Casino Etiquette Questions

Two things I noticed when I was in Vegas last weekend:

I was playing Let It Ride with a woman who obviously had no idea what she was doing. She was remarking on the generous payouts of the side bets. I told her, quietly and out of the corner of my mouth, that those are a sucker bet. Had the dealer overheard me, would that have been a no-no?

Also, I noticed that gift shops (not in the casinos) sold little strategy cards for some of the table games. My WAG is that being seen at a blackjack table with a basic strategy card is an easy way to get shown the door. Or does the casino not care, since they still have their 1.24% advantage?

Finally, I’m looking for some cheap (preferably $1, but no higher than $5) blackjack action. Since downtown Las Vegas isn’t within the realm of possibility right now, I’d like to find out what the table minimums are at local casinos (local being St. Louis/Peoria). Is it considered bad form to call a casino and ask what their table minimums are?

Can’t help you on #1 and #3 (although I’ve seen stats on table mins/maxes collected online, so your answer may be findable without calling).

As for #2, depends. When I first started out I used a strategy card at empty blackjack tables before, early in the morning. I just told the dealer I’m new, I’d like to use the card to learn, may I? Few times I did it I had no hassles. I can’t imagine asking to use it at a full table during rush hour, however.

A possibly better alternative is simply finding out when they give classes-- most casinos offer daily “instruction tables” in the mornings/early afternoons where they’ll have dealers teach players the game, answer questions, etc. I’m sure they’ll let you use the card then.

• If a pitboss had overheard you telling the women the side bets were sucker bets, he might not have been thrilled, but he wouldn’t have kicked you out or anything. I seriously doubt the dealer would care one way or the other.

• The casinos are perfectly fine with you using strategy cards at the Blackjack tables. They sell them in the casino hotel gift shops, a sure sign that they don’t mind them. Like you say, even playing perfect basic strategy, the casino still has the edge.

• I would assume it’s okay to call up and ask the table minimums; I can’t imagine why a casino would object to you knowing that. But keep in mind, minimums change. What might be a $5 table on a Tuesday afternoon could be a $15 minimum on Saturday night.

I can answer #1 and #2 for you. My credentials are that I work in the Security department at a Vegas strip hotel, and am in charge of enforcing policies like what you’re inquiring about.

We encourage everyone to understand “basic strategy” in blackjack. We even hold classes for people to learn basic strategy, and the dealers themselves are encouraged to teach basic strategy as they deal, if it seems like a person is uncomfortable at the table and would be receptive to the information. As for whether giving the strategy yourself is a good idea, it depends on your tone. We want everyone to have fun, because relaxed people who have fun at the tables (and maybe even win a bit of money) will come back. If you’re having a friendly conversation with someone and explaining why you think it’s a sucker bet, but it’s not negatively affecting the mood of the table, it’s fine. If you’re berating people for splitting tens against the dealer’s six, you’ll be asked to stop. How you say it is much more important than what you say. Because there is no betting strategy you can use that will give you an edge against the casino, we have absolutely no problem with people trying to develop strategies that beat the casino. The few exceptions to this (like counting cards in blackjack) are pretty easy to recognize and you will be politely asked to leave.

Also, those betting strategies you found in gift shops ARE often freely available at casinos. We have them available probably half the time, sometimes right there in the game you’re playing. If someone sits at a 21 table and asks how to play, the dealer will usually have a basic strategy card to give that person while she explains the rules.

While I don’t play blackjack any more (craps is my game from now until death), I used to know the optimal strategy pretty well. I recall that if I didn’t know the correct play, I would just ask the dealer who would gladly tell me. For table games, they just want volume. They will happily assist you in making the proper play. In fact, if you make a severely bad decision, the dealer will even berate you (in a humorous way) and allow you to change your mind. This is especially true if there is a big bettor at your table who may get pissed and leave if you do something stupid.

I can’t imagine how it would be. It’s no different from calling a restaurant to see what their price range is, or calling any business to ask for basic information. They know not everyone has the same budget (which is why they have different minimums at different tables), and they don’t know whether you’re looking for a $1 table or a $100 one. Why would they object, or even care?

I don’t know. But I also don’t understand why they don’t put this information on their websites. They advertise the hell out of penny slots!

Of course they do. That’s because the win percentage on penny slots is garbage. Take Harrah’s St. Louis, for example. Their penny slots return 88.2% (figures for Nov. 09). That’s a lot more edge for the house than craps or blackjack, even with pennies. Compare to Harrah’s quarter machines, which return 92.5%.

The dealers will happily tell you to stop doing something stupid if it’s slow. They want people to be happy. Happy people spend more money. A nice Filipino girl spent half an hour explaining us how to really play blackjack at a table somewhere on the Strip this time last year, because it wasn’t busy and we were paying customers. Vegas is as friendly to amateurs as it is to the big guys because the house always wins and it’s nicer if everybody’s in a good mood. (Honestly, the cheaper places seem to have “nicer” dealers, probably for this reason.)

Only casino etiquette rule I know is that a lady doesn’t wander all over the room and blow on some other guy’s dice…

When I was in Vegas a couple of years ago, I wanted to leave craps. I went to a $5 table at Hard Rock and there was a young lady who was learning to ‘deal’ the craps table (is that what they call it?). She was basically raking the dice and watching the bets while the other guys were doling out the winnings. She was very helpful advising me on the good bets and avoiding the sucker bets. I won about $100 (started with $40) in about an hour. I left her a good tip.

Card Dealer here…

1.) Probably wouldn’t care, though my usual retort when a customer says that is, “They’re all sucker bets.”

2.) No problem as long as it doesn’t slow the game down. If you need to consult a card on whether to split 6s against a 2, OK. But if you need it for a 13 vs. a dealer’s 10, then my suggestion would be to study the card a little more before sitting down.

3.) Not at all. Call away.

The books and publicity on basic strategy and card counting have increased casino profits, not decreased them. A few counters have the skills to win, but others will gamble money they wouldn’t otherwise to finally prove they don’t have the requisite skills. And some people infer from the fact that it is possible to beat blackjack, that they can beat it, even perhaps without reading a book.

When I played in Nevada many years ago, 86’ing a new card-counter was a last resort at many casinos; instead they’d evaluate your play first, or take simpler countermeasures.

Most dealers in Vegas are pretty player-friendly. As in, most dealers, if you ask them, will tell you what are sucker bets.

The casinos don’t mind.

The player that will knowingly take a sucker bet is one that will also believe that the dealers are out to get them.

And moreover, the dealers live on tips. So it’s in their interest to be friendly to players. Again, the casinos don’t care. They won’t run a game that they don’t have a good statistical advantage.

Casinos don’t care about optimum Blackjack strategies in most cases. The reason: If you play Blackjack with an optimum strategy the house still ends up ahead. It takes something like card-counting to flip the odds, and that takes enough time and effort that the casino can identify you (and your accomplices) and simply eject you from the casino.

That said, pull out a blackjack card and you will get asked to leave most tables.

Not a big deal - optimum individual blackjack strategy doesn’t take a whole lot of intellect to memorize. But you’re still behind the house by a few percent.

IMO, not at all. They are trying to take your money, and mathematically they will. I’m a gambler; I’ve always gone into gambling mode with the expectation that:

[ul]
[li]I will enjoy myself[/li][li]I will probably come out with less money than I started with[/li][li]This is an “entertainment” cost[/li][/ul]

If a casino ever got pissy about revealing min bets, I’d just not go there. It’s not like there aren’t other establishments willing to take my money.

Seriously? :confused: I’ve NEVER heard nor seen about someone with a strategy card getting backed off a table. Now, should a beginner sit there and have to consult with the strategy card every single hand seriously slowing up play, I would understand how the house may have an issue with that, but I’ve never once heard it just for playing basic strategy.

Another retired casino worker piping in here. Others have pretty well covered that using a basic strategy card is fine; just do it. By the way, in over 20 years of working in casinos, I saw only one person who was using one of those cards who actually did what the card said on every hand; I married her.

Regarding table minimums: Playing perfect basic strategy for a given number of decks and the rule variations for that particular game will give the house an advantage of somewhere between basically zero up to about 1.5%. Playing typical tourist strategy, the way you would learn by listening to the dealers and other players gives a house advantage of right around 2% … so without expending any effort studying, you still have a sporting chance by just having fun and playing like a tourist.

At a typical BJ game full of casual players, each player will be dealt around 50 hands per hour. Let’s say there are players betting $1 per hand for 1 hour … each player ends up betting $50/hour, so the total amount wagered on the table is $50 * 6 = $300. The casino wins 2% of the total amount wagered, so $300 * 0.02 = $6.

The casino can’t run games that are only expected to win $6/hour and give out free drinks to boot. If there are any places left that are willing to try it, they are hoping that people will bet more than the minimum. Experience tends to indicate that the people who seek out the lowest minimum tables tend to always and only make minimum bets … so … even our theoretical $5 minimum table only expects to earn $30/hour, and they have to pay the dealer, the relief dealer, the floor supervisor, the pit boss, the shift boss, the cocktail waitress, the cost of the alcohol, the light bill, the security and surveillance people, the taxes, etc., etc.

We’ve seen what the minimum bet means to the casino – so what does it mean to the player? It means, that with typical tourist play, a player will lose one bet per hour. If you play $10 a hand, you will bounce up and down, but in the long run, you will end up losing $10 per hour. (A typical tourist playing a quarter slot machine will expect to lose $40 per hour and a $1 slot player will average losing $80 to $90 per hour. The table games are very user friendly by comparision.)

Back to table minimums: They are generally very fluid, changing with conditions. Part of the bosses job is to be aware of how many empty seats / tables there are and move the minimums up or down. Usually, when the minimum is raised on a table, the boss will change the sign and announce “This applies to new players only.”, so if have been betting $5 and the sign now says $10 Minimum, you can still bet $5 (the dealer will tell his relief about it.)

So, if the casino is full of $10 and up players at 9 o’clock Saturday night, the boss isn’t going to make a $3 table for you … but if it’s 11 AM on Tuesday and there are a lot of empty tables, he might, if you ask … but you’re really worrying yourself needlessly by seeking out such low stakes.

Good luck … and have fun.

What is the strategy on the cards they sell at casinos? I assume it’s more than just stay on 17, hit on 16?

Something like this.

Even blackjack players unwilling to memorize that table might want to study it. In many cases the best play can be guessed by remembering that unknown cards are often 10’s.

Stand on 9 9 when dealer has 7, but split when he shows 8 or 9. Perhaps surprising, but logical.

Many players will be surprised that basic strategy is to hit with A 7 (“soft 18”) when dealer shows 9. if you do this in Las Vegas, other players may think you’re a beginner; those “in the know” may suspect you’re a good player.

Huh ? How does the way you play blackjack affect anyone else at the table ? Isn’t it each individual’s cards against the dealer’s ?