There has been a lot of discussion about how hard it is to make a living playing live tournament poker. The difficulty lies in the fact that these games frequently have significant rake and that they often require additional lodging and travel expenses.
For example, when playing in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker, you will encounter another sneaky little profit pilferer — tips. Vegas is a quintessential tourist trap, and where there are tourists, there is an expectation of frequent tipping.
As a guide for what to anticipate as well as how to handle tipping while in Vegas, here’s a list of five people you will in encounter who should be tipped, but not overtipped, if you use their services.
If you play tournaments, you will pay a rake to the house and an additional fee to the dealers and staff. This is usually around 3% or 4% and is included in your buy-in. If you are one of the few who will actually cash the tournament, you will then be expected to tip the dealers at the payout desk.
Once when I was a rookie at this, I cashed for $1400 and left a traditional 10% tip of $140. The guy at the desk said “Really? Wow! You are very generous!” I instantly realized that I had made a mistake because I'd never gotten that reaction at a restaurant.
Nowadays, I tip around 1% or 2% of my payout which is more than fair. When you consider it as a percentage of what I pay for the service, it is actually much closer to a traditional amount than it first appears.
This is an area where I really see people overdoing it. When you play a cash game, you are generally expected to tip on most pots you win. I don’t mind this practice, but I tip a consistent amount each time and that's a single $1 chip.
I've seen people get it in with vs to win a $600 pot and tip a green $25 chip. Even worse, I've seen people get it in with vs to win a $600 pot and tip two green $25 chips to thank the dealer for giving them the they needed. This makes no sense to me. If the dealers cannot be blamed when the cards run out bad for you, then they should not be rewarded when the cards run out good for you.
If you are really frugal like I am, consider going downtown to the Plaza Casino where they have electronic cash games. There, you get twice the number of hands per hour and don't have to tip at all.
There are tons of great games around Vegas. You may want to play on the North strip, the South strip, off-strip, downtown... everywhere. These places usually are too far to walk and you won’t likely have a rental car if you are pinching pennies. By default, a lot of players use cabs. This can be economical if you are traveling with a group of three or four players, but it can get very expensive if you are traveling solo.
The tips for cab drivers are very reasonable. People usually give around 10% to 20%. However, I have seen people tip the guy who hails the cab for them, tip the driver, and then tip the guy who opens the door and welcomes them to the next casino. Three tips for one trip seems over the top to me.
If you are serious about making poker as profitable as possible, consider using the free shuttles that travel between sister properties to get around. These drivers are much less tip-dependent than cab drivers, so a dollar is plenty for them. I’ll also take it a step further and buy a $65 bus pass for the month because bus drivers do not expect tips at all.
While playing, you are welcome to consume as many free drinks as you want — the rake you pay to play entitles you to them. However, you are expected to tip the server who brings them to you a dollar for each trip. This is great for those of you who drink alcohol, because you are still getting those drinks for much less than they cost. But It's not so good for those of us who do not drink alcohol.
If all you are having is water, it is a good idea to bring your own. If you are playing at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, they have water coolers in the tournament areas where you can get up to refill your own bottle. Save the planet and tip yourself.
If you prefer non-alcoholic drinks besides water, you can save a bit on tips by asking for several at a time. You tip by the trip, not by the drink. If I get an orange juice, I'll ask for a Red Bull and a water as well and tip a dollar. Economies of scale my friends.
If you are staying in a hotel on your trip, you are expected to tip the housekeepers who come in to clean your room. If you are not overly messy, you can cut down on some of these tips by using the do not disturb sign so that they won’t come in to clean every single day. Only remove the sign and leave a tip when you actually need the cleaning service.
For those of you who pride yourselves on being big tippers, this advice is not for you. If you can afford it, tip as much as you want. But obviously, you would never tip away your entire income.
But for most of us, we have to be mindful of how much we’re spending with tips. Especially for professional poker players, your profit is your income, so you shouldn't give all of it away, either. If you use a service, please leave a fair tip. But if overdoing it is preventing you from being in the black at the end of your trip, then consider not using some of the services.
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