Pooling Chips for Dealer Tips Will Require More Security

Dec. 8--Card dealers at two Inland casinos accustomed to pocketing chips from tip-giving gamblers now must wait up to two weeks for a portion of their gratuities.

Last week, the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs and the Agua Caliente Casino in Ranch o Mirage began pooling tips to dole out to dealers later, a policy commonly practiced at Las Vegas casinos.

All card dealers, except those running poker tables, are subject to the new policy. David Fendrick, chief operating officer for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, which operates both casinos, said the method will help the tribe avoid an imminent IRS audit.

The new policy was instituted Nov. 29, only a week after Thanksgiving and during the heart of the holiday shopping season. Fendrick said the casino will distribute tips once a week for nine weeks before lengthening the schedule to once every two weeks. One card dealer, citing the new policy, has resigned, Fendrick said.

"A lot of the (dealers) have depended on the daily tips," Fendrick said. "It was a very real concern for them."

Two dealers declined to comment on the policy.

The Pala Casino Spa Resort near Temecula has had a similar policy since it opened in 2001. Spotlight 29 in Coachella is considering pooling tips.

Other casinos in the state, including the surrounding Inland Empire region, allow card dealers to take home their daily personal tips.

The Internal Revenue Service declined to comment on Agua Caliente specifically but said tip audits are generally avoided because they are time-consuming.

The IRS has a confidential tip agreement with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians that typically eliminates the need for such audits, said John Saltmarsh, the Internal Revenue Service's western area manager for Indian Tribal Governments.

Still, Fendrick said an impending audit is what ultimately made the tribe institute a policy. Such policies are common at Las Vegas casinos, Saltmarsh said.

The Agua Caliente plan allows dealers to elect a counting committee and security personnel to oversee the daily count in a secure room, Fendrick said. The tips then go to the cage where they will be counted again by a cage manager before the tips are divided and show up on a card dealer's paycheck each week.

The system requires more resources from the casino, said Saltmarsh, including more security personnel and cameras to watch over the count.

Another system that involves different rates for different dealer shifts (generally night shifts earn more tips ) is, "the least intrusive on the casino, but it's the least accurate," said Saltmarsh.

Mike Crenshaw, Pala Casino Spa Resort vice president of casino operations, said the new tip policy puts players and dealers at a level field. Dealers do not compete for tips or pay more attention to guests who are bigger tippers, he said.

Crenshaw said his experience at a Reno casino with a free-for-all tip policy, "was a difficult environment to manage." Some nights would give dealers stacks of chips to cash in. Other nights were dry, said Crenshaw.

"(Dealers) don't talk about when they don't make any money. It's not always there," he said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in November 2004 that the mean annual salary for table games dealers is $16,210.

Saltmarsh said adding tips to payroll checks could help some employees to buy a house or car because their income will appear larger to lenders.

All service-industry jobs where tips are received need to know it's 100 percent taxable, said Saltmarsh.

"That's one of the hardest sells we have to make," Saltmarsh said. "Selling that to the workers is much more difficult than selling that to the casinos."

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