Las Vegas: the final frontier of the wild west. In Sin City, you can smoke cigarettes indoors, drink on the street, and pay $175 to drive a bulldozer around the desert. But most tourists arrive seeking the city’s world-class entertainment, stellar restaurant scene, and, of course, casinos.

When hunkering down to gamble in Vegas, the concept of careful spending goes out the window and all income becomes disposable. To offset the cost of testing lady luck, and indeed to encourage guests to continue doing so, casinos serve free drinks — alcoholic and otherwise — via roaming cocktail servers. But when the drinks are free and the servers are always on the move, knowing how (and how much) to tip is a tricky calculation.

So to get some insider advice on the unwritten rules of Vegas tipping, we spoke with Lindsay Palumbo, a flair bartender at Circa Hotel and Casino on Las Vegas’s Fremont Street, a.k.a. the “Old Strip.”

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Tipping Cocktail Servers

Whether you’re sitting at a card table, craps table, or slot machine, a cocktail waitress will eventually drift by and offer a complimentary beverage. We say “waitress” because, as far as Palumbo knows, the Rio is the only casino that hires male cocktail servers, and “cocktail waitress” is typically how the profession is known. Arbitrary gender roles aside, that first interaction with the drink server is the most crucial one. Here are some things to keep in mind when tipping your cocktail waitress:

Developing a good rapport with a server doesn’t necessarily have to be verbal. After all, money talks, so tip others like you would like to be tipped. (Of course, that doesn’t mean manners should go out the window!) A dollar is fine,” Palumbo says. “But if you really want to stand out, $5 per drink is generous. The cocktail waitress might even drop another one off without you even asking.” If $5 every time is more than your bank roll can handle, a tried-and-true strategy is to go even bigger on the first tip, and then dial back on the next few. “You can throw $10 and say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna be here for a little bit. Come around again soon,’” Palumbo suggests. Ultimately, it’s better to show some generosity up front rather than tipping heavily later on.

Speaking of which, always refrain from dropping the line, “We’re gonna take care of you at the end.” Palumbo claims that it’s well known in the industry that the promise doesn’t usually hold true, and cocktail servers see right through it.

The intricacy of the drink order doesn’t necessarily warrant a bigger tip, according to Palumbo. So whether you order a Heineken or a Rum and Coke, feel free to tip the same amount. However, if you order anything above a dive bar staple, it’s best to throw down a few extra chips to keep the bartenders happy.

Where you choose to gamble will also play a huge factor in tipping. Palumbo claims that the table games — blackjack, poker, craps, and roulette — are going to get more visits from the servers than, say, slot machines or any game that doesn’t have an in-person dealer running the show.

The location of said table games within the casino can have a big impact on the frequency of drink service, too. Service wells (where the cocktail servers pick up their drink trays) are not clearly marked in casinos, but if you manage to figure out where they are, setting up shop close by can make it that much easier to get a server’s attention when they’re en route.

“Servers and bartenders also tip out their bar backs, but for the most part, everything is going to the waitresses. The only thing with cashing in chips is generally we tip out the cashier cage.”

Usual shift change times can indicate slow points of service throughout the day. Not every casino abides by the same time frames, but generally 10 a.m., 6 p.m., and 2 a.m. are when staff changes happen. At these hours, there’s a likely lull in drinks service as servers come and go.

While most casino tipping occurs in the form of chips, any form of U.S. currency is fair game. Even a paper cash voucher from a slot machine is just as good as actual cash. At the end of the day, casino cocktail waitresses get to keep nearly 100 percent of their tips. “Servers and bartenders also tip out their bar backs, but for the most part, everything is going to the waitresses,” Palumbo claims. “The only thing with cashing in chips is generally we tip out the cashier cage,” as in the person manning the booth where one cashes in their chips and vouchers. Sure, tipping in chips is way more convenient than pulling out your wallet every time the servers come around, but know that cash does yield slightly higher tip margins for servers than chips do. That said, it’s not the worst thing in the world that the folks in the cashier cage are getting a slice of the tip pool.

Tipping etiquette takes on a slightly different set of rules when entering the high-limit room where the cost to play table games and slots increases tenfold. There, a $3 drink tip might get you some unsavory looks from your table mates. However, with higher risk comes higher reward, both with gambling and cocktail quality. According to Palumbo, “the high-limit room bars have a different back bar stocked with higher-end bottles.” So if you’re throwing a few more chips on the table, you can expect a drink made with better spirits and ingredients.

All of the above can be boiled down to Palumbo’s mantra: “If you’re taking care of us, we have more reason to take care of you.” So be kind, be polite, but most importantly, be generous.

Tipping the Dealers

At the tables, dealers can’t do anything to change your odds of winning, but tipping them will certainly allow them and everyone around you to have more fun gambling. After all, in Vegas, casino workers always refer to “gambling” as “playing.” So to keep the good times rolling, here are a few bits of info to consider when it comes to tipping dealers in casinos:

Bear in mind that the dealers are there to help. They want you to win. Of course, if you’re losing hand after hand, the pressure to fork over tip chips isn’t there. On the other hand, if you’re on a heater, it can be rude to rake up every last scrap of your winnings. Palumbo’s rule of thumb is that “for every third win, toss the dealer five to 10 bucks. It’s always appreciated, but never expected.”

A great way to combine tipping with getting the dealer invested in the game is to place a bet on their behalf. Instead of handing them a chip after a win, put that chip on the same risk that you’re banking on. Not only will you potentially double their tip, but it gives the dealer some skin in the game, and pumps the overall excitement level up.

Palumbo also notes that unlike the cocktail waitresses, dealers pool their tips at the end of a shift. And if you want to avoid any tipping pressure, stick to the slots.

“Vegas is a foreign land to some people,” Palumbo says. So it’s worthwhile to do a bit of research if you plan on playing a game you’re not familiar with. At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions when you’re at the tables.

One Last Thing…

While gambling is supposed to be recreational, it’s a slippery slope, especially if you’re knocking back cocktail after cocktail. Avoid that midnight trip to the ATM, pace yourself, and stay hydrated. The Nevada desert climate is unforgiving, and remaining sharp between the ears will help maintain good judgment, and keep you from dipping into your 401(k) when your luck runs out. So tread lightly, have fun, and don’t forget to tip your waitresses.