An honest mistake collides with the cold, hard corporate reality

Moral question of the day: What would you do if you were a parking valet and a man who had consistently given a $2 tip every night for more than two weeks straight suddenly handed you two white chips, one a $1 chip and one a $5,000 chip?

Assume it was a mistake and point it out?

Thank the gambler profusely for his generosity?

Just put it in the tip pool to be divvied up?

Generous tips are not unknown. But does anybody out there think a $5,000 tip to a valet was anything but a mistake?

Randall Skaggs, a professional gambler since 1974, admitted it was his mistake. He'd been playing at the World Series of Poker until the wee hours of June 30 when he went out to the valet at the Rio and gave the $5,001 tip.

Skaggs, 65, who has heart problems, had been renting a scooter to get around the casino during the World Series of Poker, which began June 1. Every night when he left about 2:30 a.m., he said, he would tip $10 to the bellman who helped him with the scooter and $2 to the valet, usually with casino chips.

The night he made his mistake, he went home, and while he slept, his girlfriend took his pants to the cleaners. He assumed the valuable white casino chip from the Bellagio also went to the cleaners.

They checked with the cleaners, but the chip wasn't there.

But on July 5, Skaggs said, World Series of Poker tournament director Jack Effel mentioned the $5,000 valet tip and asked whether Skaggs meant to do it or whether it was an accident. That's when Skaggs realized what had happened.

Since then, Skaggs has been trying to get his money back from Harrah's Entertainment, owner of the Rio. To no avail. The chip had already been cashed and divided among the valet tip pool.

Harrah's officials didn't return six calls Tuesday and Wednesday to confirm or deny Skaggs' version of what happened.

But Skaggs said the executives who checked it out told his girlfriend the valet pool was divided 20 ways, so each valet received $250. When hotel executives sent out a memo about the incident, one of the 20 offered to return the tip.

Skaggs thinks that for pure good will, the hotel should refund his money.

Harrah's officials think otherwise. After my first calls on Tuesday, Skaggs was contacted and told he wouldn't be getting his money back.

His son is an attorney, but Skaggs said it's not worth it to spend $50,000 to get back $5,000.

He complained to the Gaming Control Board but learned the resort apparently hasn't violated any regulations. While Skaggs got some sympathy, there was nothing for regulators to do.

The Kentucky native said he did the same thing in 2002, giving a Horseshoe cocktail waitress a $5,000 tip. That woman pointed out his mistake, and he paid her $1,000 for her honesty. Isn't that the way it's supposed to work?

A Sun City Summerlin resident for seven years, Skaggs is well known in the poker rooms and is telling his tale of woe at the tables. He's not a poor man, so the loss of $5,000 is the pain of principle.

He thinks, and he's probably right, that if this had happened at an old-time gambling joint like the ones run by Benny Binion or Jack Binion or Steve Wynn, the $5,000 chip mistake would have been corrected just to preserve good will and to make poker players feel they are being treated fairly.

"If this was Benny or Jack, this would all have been taken care of," Skaggs said Tuesday.

But those days are gone.

This is the era of corporate bean counters and one-size-fits-all policy-driven decisions.

Sure, Harrah's income is up 85 percent this second quarter over the same quarter last year.

Sure, fixing a $5,000 mistake that's not the company's mistake would generate good will within the poker world.

But that's not what happened.

Tough luck for Skaggs, who now is telling the tale of greed and a morality that says it's OK to take advantage of an obvious mistake.

Kudos to the one valet who supposedly offered to give his or her $250 share back.

One out of 20.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call 383-0275.


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