Knowing how to play the games is one critical component of success in casinos. But minding your gambling manners is equally important, no matter how you cut the deck. Manners, you ask? You’re seeking tips on how to win at cards, chips, and chance, and we’re pulling a Ms. Manners on you? What’s next? Instructions on holding your cards with your pinky fingers extended? Admonishments for ladies to draw first?
We stand by our pronouncement, but in this context, we broaden the definition of manners to encompass your manner in the casino: how you conduct yourself and behave with players, dealers, and the casino staff. Manners are frequently defined not only as a way of behaving according to polite standards but also as the prevailing way of acting in a specific culture or class of people. And, indeed, a casino exudes its own unique culture, with a social (not to mention legal) code of conduct. In order for you to fit in and maximize your casino experience, you need to know the code.
Most gambling etiquette harkens to two issues: respecting other players and discouraging cheating. In this chapter, we reveal the keys to the casino code of conduct, which encompasses those issues. But it’s not just about following rules. You also need to know how to fit in, so we also offer advice for tipping dealers and casino personnel.
Playing Well with Others: Minding
Your Table Manners
Most of your interaction with other players comes within the context of the games themselves. So whether you’re playing Poker, Blackjack, Baccarat, or Roulette, you want to know how to play the game, and you want to have an understanding of the house rules that dictate your conduct before, during, and after the game. House rules help ensure respect and sensitivity to all players participating, and they protect against cheating.
Knowing your limits
Before you cash in your money and make any bets at a table game or slot machine, be sure you know the rules and parameters of the game you’re about to play. Even popular standards, such as Blackjack and Video Poker, may have weird variations or unusual rules. Avoid disrupting other players — and save yourself some embarrassment — by confirming that you’re playing the game you think you are before you join in. Just ask the dealer (while she’s shuffling is the best time) to give you a quick overview of the game. But most specialty or unusual games have their rules printed at the table, so you can typically read them before you play.
Always check the table limits — the betting minimums and maximums — before you sit down. Casinos usually print the limits on a small, colored placard on the table to keep you from inadvertently joining a high-limit game where you can’t afford even the minimum bet. Making a $5 bet only to have the dealer point out that you’re sitting at a $100-minimum table can be humiliating.
Joining a game
Sitting down at any table or slot machine that has an empty chair is acceptable, but remember these caveats when joining a game:
Ask at a crowded table if a position is open. (For example, someone may have run to the restroom.) Craps doesn’t have chairs or stools, so sometimes you can’t easily determine whether the table has room for you. If in doubt, ask the dealer closest to you or the stickman if the table has room for one more. Some Blackjack tables have a sign saying No midshoe entry. At these tables, you need to wait until the shuffle before you can play.
If the table you want to join has any big bettors, you should politely ask before jumping in midshoe or in the midst of a hot roll. Many players are superstitious, and if they have great runs going, they often prefer you wait. In Blackjack, you hold off until the shuffle so you don’t break up the sacred order of cards. In Craps, you wait until the next come-out roll.
When you do sit down, you need to buy in (convert money to chips), unless you bring chips with you from another table. To do so, place your money on the table (but outside any betting areas) for the dealer to exchange into chips.
Thou shall not touch…and other table commandments
In many games, what you can do with your hands (the ones on the end of your arms, not the ones made of playing cards) is strictly defined, and the reason is simple: The casino wants to minimize your opportunity to disrupt the game or, worse, cheat. You can discover the protocol of specific games in the respective chapters of this book, but for now, be aware that casinos are sensitive about how you handle all gaming material, such as chips, cards, or dice.
In Craps, don’t touch the dice unless you’re the shooter.
In table games, if the cards are dealt face-up, don’t touch them after they
hit the felt.
After you place a bet and play has begun, you aren’t allowed to touch your bet again, even to tidy up a toppled stack of chips. (There are a few exceptions to this rule in craps.)
Use only one hand to touch your cards. This is primarily because cheaters use two hands to switch cards.
