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How much to shell out in tips

Special to The Los Angeles Times

Sure, we know everything's big in Las Vegas. But does that mean your tips have to be?

The resounding answer is, well, yes.

Although the amount of your tips will depend on where you are staying and eating, you can expect to pay a little more in Vegas, just as you would in any urban area, experts said.

And tipping in Vegas can add up quickly, partly because there are so many people to tip, especially if you are spending a lot of time in the casinos.

Just how much more will depend on where you are, what kind of service you expect — and your personality.

"A lot of people tip to show off, to say, 'I'm a big shot,' " said Michael Lynn, an associate professor at Cornell University who has studied the psychology of tipping. "These are the people who want status and preferential treatment."

And for many, Vegas is the ultimate place to show off. It's also an easy-come, easy-go place when it comes to money, and that can translate into larger tips.

"Some people think, 'If I'm going to be throwing my money away on the gambling table, I might as well give it to the bellhop and see that gratitude in their face,' " said Lynn, who has researched tipping behavior for more than 20 years.

Whatever amounts you plan to tip in Vegas, the best way to avoid anxiety when it comes to tipping is to be prepared.

Take a supply of $1 bills and keep them handy in a pocket or purse.

Some people carry small envelopes if they feel awkward handing over $20 to the concierge or leaving out cash for the person who cleans the hotel room.

Also before you go, plan roughly the percentages you plan to spend on tips, especially if you and your spouse or traveling companion have different styles when it comes to tipping.

"It's something you're going to have to shell out, so you might as well plan for it," said Alexis C. Kelly, an associate editor with Fodor's Travel, who helped develop a tip guide for visitors to Vegas. "If you don't tip, you're not going to get the service."

Plan on tipping the usual suspects — $1 to $2 to the car valet, $1 to $5 a bag to the bellhop, and 15% to 20% to your waiters.

But in Vegas you need to add some others to your list: If your hotel concierge gets you tickets to a hot show, he will expect to be tipped 10% to 20% of the cost of the tickets. Ushers at shows can sometimes get you better seats for a tip of $5 or more.

If you plan on gambling in the more upscale hotel casinos, expect to tip your dealer in the casino the equivalent of your average bet once or twice an hour

"Especially if you are winning," Kelly said.

Other Vegas experts said you could tip the dealer 5% of your average bet several times an hour in the less fancy casinos. Also expect to tip the slot machine change personnel and keno runners a buck or two. Also, tip your cocktail waitress in the casino $1 per drink, even when you get a free drink at the casino table; you'll get better service and are more likely to get more free drinks.

A 20% gratuity is expected at the nicest restaurants, Kelly added, and sometimes even more if the service is especially good.

Retirees Pete Witteried and his wife, Betsy, spend about 30 nights a year in Vegas, an easy drive from their home in St. George, Utah. The couple tip generously, but no more than they would on a visit to any other urban area.

"We always tip 20% for dinner in the fanciest places where you get the magnificent service," said Witteried, 74. "There's a high-roller mentality in Vegas, but we tip the same."

In fact, people will say they tip mostly to reward good service, but most people tip the same no matter what kind of service they get, said Lynn. That's because as Americans, we are guilt-prone and don't want to be thought of as cheap or ignorant, he found in his studies.

But just like Vegas, for some travelers, the question is how much bigger can tips get? When 20% is the expected rate at the luxury restaurants, will we see that creep up to 25% in a few years?

"Tipping rates have been going up, and they can't keep going up forever," Lynn said. "When is that stopping point? I don't know."

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