One of my goals for this site is to get players off of slots and onto games that don’t suck your money away hand over fist.

Of course, to enjoy the better odds available at table games you have to know how to play them.  That’s where this page comes in.  Maybe you’re a slot player tired of losing your shirt every time you take a gambling vacation, and you’re ready to have a better chance of winning.  Or maybe you’ve never been to the casino, but you’re smart enough to seek out the best bets rather than throwing your money away in slots.  Either way, I’ll show you the basics of playing table games.

A word of caution:  table games are better than slots not just because the odds are better, it’s also because table games are played slower than slots.  You might get 70 rounds an hour in blackjack, but it’s easy to play 700 spins per hour on a slot.  Well, that goes out the window when you play table games online.  Online table games can be played nearly as fast as slots.  The trick here is to simply bet less.  If you’d bet $5 per hand on blackjack in a land casino, then online, where the play is five times faster, bet just $1 per hand.  My calculator above will help you find the games and betting sizes that are right for your budget.

For that matter, slots are a reasonable choice as long as you don’t bet very much.  Bet a penny per spin and you’re looking at a mere $2/hr. average loss online, or $6/hr. in Vegas.  Spend some time with the calculator to get a feel for how the options affect your losses.

And now, onto the lesson!

Getting Chips

Every table has a minimum bet, indicated by a sign on the table (at least $5).  Make sure to read the sign so you don’t buy in at a $25 table when you meant to be at a $5 table.  (If you make a mistake and buy in at the wrong table, you don’t have to play there, you can just take your chips to another table, but it can still be embarrassing if everyone sees you picked the wrong table.)

Put your cash on the table to buy pkv chips.  (It has to be cash, they don’t take credit cards.)  Put your cash right in front of you, between two betting circles (or in craps, outside the great big box).  Don’t hand your money to the dealer; they can’t take it directly from your hand.  When you put it on the table, don’t put it inside a marked circle or on any writing, or the dealer may think you want to bet the cash and start dealing!  The dealer will finish the hand (s)he’s dealing before looking at your money, so be patient—if your money’s on the table, they’ll get to it.

Dealers don’t make change.  Any money you put on the table will be turned into chips.  Then again, you don’t have to bet all your chips.  When you’re done, you take whatever chips you have left to the cashier booth to cash them in.

Red chips are worth $5 and green chips are $25.  The $1 chips are either silver or white.  The dealer may ask “How do you want that?”, meaning do you want all red, or some red and green, etc.  Whatever you get, always get at least five silver for tipping the dealer and the cocktail waitress.  More on tipping later.

When you’re done playing you’ll “color up”, which is to turn your chips into higher denominations so you have fewer chips to carry to the cashier.  Just push your chips towards the dealer and say, “Color up, please.”  She’ll change your chips and give you the larger denominations.  If you’re not going to gamble any more then walk your chips over to the cashier (the “cage”) to cash them in.  You can’t cash your chips in at the table.

All the games use the same chips, except roulette.  With roulette each player uses a different color, so it’s easy to see who bet on what.  You can buy roulette chips with regular chips or with cash.

Use Your Slot Card

Yep, you can use your slot card on table games. Just place it on the table with your money.  The dealer will give it to a floor supervisor, who will write down the number on the card and then give it back to you. Your play won’t show up as points the next time you put your card into a machine, but you can still get free meals once you’ve played long enough. (Ask a floor supervisor how long you need to play to get a meal.)  Free goodies you get from the casino are called comps. (More on comps.)

Using Chips

Make a bet by putting one or more chips in the betting circle or other marked betting area.  If you’re betting different color chips, put the larger denomination chips on the bottom of the stack.

Don’t touch your bet (chips) once you’ve placed it!  Some people try to cheat the casino by decreasing their bet (removing chips) when they’ve lost a hand, or adding chips when they’ve won a hand.  Because of this, the casinos don’t want your hands near your chips once your bet is placed, and the dealers enforce the no-touching rule very seriously.

When you’re finished playing, push your chips forward and ask the dealer to “color up”, which means to turn your stack of low-denomination chips into a few high denomination chips. That way you have fewer chips to carry over to the cashier cage to cash them in. Just make sure you don’t push your chips into a betting circle, otherwise the dealer might think you want to bet all your chips!

How much to bet

When you’re new at any game, always play the table minimum, often $5.  If you could afford to play 5¢/spin on slots, you can afford to bet $5 a hand at a table.  A $500 bankroll is usually sufficient for a weekend of play (15 hours) at most table games.  See my separate page on how much you can afford to bet for more.

Getting Help from the Dealer

Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer for help, especially if you don’t understand some of the instructions listed here.   For example, you might see that the blackjack strategy below tells you to split two 8’s, and you have two 8’s but you have no idea how to split them.  Just ask, “How do I split these?”, and the dealer will tell you how.

Be sure you can tell the difference when the dealer tells you that you can’t do something vs. that you shouldn’t do something.  If the dealer says you can’t, well, that’s the rules, and you can’t.  But if the dealer advises against something just because they think it’s a bad bet (like splitting 8’s), then remain firm that you want to make your play.  Believe it or not, most dealers don’t know the complete and proper strategies for the games they’re dealing, and the other players are no better.

Tipping

Like waiters, dealers generally make minimum wage (or not much more) and work for tips.  I tip at least $5 per hour I play ($1 at a time throughout the hour).  A tip for a dealer is called a toke.  You can offer your tip directly to the dealer, or you can place a bet for the dealer.  I often ask which they prefer, but almost all dealers go for the bet rather than taking the toke directly.  Betting for the dealer is a good way to establish rapport with the dealer, and in games like blackjack when you’re betting against the dealer’s hand, this reminds you that your opponent is really the casino, not the dealer herself.  Betting for the dealer is done differently in different games, so just ask the dealer at your game, “How do I place a bet for you?”

Of course, tipping is optional and some players don’t tip at all.  But remember that most dealers, like waiters, make minimum wage and are really working for tips.  (And at the El Cortez, dealers averaged only $21/day in tips in 2003, according to The Dealer’s News.)  Also, the IRS takes 28% out of their tip pool right away. I don’t tip unfriendly dealers, but I’ll tip any dealer that didn’t give me a bad experience.  As I say on the tipping page, you’re not tipping for good service, you’re tipping as long as the service wasn’t bad.  Don’t worry about losing money from tipping—$5/hr. is way less than you’d lose on slots.

The cocktail waitress will come around periodically to take your order for free drinks.  An adequate tip is a dollar every drink or two.