A Different Look at “Go for Your Own”

Article Author
Mark Jones
Publish Date
September 1, 2011
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Mark Jones

After reading Bill Zender’s article on allowing dealers to keep their own tips in the December 2010 issue of CEM, I felt the need respond. As a person who has dealt and managed in a “go for your own” tips environment, I know there are several aspects to consider before adopting (or abolishing) that system. I believe that between this article and Zender’s, you will have a better understanding of the pros and cons associated with tip pooling vs. keeping individual tips.

In my opinion, the major issues to consider are:

1) Perception/attitude

 2) Fairness

 3) Rotation for efficiency

 4) Size (It does matter!)

 5) New games and training

 6) Cost of training

 7) Talent pool

 8) Staffing

 9) Compensation


There is a notion that dealers who keep their own tips will give better customer service, get more hands per hour out and be better overall employees. I do not believe this is the full story. If you have an employee who does not smile, who does not treat your customers with respect and who does not give it their all, you have a management issue, not a tipping issue. A disgruntled dealer is only behaving in a manner allowed by management in the pit, so let’s start with the real issue, which, again, is not tipping. It is a training and accountability issue. Worse, some of the negative presence is probably broadcast by the managers themselves.

When a dealer sees a manager with a frown on their face and projecting a negative attitude, how can the casino expect the dealer, or any personnel, under their charge to act any differently? A manager will have an infectious effect on the staff, whether it is positive or negative.

In a go-for-your-own (GFYO) casino, one of the effects of this tipping system is that the managers end up making less money than the dealers they are managing. Compensation will be discussed in more detail later, but it definitely has an effect on attitude. First and foremost, however, let’s start with negative managers and give them an opportunity to make a positive change. If they can’t, then they need to be gone. If a casino changes its tipping policy to the pool system and dealers slow down on the games to try and prove a point, those dealers were not good employees to begin with and need to be made examples of—i.e., they need to be gone, too. There are too many good people looking for work right now, so any employee who is not thankful for even having a job needs to be re-educated.



One of the biggest problems with a GFYO system is that the dealers start to believe they run things: “What do you mean I need to skip that table due to a rotation change? That’s not fair, I didn’t break the game. The game I was going to has big tippers.” Whatever happened to “be quiet and deal?” On a GFYO floor, dealers don’t really care about the casino’s needs, as they now act like independent contractors and what is best for them is the way it should be. No matter how great a system you have in a GFYO casino, it will never be good enough, as greed gets in the way.


Rotation for Efficiency

How tips are held plays a big role in how a rotation is handled in the casino. In a pool situation, a dealer will most likely be assigned to a table for the shift and a push dealer will relieve them for their breaks. In a GFYO casino, the dealers, in general, are allowed to go through the entire line-up. Say I get a great customer who wants to play blackjack at a higher-limit table in the main pit to enjoy the fullness of the entertainment experience. As a manager, you might think I would have the authority to send only my best dealers to that game. Well, guess what? I don’t. All the dealers must have a chance to deal to him to keep things fair, so the player suffers and the casino suffers. And this is a cost the casino has to absorb simply because of the tipping system.

In a tip pool house, on the other hand, the scheduler and management get paid to address the rotation and can feel free to take care of a good customer, giving them the best value for money spent.



I have no issue with dealers going for their own tips in a smaller (10-table) casino. It is easy to handle rotation changes on a smaller floor—though be assured the dealers will still feel free to comment on it. The chances of a small casino having a large game mix is the other reason this can work. In a larger casino, where about 25 to 30 percent of the floor should be dedicated to non-blackjack games, the dealers are lucky enough to deal some of those games a few times per week. But how can a dealer truly deal all the games efficiently? You need a separate rotation for craps dealers and roulette dealers, because few in the rotation can deal these games in the manner needed. Roulette and craps dealers love to deal their games and become very good at dealing them.

I own the No. 1 card-based roulette game in the world, and I can assure you that when I first started placing the game, there was a great difference in the quality of dealers in the pool casinos vs. the GFYO casinos. Many of the large casinos in California, which are managed by companies like Caesars, Station Casinos and Lakes Entertainment, pool tips and are able to hire experienced dealers to deal my game. They also share equally in the tip pool, which allows them to deal a game they love to deal, producing more hands per hour than the inexperienced dealer and making minimal errors.

At many GFYO casinos, however, when my game first goes in, dealers get out 50 percent fewer hands and make many errors. And how can you blame them? They might see the game once a shift. They hate to deal it, as it is not generally a high-tipping game, and they fear going to it in the rotation, as they know they are not qualified to deal it. The only way to fix the problem here, and with other non-blackjack games, is to pay craps and roulette dealers a greater hourly wage and give them their own rotation with a few juicy-tipping BJ games added in. Yes, this does cause negative feelings for those employees who can’t figure out how to deal these games. But, again, we have spoiled our dealers.


New Games and Training

These two areas are greatly impacted by a GFYO tipping policy. When a new game developer brings a new game idea into a GFYO casino, the manager understands that the cost to train his staff might be 10 times that of a casino that pools its tips. When I go to a GFYO casino, I know the whole staff will need to be trained before my game goes live on the floor. As a table games manager, I know I need to look very hard at the expense of training all my dealers, which is a huge cost in a casino with any sizable table count. What GFYO does in this situation is limit a casino from having the game mix it should have and the flexibility to change up the mix as needed. How many casinos do you go into where the same game is in the same spot for years on end? If a slot manager operated in this manner, he would be on the outside looking in. Slot managers change up the floor and keep their mix fresh because they have minimal training costs and can afford to do it. We, too, as table games managers, can do this in a pool casino.


