Deal me in: Most dealers prefer side bets to tips

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Dear Mark: Sometimes at a table game I will tip at the end of the session versus nickel-and-diming the dealer during the course of play. At some joints after I color up, if I flip the dealer a black chip, the dealer will convert to four green and place them behind the paddle. What protocol dictates why the black chip isn't set behind the paddle as tokes? - Randy S.

There is no consistency when it comes to how dealer tips are handled within the pit. Every casino has a different policy regarding tokes, especially when carrying $100 chips off the game.

Let's begin by breaking down some of the casino lingo used in your question. A black chip is typically $100, green $25. "Behind the paddle" refers to a slot that is right of the dealer where he or she deposits your hard-earned moolah in exchange for chips. "Nickel-and-diming" is an occasional tip for the dealer during the course of play. In dealer jargon, the term "toke" relates to a tip or tipping.

As for "coloring up" it is a lot easier for both the dealer and patron to carry a few larger denomination chips than a bunch of smaller denomination chips. When players are done with their session, they simply push their chips toward the dealer and ask, "Could you please color me up." The dealer will count your chips and exchange all of your smaller denomination chips for fewer larger denomination chips.

With an eagle eye, some pit bosses tend to track black chips as if it's their own booty. Where you played, the policy was to reverse the color up, leaving the black chip on the table and exchanging it out for green. My experience working in multiple casinos has been the opposite. Although as a pit boss it was my responsibility to be the custodian over higher denomination chips, I didn't sweat the money and, unless the game was light on $100 chips, the dealer was allowed to walk them off the game. Again, this varies according to the protocol of each individual casino.

In blackjack, you can offer your tip directly to the dealer during play, or as you did, generously toss a C-note in token form when done playing. You can also place a side bet on top of or in front of your wager for the dealer.

So which do dealers prefer? Most favor a side bet alongside yours rather than receiving a tip directly. A side wager makes them feel like they are also in action and have a stake in the game. A bet for the dealer provides a little excitement in what can be a humdrum job.

The problem with tipping after a blackjack session is that if a dealer knows they will be tipped when the player is winning, they begin rooting for you. Some actually do subtle things to help, like allowing deeper penetration into the shoe before re-shuffling if the dealer feels the deck is still rich in face cards. The casino obviously does not want this type of rogue behavior, but it does happen.

The bottom line here, Randy, is that you should only tip what you are comfortable with, and only tip for good service. Even yours truly, with 20 years on the inside, won't tip a dull-as-dishwater dealer who makes me feel like I'm wasting his or her time.

Mark Pilarski writes an internationally syndicated gambling column. Write to him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @markpilarski.

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