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Former poker dealers at Derby Lane sue the greyhound track over tips

Derby Lane on Gandy Boulevard bills itself as the oldest continuously operating greyhound racetrack. It’s also home to a poker room.

WILLIE ALLEN JR. | Times (2006)

Derby Lane on Gandy Boulevard bills itself as the oldest continuously operating greyhound racetrack. It’s also home to a poker room.

ST. PETERSBURG

Nearly two dozen former poker dealers at Derby Lane say supervisors illegally dipped into their tip jar for years, according to a pair of class-action lawsuits.

The suits, one in state court and another in federal court, cite Florida labor law, which says an employer can claim a percentage of tips only if workers get the $7.25 minimum wage. According to their attorney, the dealers at the greyhound track were paid a tip wage of about $4 an hour.

The suits are asking the courts to make the historic Gandy Boulevard track pay the difference between the tip wage and the minimum wage for five years. That could amount to thousands of dollars per player, said Palm Harbor attorneys Christopher D. Gray and Rachael L. Wood, who are representing the dealers.

Derby Lane spokeswoman Vera Rasnake declined to discuss the lawsuit, but provided a statement through e-mail.

"Derby Lane … complies with all state and federal laws regarding employment and compensation," the statement said. "We deny the plaintiffs' allegations and will present our case in court."

Tips at the track — cash in regular games and chips in tournaments — range from $1 to $5, regardless of the winnings. Dealers can make as much as $80,000 or more a year, and sometimes more than managers.

"There was greed involved," said Nicholas Tassillo, 25, of Clearwater, a former poker dealer involved in the lawsuit who is now a personal trainer. "There's a lot of cold hard cash passing through a lot of hands. … It just went into a back room."

The suit comes on the heels of a similar one last year that resulted in a federal jury verdict in favor of 18 dealers at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. The jury awarded the dealers a total of $133,200 after ruling that the club failed to prove it operated a legal tip pool under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The verdict triggered identical lawsuits at tracks across the state, including in Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers.

According to Tassillo, poker room supervisors at Derby Lane typically took the tip box into a back room where they skimmed about 10 percent, though how much is unclear because records were not kept and the supervisors went into the room alone. The cut was divided among the supervisors and other casino employees.

Gray and Wood said Derby Lane changed its policies since the first suit was filed last year. Those policies include revising wages, barring poker room supervisors from sharing tips, requiring that a logbook is kept and that two employees watch as tips are divided.

"Since the lawsuits have been filed, every poker room manager in Florida with whom I've spoken to has modified their policies, if they were not already consistent with the lawsuit's claims," said Scott Long, publisher of Ante Up, a Florida poker magazine.

Reach Luis Perez at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com

Former poker dealers at Derby Lane sue the greyhound track over tips 08/28/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 27, 2010 3:35pm]

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