Talent Pool

As gaming has expanded over the past 10 years, the pool of qualified dealers has not kept up. There are dealers dealing today who would not have been allowed near a Vegas table 15 years ago. This is not a unique situation to gaming. When I managed for Home Depot in the early ‘90s, the company went through a huge growth cycle. New properties needed management as well as seasoned, knowledgeable departmental personnel to run them. It used to be that when you went into the plumbing department with some questions, the guy there to answer them was a retired plumber or had five to 10 years of experience in the field. This is not the case today.

However, due to the recession, the level of talent available to train has never been better. Many casinos are making their staff re-interview in order to ensure they have the best people on their tables. I am a big believer in giving a person a chance at improving themselves, but this must come from within themselves. The “bottom line” here literally is the bottom line.



There is no question that labor is our biggest cost in the operation of table games. How we utilize these costs is the key to any successful department. Our biggest obstacle in getting good supervisors is a factor because, in general, casinos are not paying their managers a reasonable wage. When a supervisor is managing employees who are making much more money than they are, why would anyone want the job?

For many years in California, dealers were allowed to “tip out” the managers at the end of the shift. It was customarily the way business was run. What it meant for the casino was that the dealers were actually offsetting some of the house’s costs for that manager. The house could offer the manager a reasonable wage, while the tips kept all the managers happy and made the job much more attractive to other good dealers. But then the big scare was put into the minds of new regulators that managers might turn a blind eye to mistakes made by dealers who were good tippers. What did these regulators do? They made it against the rules for managers to accept tips. Instead of weeding out the managers who were acting inappropriately in the situation, they punished all managers, even the good ones. This was a big mistake and hurt the quality of management watching over the casino’s assets. Many gaming establishments still allow managers to receive tips, and these managers stay at that property and don’t look for greener pastures.

The other issue with filling management positions in many casinos is the requirement that a dealer looking for work, no matter how good a dealer they are, must come in as a dual-rater, working as a manager a few days a week and a dealer the rest of the time. This system sucks, but if casinos are not willing to pay more for better talent or find ways to otherwise compensate managers, we might be stuck with it in most situations.

The use of an extra board is also a great way to fill staffing needs. I wish all of you had time to visit Barona Resort & Casino in Lakeside, Calif. Management there has perfected the extra board in a manner that gives them full flexibility in running their business. This casino does not hire dealers from the outside. They take the cream of the crop within the casino—employees who already understand the culture—and train them to give the customer the best experience for their money spent.

There are many ways to get the best staffing, and it is our job as casino managers to find the ways that fit our casino’s needs.

I also understand how many of you in Indian gaming have tried to get away from the GFYO system, only to be stopped by the tribes themselves. To that I say, tribes, please listen to your managers! They feel the pulse of your business every day, and you as a tribal council should have faith in their ability to run the business. Otherwise, why have managers at all?



The old saying “you get what you pay for” could never be truer here. Most casinos are using their pit personnel as glorified marketing assistants, and managers are so busy doing paperwork that they are spending less time doing their real job. A manager should be out glad-handing customers and doing everything possible to make that customer loyal to the property. I love to use actual casinos as examples so that you don’t think I am making this stuff up, so here’s another story from Barona. When a manager swipes a customer in at Barona, he greets that customer by name so the dealer can hear it. Then the manager turns the monitor toward the dealer so the dealer can reinforce the name in their memory. Then, when dealers get off a table, casino management randomly pulls a dealer and the manager in that area aside and challenges them to name five players on the game. If they do, the casino rewards them with free meal tickets and other prizes. Both the manager and dealer must qualify, so believe me, they work on this. You all know that when you sit down at a table, it is great to be greeted by name. There are many ways to be creative in creating incentive programs for all employees to increase their earning potential. You either come up with these to draw good employees to your property or pay less and get what you pay for.


Final Thoughts

There is no way that a casino can operate as efficiently or as profitably in a GFYO environment as it can in a tip pooling environment. When dealers always deal the same game or just a few games, they become very good at it and require less supervision. They get many more hands per hour out, and the bleed to the casino is kept at a minimum. Managers can maintain the proper mix in their pits without incurring huge training costs. If you are in a go-for-your-own system now, though, you will meet with resistance in making the change. If you are in tribal gaming, I can assure you the dealers will run to the tribe to cry on their shoulders and try the poor-me chant. If you are the tribe, you should let your managers run the business you hired them to run. If they can’t handle the job, find a new manager. There are plenty of managers out there that have tossed their hands in the air and said why even try? Keep trying. Take the time to write out a detailed plan so that the people making the decision to allow you to put your plan into motion have a clear understanding of your reasoning.

Every employee is motivated in a different manner. We need to find out what makes that person tick. If you have tried to work with a dealer or supervisor who refuses to buy into your program, that employee needs to be replaced. Remember to document, document and document some more. And remember that reward and recognition go a long way toward developing the best employees—those who care about the casino, not just their personal pockets.


Mark Jones has 17 years in gaming, beginning his career as a dealer, and ultimately launching his own gaming company in 1999. INAG is now one of the most successful gaming companies in California thanks to its full line of casino products and the success of the patented Mystery Card Roulette game. Jones is also a partner in West Coast Gaming.


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