The question of whether to pool tips or to let dealers go for their own is an enduring one. However, at the recently held Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, a growing number of table game executives appear to be embracing the latter, entrepreneurial approach.

“Going for your own makes for a very hard working staff,” said Dallas Teerlink, director of table games, Running Aces Harness Park, Columbus, Minn., whose Minnesota race track property is entirely reliant on table games for gaming revenue. “They get hands-per-hour up because they are in business for themselves. If you’re not on top of things, they will try to do things that they shouldn’t do. But, for the most part, we have a real warm, cozy place because our dealers are engaged. You walk in the door and you have every dealer trying to get you to come to their game. Our dealers average tips of $250 to $300 per day, they work three days a week. Just recently we had a big progressive go off and the winner gave two racks of $100 chips, which was a $20,000 tip. Going for your own makes you want to come to work and make what you need to make.”

Dawn Clayton, assistant general manager, Thunder Valley Casino, Lincoln, Calif., said Thunder Valley pools tips, including in the poker room, but starting in 2014, “we probably need to split that out. The thinking was that we brought baccarat dealers in to deal poker and since they didn’t have the skill set we would pool them together. But what we’re seeing a tendency not to push hands if you’re not going man-for-man. Right now, dealers are going an hour-and-a-half in the poker room without a break. After an hour-and-a-half, they’re raising their hand and saying they want a break. When you go man-for-man, after three or four hours, you’re pushing them to take a break. Also, the friendliness and the guest service that we really try to instill as part of our culture goes up when we all take ownership for it. If you don’t produce, you’re going home with no money in your pocket, so we think it will be catalyst for us to make that change.”

Debra Nutton, senior vice president, casino operations for Las Vegas-based Bellagio, traced the history of pooling dealer tokes back to the opening of the Mirage in 1989. “It didn’t take long for us to put all of those tips on a paycheck and I think it changed the whole mentality of a dealer,” she said. “When I started as a crap dealer we went for our own. I think the idea was to take your craps and 21 dealers and hope they eventually became a host. Our biggest fear today is that they will hustle and ask the customers for money. But the truth is your dealers really did become some of your best salespeople. Today, you go around any casino and, say they split tips 300 or 400 ways per day; you’re going to get a lot of dealers who just don’t care.”

“Now is a very tough time for tips in Las Vegas; tips have probably gone down 25 percent or more,” Nutton added. “If you take a dealer who was living on $200 in tips a day, that is probably down to $150 now. I say to every dealer if you think you should be making $300 a day, you better be putting $300 a day in that toke box.”