Are US Poker Dealers Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

Poker dealers at every casino in the US have been furloughed or laid off in recent weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Newly jobless, the thousands of dealers around the country must now seek unemployment benefits to stay afloat financially for the time being. But are these tip-driven workers eligible?

poker dealers unemployment

Poker dealers across America are out of a job temporarily. (Image:

The live poker scene is currently on a bit of a hiatus, and it could be a while — potentially months — before players can return to their local card rooms. That means many workers in our industry are now out of a job.

While we certainly hope they’re back to work shortly, many poker dealers need immediate financial assistance. Like anyone else, they have bills to pay and, in many cases, kids to feed. Are they eligible for benefits that will help pay the bills while unemployed?

Poker Dealers Eligible for Most Benefits, Stipulations Apply

CardsChat News reached out to Ronnie Rodriguez, a dealer at Harrah’s in Las Vegas who was laid off March 15 due to COVID-19 forcing the card room’s closure. He has since applied for and received his standard unemployment benefits.

But he will also qualify for a $1,200 payment as part of the recently passed $2 trillion government stimulus package. Part of that stimulus package included a $600 additional weekly benefit for those receiving unemployment. Most poker dealers are eligible to receive this benefit.

The issue for dealers when it comes to unemployment is that, in most cases, they are paid a low hourly wage and work mostly for tips. According to CNBC, some dealers may receive a small unemployment benefit.

“Workers who derive a big chunk of their paychecks from tips, like waiters and bartenders, may get smaller unemployment checks than they hope to,” the article states.

Some poker dealers may lose out on part of their expected unemployment benefit if their employer doesn’t report or under-reports tips earned. So, yes, dealers are eligible for unemployment, including the additional weekly benefit, but the accuracy of the tips reported will impact the amount they receive.

What About Government Stimulus Checks?

Within the next few weeks, millions of Americans will receive a $1,200 check from the federal government ($2,400 for couples and $500 added on for dependents). However, not everyone will receive this money that was designed to help citizens pay for expenses during the global health crisis.

Poker dealers should receive these payments, so long as they meet certain requirements, just like everyone else. Specifically, dealers must have filed taxes in 2018 or 2019 to be eligible. If their income exceeded $99,000 ($150,000 for a married couple), they won’t get a check.

A specific date on which recipients can expect to receive the funds is unknown at this time, but most experts expect those with bank accounts on file with the IRS to have the money within a couple weeks. It may take longer for everyone else to see the money as the government will be cutting paper checks for them.

Once this health crisis fades away, and we all hope that is soon, the government will no longer be able to bail its citizens out financially. That means poker dealers, like everyone else, will need to get back to work quickly. Rodriguez is concerned that some of his fellow Harrah’s poker room employees may struggle to get by when they go back to work.

“If business demands are slow, they will have full-timers work five days and schedule everyone else one or two days per week,” he said. “The only problem with that is, there are only six, full-time dealers at Harrah’s. So, everyone else will not be making money.”

Rodriguez said his bosses have yet to share details on staffing plans when the poker room reopens, but he’s confident his job will be waiting for him.

Written by
Jon Sofen
Semi-pro poker player with 17 years experience on the felt and more than five years working as professional poker media.


tagece wrote...

I think it’s just fair. They are workers as any other ans, in fact, works hard in a exhaustive schedule. There is no reason to let then out of the financial assistance.

belizebum wrote...

When I read the headline, I thought “no way they wouldn’t be qualified”, but then realizing about the tip portion, that could lead to problems for sure. I have never really worked in the service industry, so I dont know much about recording your tips for tax purposes. I can definitely see why people would under report them, but now when it’s crunch time, that may be detrimental to them. I wish all the best to these hard workers and hope they can come back to work soon.

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