Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
Southampton Business School

Tip or bribe? Southampton Business School academic probes corruption in Las Vegas hotels

Published: 31 March 2017
las vegas strip

Anecdotally, visitors to the USA’s gambling capital Las Vegas can secure impressive upgrades at resort hotels by slipping a bank note between their credit card and ID on check in (also known as the ‘$20 sandwich trick’).

Benefits can include luxurious suites, the best top floor rooms with views, meal vouchers, and waived spa fees. Dr Fabian Homberg, Associate Professor of Human Resources and Organisational Behaviour from Southampton Business School, joined Dr Dennis Schoeneborn, Professor at Copenhagen Business School, to examine the social interaction behind this ‘tip or bribe’ and how the guest and clerk handle this ethically questionable practice. Their paper has been accepted by the ABS 3* and FT50 publication Journal of Business Ethics.

The two academics analysed the website which includes numerous stories from people who had done well out of the tip and others who had failed. It claims Las Vegas ‘runs on tips’ and success rates can be more than 90 percent at some of the most famous strip hotels. To give one example – a guest named J, staying at the Bally’s Hotel, reports: The receptionist “asked for my driver’s license and credit card. I slid the $20 sandwich over, and before releasing the sandwich I asked ‘Are there any complimentary upgrades available?’ He immediately knew what I was talking about. He nodded his head, placed my sandwich under the counter on the keyboard and began typing away. Within a few moments, [..] [w]e were upgraded to a King JR Suite in the North Tower. Well worth the $20.”

By studying the social interaction of the ‘$20 sandwich trick’, the researchers found that this ethically questionable practice ‘worked’ especially when both people involved (hotel guest and receptionist) engage in informal interactions that avoid the stigma of bribery. “‘Successful’ techniques to get upgrades include making small talk with the receptionist and claiming to be celebrating a birthday or anniversary,” says Fabian. “It has been an interesting area of research. In the paper, we furthermore discuss the ethical dimension of the ‘$20 sandwich trick’ and whether it can be regarded as a tip or bribe, since it is paid before any services are received and with a clear expectation of reciprocity”.

Privacy Settings