Casino Rules and Customs

If your vision of casino players is James Bond, in a tux, at Monte Carlo, forget it. American casinos do not enforce that kind of formality. Casual clothing and sportswear are most common, but you'll see everything from evening wear to T-shirts and jeans in the same casino. If some of your other preconceived notions about casinos are a little out of whack, here's a guide to what you should expect on the gambling floor.

The Basics

A lot of casinos give free beverages to players. In many states it's illegal to give free alcoholic beverages to casino customers, so casinos in these jurisdictions charge for alcohol but usually give free soft drinks and coffee to playing customers. In either case, it's appropriate to tip the cocktail server -- a couple of quarters or a dollar will do.

Be sure you know the
bet requirements at a particular slot machine or table game before you sit down. On slots or video poker, the denomination is either painted on the machine's glass or displayed on a video screen.

At table games, each table has a rectangular sign detailing minimum and maximum bets. Usually the signs are color-coded to correspond to the color of casino chips -- a white sign usually denotes a table with a $1 minimum bet, a red sign denotes a $5 minimum, a green sign denotes a $25 minimum, and a black sign denotes a $100 minimum, just as at most casinos $1 chips are white, $5 chips are red, $25 chips are green, and $100 chips are black. Do not take this system for granted, however; a few casinos have signs all of the same color or use different color coding. Read the sign before sitting down to play.

Table players change currency for casino chips at the tables. Place currency on the table layout and ask the dealer, "Change, please." The dealer will give you the corresponding amount in chips and will push your money into a locked drop box.

When it comes time to leave, remember that the dealer does not have access to cash at the tables. To change your chips for cash, you must go to the casino cashier's booth. If you have a lot of smaller-denomination chips and wish to change for larger-denomination chips to make it easier to carry them to the cashier's booth, ask the dealer to "color up." He or she then will give you one green $25 chip for five red $5 chips, or a black $100 chip for twenty $5 chips, for example.

Slot players usually cash out by pushing a button to print out a bar-coded ticket. That ticket can be used in another machine or redeemed for cash at the cashier's cage or cash kiosk. A few machines still pay out in coins or tokens, but they are being rapidly replaced.

Payoffs

You'll sometimes find payoffs expressed as "chances-TO-1"; other times, especially in video poker, they are expressed as "chances-FOR-1." In roulette, for example, the payoff for hitting a single number is 35-to-1. The player's one-unit bet stays on the table until the outcome is determined. If the player wins, he or she wins 35 units and gets to keep the original bet for a total of 36 units. But in video poker, the payoff for three of a kind is usually 3-for-1. The player has already put one unit down the slot and that is gone; the player who hits three of a kind gets a total of three units back for the one that has been wagered.

Bankroll

Do not go into a casino with money you can't afford to lose. Even at games with house percentages of less than 1 percent, there will be times the player just can't win. The worst thing a player can do is to start chasing losses, gambling money needed elsewhere in an attempt to win back money that's already gone.

Remember, the house percentage is in effect on every spin of the roulette wheel or slot reels. No law of averages says you have to start winning just because you've been on a long losing streak. If you've been betting on "Even" in roulette and odd numbers have shown up ten times in a row, the next spin is no more or less likely to be an even number than any other spin. Each trial is independent, and the house advantage still is 5.26 percent. Treat your gambling
bankroll as an entertainment expense and budget accordingly. Set limits on losses and stick to them.

Once you've decided how much to budget for the day, play at a level appropriate to your bankroll. If you have $20 for a couple of hours in the casino, you can't afford to play $1 slots or $5 blackjack. You'll need to stick to quarter slots, and at that you risk being finished for the day in about 15 minutes.

In Illinois, where such statistics are released by the Illinois Gaming Board, the average casino customer loses about $100 in a typical day at the barge or boat. But you need to bring more than that with you. You need enough of a cushion to ride out the inevitable losing streaks that happen in any game.

Here are some recommended minimum bankrolls for a two-hour casino stay:

25-cent slots and video poker: $100

$5-a-
hand blackjack: $150

$5-per-spin roulette (even-money bets): $100

$5 best-method craps (pass and two-come bets with double odds): $500

$10-a-hand mini-baccarat (table minimums are usually higher than at other casino games): $200

This is not to suggest that you should expect to lose $200 if you play mini-baccarat for a couple of hours. Your average outcome will be in the range of $10 to $20 in losses, and sometimes you'll walk away a winner.

The final bit of etiquette you should learn before you hit the casino is knowing when to expect a comp from the casino and when you should tip your dealer. Both of these sensitive subjects will be covered in the next section.

For more information about casino gambling, try the following links: