Table Game Etiquette
by Michael and Tess Dunn • January 27, 2010
There are many general and specific rules for good table game etiquette. These rules will be directed at people who have very little or no experience gambling at table games at all. These rules will apply to all age groups, genders, etc. This will be able to be used as a guide to make your table gaming experience fun, while keeping it fun for others gambling around you and showing people proper respect including all of the different employees that you will encounter while playing table games.
A casino table games area can feel like a very intimidating place to walk into for the very first time. I can assure you that you should not feel this way. It should be a very exciting, but in no way intimidating experience. Of course I don’t mean that you should enter the casino table games area running through yelling and waving at people, but only that you should know that everyone there is basically just like you. It is common to see people walking around looking for a table game that they enjoy playing or looking for a minimum bet that suits their budget. In fact, I recommend walking around the entire table games area at least once to familiarize yourself with what table games are available and to become comfortable with the environment just like you would in your own home.
There are a few things I also recommend doing before you even enter the table games area in any casino. Get to know your favorite table games. This would include using any resources you have like the library, classes offered by the casino (or sometimes the casino will offer rules or instructions for the different table games on the television in your hotel room), or the internet, which would be the best place to learn the rules of specific games. You can go to certain websites to find out what the casino’s edge is over you when playing any table games. If this is even a concern to you (which it should be to at least some extent), then a good website that I recommend for you to visit is wizardofodds.com. This website will show you the exact percentages of the casino’s edge over you for most or all of the table games you will encounter during your gaming experience. The importance of knowing these percentages basically amounts to how long your bankroll should last against the casino’s bankroll at whatever your favorite table game is. If you are playing a table game where the casino has a ten percent advantage over you then you can expect to lose ten dollars out of every hundred dollars you bet. One very important thing you should know about this is that it will be very seldom where your bankroll will actually end up exactly as the percentages suggest it will.
There are some general standards to follow with every table game. As of a few years ago, cash is no longer allowed to be wagered (you must purchase chips). Once you exchange your money for chips and begin playing there will possibly be many chips with many different denominations in front of you at the end of your game play (especially if you win). Instead of trying to fill up your pockets with these chips or gather them up in your arms risking not only dropping your chips all over the place (embarrassing), you need to tell the dealer that you are finished playing and you would like to “color up” your chips (this means the dealer will add up all your chips in front of you, verify the total with you and with the supervisor, and then give you the largest denomination of chip or chips for you to take). For example, if you are betting ten dollars per hand and at the end of your game play you have forty chips (that are worth five dollars each) you would ask the dealer to “color up” your chips. The dealer would “run down your chips” (add them up in front of you, tell you and the supervisor that the total adds up to two hundred dollars in chips) and then the dealer would give you two chips valued at one hundred dollars each. Then you would only have to carry two chips either to the next game or to the cashier’s cage.
One of the perks of gambling in a casino is getting many things that you would normally pay for complimentary or at a casino rate (discounted). Of course while playing table games or slots drinks are free not including gratuity, which is optional but the employees depend on your generosity to make their living. Also, you will notice a higher level of service when you tip well. Depending on your average bet possibly cigarettes, meals, rooms, etc. will also be complimentary or discounted. The way to do this is to ask for a player’s card in any area where you are gambling or go to the players club. You should have your player’s card and insert it in the slot machine or present it to the dealer or supervisor before you begin gambling because it will immediately accrue points towards your “comps”. Smoking is allowed in most gambling areas. It is still common courtesy not to blow your cigarette smoke directly into anyone’s face (including the dealer).
If you want to make large wagers (up to the table maximum or higher) and you prefer not to bring in a briefcase full of cash or have huge bundles of cash in your pocket, then I recommend meeting with a casino host before you begin gambling. They will assist you by answering questions you have about the table games and the maximum bets. They will also be able to help you set up what is called a “credit line”. Once this is done you will be able to walk up to any table game without carrying cash and ask for a “marker”. A “marker” is cash that you have deposited at the casino cage as if it were a twenty-four hour bank. Casinos will sometimes allow you to have credit without depositing any cash. When you ask for a “marker” it is good etiquette to ask for the money in even amounts. For example, if you deposited ten thousand dollars at the casino cage and you approach a table game with the intention of playing twenty-five dollars per hand then you would typically ask for a “marker” for five hundred or one thousand dollars.
