to get in as many hands as possible. If you’re in a good game, you’re definitely going to want to get in as many hands as possible. On the flip side, dealers that aren’t getting anything extra for working harder are usually not going to push to get those extra hands out.
If you don’t think this is a real thing, just ask a cash game dealer away from the table. I have a ton of friends that are dealers and every single person that I’ve talked to says when they aren’t getting tipped by a table, they deal slower. I don’t know about you, but I always want to get in as many hands as possible.
As per the right amount to tip, that’s going to be up to you. My general rule of thumb is that I tip $1 for each pot that I win and a few dollars if it’s a bigger pot. If the pot is just a raise pre-flop and I take down the blinds, I normally don’t tip unless it happens a few hands in a row. As you move up higher in stakes, this can change higher if you want to, but that is complexly up to you.
The Cocktail Waitress
Whether your drinks are free, or you have to pay for them in the poker room, you should be tipping the cocktail waitress for her help. Typically, her pay is heavily contingent on people tipping, so she is counting on the customary tips from patrons. If you’re salty and don’t feel like tipping, that can be your personal preference, but here is my thought. She is providing a service to me that makes my time in the poker room more enjoyable. I am more than happy to pay for that service.
Typically, I tip $1 for every drink I get regardless of it being alcoholic or just water. If the waitress goes out of her way to do something special for me like make a special drink or brings me a shot and a beer at once, I will tip more. Again, you’re well within your rights not to tip at all, but I personally think that’s a bad route to take and players will say something to you about it.
The Chip Runner
The chip runner in the poker room is the guy or gal who takes your money from the table and goes to the cage and brings you back chips. Sometimes you’re able to buy your chips directly from the dealer, but other times the chip runner will be called over to get your chips for you. I notice when I play that a lot of people do not tip the chip runner, but I personally think that you should be tipping them. Again, they’re doing a service for you that makes your experience better and allows you to start playing immediately instead of standing in line at the cage to get your chips.
I understand why a lot of people don’t want to tip them when they are getting them more chips after losing all of theirs. It can seem silly to give more money away after you just lost all of your chips. Personally, I still tip in this situation. The person is still doing work for you, and I think they deserve to at least get some sort of reward regardless of how well you are doing at the table.
Regarding the amount that you tip the chip runner, that is completely up to you. Like I said, I notice that a lot of people don’t tip them at all, so anything is probably going to be appreciated. I would say that anything between $1-$5 is probably plenty for each time they have to run to the cage for you. Again, you can tip more if you want to, but this is the amount that I normally tip. If you don’t tip the chip runner, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are a little slower getting your chips to you next time you need a rack or need to reload.
The Floor Staff (Special Circumstances)
So, out of all four people on this list, this is the one that is probably the most up for debate. Should you be tipping the floor staff at all when you’re playing live poker? Let’s look at this in two separate situations – tournaments and cash games. In tournaments, your opportunity to tip the floor staff (and dealers) comes at the end of the tournament. When you’re given your winnings, you’ll be asked if you want to leave anything extra for the staff and the dealers.
This one is completely going to be up to you. A lot of tournaments have started taking out additional money from the prize pool for the staff and dealers. Some people would say that this is in place of the tip and would elect not to tip. Others say that you still should be tipping on top of that. Who is right? I really don’t know. I honestly go back and forth between what is right and what is not. For me, it really depends on the situation. If it’s a smaller daily type tournament where there are only a couple of dealers working, I am usually tempted to tip more. If it’s a major tournament with hundreds of dealers, I typically tip less often. I know you came here for an answer, but this one will have to be up to you and your personal preference.
Regarding cash games (and all other times in the poker room), there won’t be a specific time that you are asked if you want to tip the floor staff or leave something extra for them. However, I feel that there are sometimes where someone does something that warrants a tip. For example, if a poker room manager tosses you a special comp for no reason, or maybe they get you a seat in a game ahead of a long wait list, I would be inclined to tip them for this.
Typically, for things like this, the lowest amount that I will tip is $5, and it goes up from there depending on the action. For example, if a poker room manager gives you a call or text to let you know that a certain huge fish is back playing and locks you up a seat in the game, I might be inclined to tip way more if I make a lot of money off of that. The reason for the larger tip is two-fold. One, I think the person deserves it for looking out for me and two, I want to make sure I am the one they call next time a big fish comes in or someone is spewing off money in a game. The poker room operates on the “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” mentality.
As you can see, regardless of whether or not you want to tip there are a lot of reasons that you would want to. Keeping the dealers happy keeps the hands flowing quicker. Keeping the cocktail waitress happy keeps the other players off of your back. Keeping the chip runner happy keeps your chips coming to you quickly when you need them. Keeping the floor staff happy keeps the special favors flowing that could result in opportunities to make a lot of money.
I scratch your back, you scratch mine.