Let's start with a look at the way things used to be, and still are at most Las Vegas casinos. Dealers are tipped by happy customers, and that money ceases to belong to the casino and then belongs to the dealer. Sometimes a particularly happy high roller may tip extravagantly, like the reported $400,000+ in tips allegedly distributed by a player at the Wynn last summer, one incident that may have led to the new policy.
These tips are then pooled and distributed among the dealers equally based on hours worked, etc. The standard payout structure typically leads to dealers making significantly more than their $6.15/hr. minimum wage. According to reports on various internet message boards and statements from Wynn management, Wynn dealers were actually making nearly $100,000 annually, while the floor supervisors, the dealer's immediate superiors in the casino hierarchy, were making closer to $60,000 per year. This has led to casinos having difficulty hiring floor personnel, as the salary is not commensurate with the headaches that come with the responsibility.
Starting September 1 2006, Wynn floor personnel were added into the tip distribution pool, changing decades of Las Vegas status quo and sparking outrage and protests from the dealers. Under the new tip distribution policy, floor personnel are estimated to draw $90,000 per year, with dealer take home income around $80,000, roughly a 20% reduction in salary.
The source of the complaint by the Wynn dealers is that the Wynn management is taking money that did not belong to the casino (because it had been tipped to dealers) and distributing it among casino management (floor supervisors). This is seen by many in the casino industry as tantamount to theft, since the tacit agreement between customer and dealer is that the tip is for the service provided by the dealer, not by a floor supervisor that the customer may never even interact with.
This policy change sent shockwaves through the dealing community and outraged Wynn employees, sparking over 100 dealers to complain to the Nevada Labor Commission.
Those complaints were rejected on September 13 2006 by Nevada Labor Commissioner Michael Tanchek. Tanchek told the Las Vegas Review Journal that he did not feel the casino was violating any laws with the new policy. One school of thought is that as long as tips are distributed among employees in a customer service arena, then the distribution is allowable. This would bar tip distribution among dealers and maintenance personnel, for example, but floor personnel would still be eligible for a portion of tips.
The same day that those complaints were dismissed, Daniel Baldonado and Joseph Cesarz, two Wynn Las Vegas dealers, filed a lawsuit which was eventually granted class-action status on behalf of more than 500 dealers they said were affected by the decision. "(Wynn Las Vegas) breached ... contracts of employment by unilaterally, illegally, and without cause, withholding certain portions of the ... casino dealers' tip pool and paying such portions to other persons who were not casino dealers and were not entitled to such payments," the lawsuit said. This lawsuit sought to end the new tip distribution policy, but was dismissed on December 6th 2006.
After the dismissal of the original suit, Wynn attorneys filed a suit against the original complainants, Baldonado and Cesarz, claiming legal expenses nearing $75,000. Citing Nevada law, Wynn's attorneys argue that the two dealers, Daniel Baldonado and Joseph Cesarz, "brought and maintained claims under contract law ... without reasonable grounds." The Wynn suit seeks redress from the two dealers only, since they initially filed a suit against the hotel without class-action status, so Baldonado and Cesarz would be liable for any monetary damages awarded to Wynn.
"It's vindictive and retaliatory," said the dealers' Reno-based lawyer Mark Thierman. "There is no way a court can honestly say this was a bad-faith lawsuit. A Las Vegas attorney told the Las Vegas Business Press that "attempting to recover attorney fees by arguing that a lawsuit was brought ‘without reasonable grounds' is rare."
"They're taking a shot at it, but would not necessarily be a high-percentage shot," said the litigator, adding he had not read the motion. "For whatever it's worth, I think the chances of them collecting attorney's fees is pretty slight.
"I've seen it happen a few times, but I can't remember the last one."
In related news, the National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Steve Wynn and six managers in relation to threats of job losses and reduced income that were allegedly made in a meeting with dealers in October 2006. Cynthia Fields, a roulette and blackjack dealer at the Wynn casino alleged that she was threatened with retaliation against dealers if they joined a union or protested the new tip policy.
Several dealers have complained of threats if they joined sidewalk protests in front of Wynn Las Vegas calling for a reversal of the tip policy that went into effect Sept. 1 2006.
"There were enough witnesses that the charges stuck," said Jack Lipsman, a retired card dealer who helped organize the protests. "Now (Wynn) has to appear before a judge and answer the complaint." If Wynn is found to be violating labor laws, it could have repercussions with the Nevada Gaming Control Board, according to board chairman Dennis Neilander.
Whatever the outcome of this latest suit by Wynn, a change has taken place in the casino industry, and it certainly does not benefit the dealers.
*The lawsuit and tip sharing issue is a casino/pit issue, not a poker dealer issue*