The first thing I did on my 21st birthday was go play a few hands of blackjack, and I’ve been playing ever since. I’m no high roller, but I know my way around a casino. If you’re not sure where to begin, let me help.
What You Need to Know Before You Start
You’re finally in a twinkly, noisy casino. You’ve filled up at the buffet and you’re itching to roll the dice and see if lady luck is on your side. Well hold on there buckaroo. You may have big dreams of hitting the jackpot and retiring on your own private island, but that’s not going to happen here. Gambling is a good time and can offer a nice rush when things shake out in your favor, but it’s not how it looks in the movies.
- The house always has an advantage: No matter what game you’re playing, the house (the casino you’re gambling in) has an edge. They do not need to rely on luck to win and make money, they just need players like you. The math is on their side, always. Know that going in, and never assume you have the upper hand with these games. Somebody’s big win dwarfs in comparison to the thousands of wins the house has claimed.
- Luck is the biggest factor in winning: Unlike the house, you do have to rely on luck to make any money—most of the time. There are ways you can slightly reduce the house’s advantage over you by playing smart, thus extending your play time, but luck is still the biggest determining factor of your success.
- Start with a fixed amount of money you’re ready to lose: Gambling is not a lucrative way to make money. It is strictly for entertainment. Before you walk onto the casino floor, decide how much money you can comfortably afford to play with (meaning: lose forever), then stick to it. Take out some cash, then leave your ATM card in your hotel room. Never take out more money to get back what you’ve lost. Create boundaries for yourself. If you can’t comfortably afford to lose it, don’t play. Sorry. Gambling isn’t designed to save people down on their luck.
- Hot streaks don’t last: If you’re winning and have more money than you started with, think about stopping. Eventually your hot streak will end and you’ll look at your chips wondering where all those winnings went.
Lastly, I recommend you look into player rewards and incentives being offered at the casino you’re gambling in. These programs often cost you nothing to join, but they can earn you swag, free gambling credit, free meals, and even free stays in really nice suites. You’re already spending the money to play, so you might as well take advantage of these programs. Look for a customer service counter or ask someone at the cashier’s cage.
Pick the Right Games to Play
Depending on what kind of experience you’re interested in, some games are better to play than others. Do you actually want to use skill to try to win some money? Or do you want to lounge around and sip on free cocktails? Do you want to feel the weight of casino chips in your hands? Or would you rather look at a machine showing off flashy effects and sounds?
If you’re looking to win, you should go for games that both require some degree of skill and won’t leave you naked and penniless too fast. The games with the best odds for players who actually know how to play (or less house edge) are:
- Blackjack (single deck, if available)
- Video Poker (I suggest “Double Bonus” or “Double Double Bonus”)
- Craps (some bets)
If you’re just looking to have some fun with an easy-to-learn game, however, I recommend these:
- Slots (note: penny slots do not cost only one cent to play)
- Roulette (European roulette has slightly better odds)
While playing slots, you can snag free cocktails from the waitresses roaming around (always tip). Roulette is the easiest of table games—just place your bet on what you think the little white ball will land on, like odd numbers, even numbers, red, black, or specific numbers (37:1 odds). You’ve got almost a 50/50 chance when playing odds, evens, reds, and blacks, so it’s pretty relaxed. Lastly, keno is designed to be played while you have a cocktail, watch TV, smoke a cigarette, or play other games. You pick some numbers on a grid, place your bet, then wait to see if your numbers come up. Think of it as a very small lottery.
Know the Rules and Learn Basic Strategies
If you’re nervous about playing a table game like blackjack, start with the easy stuff mentioned above and get a feel for placing bets. Then, when you’re ready, move on to the more complicated games. Before you sit at a high stakes table, though, take some time to learn the game first.
You can easily find gambling tutorials online, like this blackjack tutorial, or this craps tutorial. A quick Google search will easily find you tons of how-to guides, as well as advanced strategies to increase your odds—sites like Wizard of Odds. If you don’t have time to research before you hit the floor, that’s okay too. Look for a low-stakes table with a small minimum bet, like a $5-per-hand blackjack table (depending on the casino and the night, $10 might be the lowest you can find).
Approach the table and tell the dealer that you’d like to play, but you don’t know how. They’ll gladly teach you, and might even show you how to play your cards right if you ask them. You see, dealers make a lot of their money through player tips, so it’s in their best interest for you to do well. They want you to win so you can give them money! It’s best to do this when the table is empty so you’re not slowing down play for others, but most people will be understanding or move to a different table.
Follow Casino Etiquette
While you play, it can only benefit you to be a positive, kind, and upstanding patron—even if you’re losing big time. Dealers will be nicer to you, cocktail waitresses will come around to your table more, and other players will appreciate it. I’ve had dealers give me advice on every hand to help me win, cocktail waitresses bring me doubles instead of single pours, and had a lot of great laughs with other players all because I wasn’t a jerk. If you can’t lose a little money and still be a decent person, don’t play.
Beyond that, there are a few basic casino rules you should follow:
- Never sit at a table unless you’re going to play (no chilling and watching your buddy play).
- And wait until the hand is over before you sit at a table.
- Never take out your phone while sitting at a table. They will yell at you.
- Don’t touch your bet once you’ve placed it and the hand/spin/etc. has been dealt.
- Only touch your cards with one hand.
- Don’t touch your winnings until the dealer has counted them out in front of you and pushed them toward you.
- Never stall the game to act like a hotshot (no blowing on dice, jumping around, or generally acting like you’re doing anything even remotely important).
- Always tip your dealer regularly, either by handing them a chip and clearly saying “This is for you,” or by placing a bet for them. Never try to tip them cash, chips only.
- Always tip your cocktail waitresses. I give them a $1-$5 chip every time they come around.
You still may not win any money if you follow these rules, but you won’t get in trouble and you’ll have a much better time.
Know When to Stop
Gambling can be addictive, so you need to take precautions and know when it’s time to quit. For example, free cocktails are great, but there’s a reason the casino is giving them to you. Don’t down too many and get reckless with your betting.
Also, never chase your losses. Thinking you can suddenly get lucky again and recoup your lost money is the “gambler’s fallacy.” You start to believe you are due for a big win, and that you can get all your money back if you just put some more money in. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. As soon you’re starting to have thoughts of “If I just play a little longer…” stop immediately.
Lastly, avoid “gambler’s conceit,” which happens when you’re up, playing with winnings, or on a hot streak. You start to think, “Maybe I should bet more since I’m doing so well,” and “Sure, I could walk away with more than I started with, but maybe I should see this through…” Bad idea. Quit while you’re ahead. My personal rule is once I’m up 50% from what I started with, I take those chips and put them in my pocket not to be played with again. Then I play out whatever winnings I have left. If I continue to do well, I keep pocketing every 50% until my luck runs dry. With that setup, I’m always walking away with a little more than I started with—if I’m lucky.
Now you’re ready to hit the floor, roll some dice, say cool things like “hit me,” and have a good time. Good luck!