There are many different games, each with their very own etiquette and rules. Let us start with the game that is played most. Blackjack is the most common game you will see in the casino table games area. There are many variations of Blackjack (also known as “21”) and side bets on the layouts of regular Blackjack games. First, though, let’s begin with a standard Blackjack game.
Blackjack is a very fun and exciting game to play. As with all the table games there is a proper etiquette to keep in mind when playing. It begins when you arrive at the table. Upon arrival you will need to buy in (purchase chips). Simply place your money on the table between betting areas and the dealer will exchange your cash for casino chips. When playing on a hand held deck (single deck or double deck), it is proper etiquette to wait until the dealer shuffles before you start playing in case the other players are winning and do not want the game to change. Often you are not allowed on a single or double deck blackjack game to start playing in the middle of a deck. On a shoe or automatic shuffler this is not as important and most casinos allow you to start playing immediately. It is always polite to ask the other players if they mind if you start playing right away. If they are winning, they might ask you to wait a few hands or possibly until the shoe is over depending on the amount of money they are wagering. When playing on a single or double deck where you handle the cards, always use one hand to pick up and hold your cards. Also, be sure to not remove your cards from the table. You will also use your cards to give signals during game play. If you want to stay, simply tuck your cards under your bet face down. If you would like another card (a hit), use your cards and make a sweeping motion towards you (you will see other players doing the same thing). If you are dealt a blackjack (an Ace with a Ten, Jack, Queen, or King), turn your cards over immediately face up and wait to be paid. When playing on a shoe game, you will use your hand to give signals. If you want to stay, simply wave your hand palm down from left to right. If you would like a hit, wave your hand towards you (some people use their index finger to point and scratch the layout). Again, watch other players or ask the dealer what is acceptable. When splitting on a single or double deck game where you are handling your cards, turn your cards over face up and separate them and place additional chips equal to your bet next to your bet. When splitting on a shoe, simply place the additional chips next to your bet and indicate verbally to the dealer that you would like to split (do not touch the cards or your bet). When doubling down on a single or double deck game where you handle your cards, just turn them over face up in front of your bet and place additional chips equal to or less than your bet next to your bet and indicate to the dealer that you are doubling down. When doubling down on a shoe game, simply place additional chips equal to or less than your bet next to your bet and indicate to the dealer that you are doubling down. Adding the additional bet is an indication that you are splitting or doubling down, but to clarify which one verbally also helps.
All casinos sell basic strategy cards (usually at the gift shop). These cards are very informative and will tell you how to play every hand including when to split, double down, etc. If you want to experiment I suggest that you find a table where you can play alone so that you do not disturb other players. When you use the basic strategy card as a guide this reduces the casino’s edge over you to a minimum.
Let’s move on to Baccarat. There are three different versions of this game and the rules of the game are the same, but the etiquette is different for each version.
On the Mini Baccarat game, it is pretty simple. The minimum and maximum bets are usually lower than the other versions. You buy in by setting your cash down between betting areas. Normally, you can start playing immediately. Players look for winning streaks (runs) on one side or the other (banker wager or player wager). The game is usually furnished with an electronic scoreboard to keep track of these runs, but players also keep score by hand on paper scorecards that are available on every game. If the whole table is betting on one side, it is proper etiquette to join them betting and not bet against them. If you are finished playing, you should pay your commission before coloring up your chips to leave.
On the Midi Baccarat game, players are allowed to handle the cards. This is determined by who has the highest wager on the table both for the player wager and the banker wager. On all the Baccarat games there is something called “Support”. This is not something that is labeled on the table; it is more of a camaraderie among the players. When a player asks for “Support” he is simply asking you to place a wager on the same side he is betting on as show of good faith that they will win the hand. Many Baccarat players are superstitious and this is a form of backing them up. It provides a team atmosphere on the game.
The Big Baccarat etiquette is almost the same as the other versions, but the game is dealt in two different ways. One way is “Macau style” where the dealer handles the shoe and delivers the cards to the highest wager on both the “player” and “banker” sides. It is not appropriate to ask to handle the cards if you are betting less than the other players. On a “Stand Up Game” the shoe is passed around every time the “player” wager wins, giving all players a chance to handle the cards. Big Baccarat is probably the slowest moving game in the casino, but could also be the fastest because of the high stakes involved. Usually the highest wager dictates the pace of the game and often players take time to analyze their scorecards.