Understand and use all hand signals or gestures that are part of the game. (Although the dealer or the other players may help you, you need to know the rules before you sit down to play.)
Don’t do anything to mark or damage the cards in any way, such as bending, warping, or scraping with your fingernail.
Don’t give unsolicited advice to other players. Even if you’re offering good strategy, players aren’t likely to accept it in the generous spirit in which you gave it. And if they do take your advice and lose, guess who they’ll blame?
If you bring a friend to cheer you on, remember that the chairs are only for players. However, if the casino isn’t crowded, nonplayers usually can sit in a chair as long as they’re prepared to vacate when the table begins to fill up.
At the end of the hand, place your cards in front of you; don’t hand them to the dealer.
Some slots and Video Poker fanatics play more than one machine at a time. Before you sit down at a machine, make sure someone isn’t playing the machine; arm pullers can be very territorial.
Casinos are sensitive to any kind of electronic devices around the gaming areas. In some places, you aren’t allowed to snap pictures or talk, text, or do an Internet search on a cellphone.
Enjoying a Smoke and an Adult Beverage
One of the attractions of gambling in a casino is the ability to legally smoke and drink while playing table games or slot machines. Not many places these days allow you to enjoy these pleasures together in public anymore. However, because not everyone indulges in tobacco products or alcohol, you should be aware of some social niceties; by following these, you improve the odds of keeping the peace among other players at the table or nearby machines. The following sections give you the lowdown.
Smoking permitted (sometimes)
In contrast to almost every public venue, most casinos allow smoking throughout their many public areas and offer only token nonsmoking arenas. For many gamblers, their entire casino experience depends on the ability to puff while playing. If you’re in that camp, you’ll find yourself among friends virtually everywhere you go in a casino. However, you should always check first before you light up, just in case you stumble across a nonsmoking table game or find yourself in a smoke-free section of the casino. You can also show good manners by asking other players at the table if they mind your firing up a cig or stogie.
As more casinos restrict smoking, do your research and make sure you’re visiting a place that allows smoking before you find out the hard way. In addition, casino restaurants and bars may also have nonsmoking policies or sections, so look for the signs, or ask a casino employee about the smoking policies.
If you’re not a smoker, don’t automatically assume the advanced filtration systems will remove all secondhand smoke from the casino air. If you’re playing in an older casino that has low ceilings and allows smoking, you’re essentially playing in smog. For the occasional visitor, a few days won’t bother you. But if you have any medical conditions (such as asthma) that bad air may aggravate, don’t expect a smoke-free table in a smoke-filled casino to do you much good.
Like just about everything else in a casino, smoking has its own set of unspoken rules for nicotine fiends to be mindful of, including the following:
Casinos that allow cigarette smoking may have a prohibition on cigars, so double-check before you fire up that stogie.
Cocktail servers are often able to buy packs of cigarettes for you; just be prepared to pay higher prices and make sure you tip generously for going the extra mile.
Dealers for some games ask you to take extra care with a lit cigarette. For example, if you’re playing Craps, never hold your cigarette over the rim where ashes could drop on the table.
Drinking and gambling seem to go hand in hand, so you shouldn’t be surprised to find out that drinking at the tables, slots, restaurants, clubs, and shows isn’t only permitted but also — many would argue — encouraged. After all, how many places aside from casinos offer free drinks on the house with cocktail servers coming to your table to take and deliver your orders? Drinking doesn’t get any easier: however, in some casinos, drinking isn’t free or allowed, especially on Indian reservations.
Keep in mind that, from the casino’s perspective, alcohol is a lubricant that helps loosen your inhibitions — translation: purse-strings or wallet clips. If you’ve had a drink or two, you’re more likely to take risks with your money. So, yes, many casinos encourage alcohol consumption — as long as you’re of legal age, that is. Don’t be surprised if you have to provide proof of age before you can place your drink order. Keeping your identification with you is a wise idea.
You’d be smart to control the amount you drink while gambling. A sober head not only helps you play better but also keeps rein on your emotions and your mouth. Loss of either may lead to trouble with the dealer, other players, and casino security.