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Etiquette: A Little Does A Lot

31 January 1994

Table manners. Your momma taught you. But you never cared 'til that dinner with the boss, when you knocked over the wine with your elbow while reaching to dunk your bun in the gravy boat.

Etiquette helps in a casino, too. Sure, your money's as good as anyone's, and games are random so nothing you do affects other players' chances. But whether your faux pas is a loss of cool in the heat of the moment or a naive goof, it can break the spell of the gamble, disrupting the flow of the game and adding acrimony to an otherwise amiable atmosphere. This is material, not just to keep the casino experience upbeat, but because a positive outlook supports sensible decisions about betting, hitting or standing, and staying or quitting.

Some manners are just common sense and decency. An octogenarian is snoozing in front of your lucky double-joker progressive video poker machine; rouse him gently and ask for the seat. Two fat ladies occupy three spaces at the only $5 craps table; politely ask to squeeze in. A bimbo at 3rd base on a four-deck blackjack game is hitting everything under 18, pulling cards that would cause the dealer to bust; leave, pass, or bite your tongue.

Some casino etiquette is slot-specific. On a crowded floor, don't play multiple machines. If you do and somebody wants one, surrender gracefully. Conversely, if oceans of machines are open, why pester someone playing two or three? To reserve a machine when nature calls, stuff a coin bucket into the tray and ask a neighbor to save your place. Stay calm if the machine gets taken, but don't expect it back. When you want to play, avoid machines on temporary hold unless you've no choice.

Some general conventions apply to all table games.

You need a position to play. This'll be a spot on the layout for your bet in games like blackjack, baccarat, and red dog. It'll be a space on the rail at craps or sic bo. For roulette and pokette, you need room at the table and also chips bought from the dealer for that particular game because they're color-coded by value and player.

Dealers can't take money from your hand. To buy in for cash or break down high-value chips, put the money on the layout and say, "change, please."

You can "color up" swap those big stacks you've won for a few higher-valued, more easily carried chips. Unless table-specific color-coding makes this mandatory, it's up to you. After a hand or roll ends, drop the chips in front of you or push them toward the dealer, asking "color, please."

Nearly everyone wants to be "rated" nowadays, this being the key to "comps" complementary meals and other courtesies extended to gamblers. If you sign a "marker" to get credit, you'll be rated automatically. Otherwise, give your rating card to the floor person supervising your game. Don't shove it in the dealer's face as soon as you're within reach, and don't put it down with your buy-in. Just set the card on the table or the rack near your chips. If nobody takes it, tell the dealer you want to be rated and the floor person will come as soon as possible. Some casinos register cards and return them right away; if not, ask for yours when you quit.

A few specifics pertain to blackjack. Use "hit" and "stand" hand signals and never touch the cards. Some gamblers are superstitious that a player entering a game in mid-shoe brings bad luck, so it's a courtesy to wait for a shuffle.

Craps has the most conventions. For instance, it's a cardinal sin to reach over the table if the dice hit your hands; you're blamed for money lost but not thanked for any won. So buy-in, color-up, and bet only when the dice are in the middle of the layout before they're sent to the shooter. At the table, if you're next to the shooter, don't crowd the person or interfere with the roll. Holding dice in both hands or taking them back over the rail are also no-nos. And, when you shoot, hit the far wall, avoid the mirrors along the sides, and don't throw so hard the dice maim anyone they accidentally touch. Make pass, don't pass, field, and come bets, and take or lay odds on your pass and don't pass bets yourself, by putting the chips in the appropriate areas. Make your own don't come bet if you're at the end of the table and can easily reach the box. Make place, buy, and lay bets, and take or lay odds on your come and don't come bets by putting them on the layout halfway between you and the dealer and stating what you want. Make hardways and one-roll proposition bets by gently tossing the chips to the stickman and stating what you want. Finally, you're eligible to shoot if you're betting don't pass, but it's considered bad form to do so because everyone thinks you're "playing against yourself" and them.

Follow these conventions, watch how the more experienced players those the dealers seem to respect do things, and you'll soon feel as suave as James Bond in Casino Royale. You'll better enjoy the casino experience and get that winning spirit, too. As Sumner A Ingmark, poet laureate of the casino scene aptly, said:

Etiquette and attitude
Contribute no small part,
Earning gamblers more than gratitude
While also playing smart.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.