On a Dice game otherwise known as “Craps” etiquette is few and far between. It is the most vocal and interactive table game in the casino. I can tell you from having over twenty years experience dealing and playing the game that it is, in my opinion, the most fun game with the best odds of winning in the casino. When you first walk up to a Dice game you might have to squeeze in to get a spot, but don’t worry about that because the other players are used to this. The single most important thing to look for when you first walk up and the entire time you are playing is where the dice are at on the game. When the dice are in the center of the game is when you will conduct all of your transactions. That will be the time to throw down your cash and the best place to throw it down is either directly in front of you (not touching any betting areas or lines) or you can throw it down in the biggest rectangular box on the game marked “COME”. The most important thing, though, is that you call out “CHANGE” in a tone of voice that can be heard by, at the very least, the dealer in front of you. There are so many superstitions on a Dice game that I could probably write a whole book on just that topic, but one thing that is sure to aggravate the other players is if you bet against them. Don’t get me wrong, you are allowed to bet on anything on the layout, but on a game where there are fifteen other players besides yourself, if you are the only one betting against them then you might just end up with an angry mob of people looking at you instead of just betting with them. I can’t stress enough that proper etiquette on a dice game is to make your bets when the dice are in the center of the table. If you are not watching the dice and you set down a bet as the shooter is rolling the dice, and the dice hit your hand, then it will still be counted as a roll. If the dice hit your hand and the roll makes everyone on the table lose their money, then again you are going to have an angry mob against you (maybe with pitchforks this time). This is the fastest moving game in the casino. It would serve you well to learn a little about the game before approaching it or you can also stand there without playing and watch, as long as the game is not busy, and watch for free. You can also ask the dealers questions. Especially when you are new to the game, look for the most outgoing, friendly dealer to stand by and ask him or her questions. When the dice or a die flies off of the table you are more than welcome to get it, but NEVER throw dice or a die back on to a live game, please just hand it to the dealer or supervisor who might be scrambling to get it. One of the numbers that you never say out loud while you are playing or standing at a dice game is “seven”. It is this number that, when rolled, makes every player betting on the pass line (the most common bet) lose.
When playing Roulette there are a few things you should know. Each player receives their own color chips in exchange for cash or for casino chips. These different colored chips distinguish to the dealer which players the chips belong to. There are many ways to place a bet and this can be done up until the time the dealer waives their hand across the layout and announces, “No more bets”. Do not attempt to make a bet after this has been done. When the ball drops into a number, the dealer will mark the number with the “dolly”. When the “dolly” is on the number consider this a “red light”. The dealer must finish making all payoffs before you can pick up your winnings or start betting again. If you win on an outside bet you must wait for the dealer to remove the “dolly” from the number (even though your winning bet is right in front of you). Once the “dolly” has been removed, consider this a “green light”, which means you can pick up your winnings and begin betting for the next spin. The colored chips must be exchanged at that particular table at the end of your play. The cage will not accept these chips and if you try to take them to another roulette table they will send you back to the original table. At no time are you allowed to lean on the glass around the wheel head or even touch it. Also, do not point or put your hands over the spinning wheel. When placing a bet on the number simply put your chips on top of the other player’s chips.
When playing Pai Gow Tiles or Pai Gow Poker, the etiquette is pretty simple. What you do does not affect the other player’s hand. Entering and re-entering the game is not disruptive to the other players in any way. In both games the players have the option to “Bank”. In other words you are deciding to bankroll the whole table and you must have enough money in front of you to cover all of the other player’s bets. They will be betting against your hand instead of the dealer’s hand. This is usually done when the dealer is running hot (when the dealer is winning every hand) to change the delivery of hands and the flow of the game. It is customary and proper etiquette for the other players to sit the hand out (stop betting for that round). This is done as a courtesy and the banker might indicate they do not mind if you play the hand or not.
Most casinos offer a variety of what is known as “Carnival Games”. These games are very simple and most of them have the payouts printed on the layouts. Most of these games have automatic shufflers so there is no need to worry about interfering with the other player’s hands. Of course, just like any game, if there is someone betting a large amount of money, then you might want to ask if they mind if you play.
In conclusion, use common sense, be observant of what is happening around you and you can learn a lot about what to do and what not to do just by watching the other players, show respect to everyone you encounter (including the employees), and do not be afraid to ask questions. Remember, you are there to have a really good time! Casino table games have always been nicknamed “The Adult Disneyland”. The casinos thrive on your business so have a great time and let them cater to you. Good luck!