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If You're Already In Flight, Here's Las Vegas Lite

11 July 1999

If you boarded an airplane in an undeveloped country, and the pilot proudly announced he had just now learned to fly via a 5-minute lesson, you would scramble off that plane faster than Homer Simpson could grab a jelly doughnut.

Certain kinds of skills, airline piloting among them, are best acquired through years of study and practice. Fortunately for the occasional Las Vegas or Atlantic City visitor, casino gambling doesn't have to fall into that category.

If your casino goals are modest–you don't need to break the bank, but just want to indulge a little without looking like a rube, and are willing, in the name of entertainment, to lose a little as long as you can escape with your shirt intact–you can give yourself a good chance to reach those goals in the next five minutes.

If you read and follow the five Do's and the five Don'ts below, your post-Las Vegas exclamation will sound much more like (if you'll forgive just one more Simpsons metaphor) Homer's "Woo-hoo!" rather than his "Doooh!"

Before we dive in, know this: you're getting First Aid training here, not medical school. To own a reasonable chance of winning, five minutes of preparation won't cut it. A couple of pleasant hours reading my Casino Gambling the Smart Way (or reading one of a relatively short list of good books written by other people who don't work for casinos) will improve your chances considerably.

But in case you don't have a couple of hours to spare, in case you're more focused on socially useful things like going to work, keeping the economy moving, or caring for the children.... I present Las Vegas Lite: Five "Do's" and partner "Don'ts" which will give you a big leg up on most tourists:

1) DO set a loss limit, but DON'T "Bring $300 to Lose."

If you're an infrequent, casual Las Vegas visitor, your gambling budget is part of your entertainment budget, and there's nothing wrong with spending money on entertainment. You spend it to go skiing, to professional sporting events, or to the opera.

But unless you're renting out Aspen for the weekend, you're probably not spending $15,000 on a ski trip. So while spending money on entertainment is fine, spending too much on entertainment isn't. You wouldn't leave on your ski trip without pricing out hotels and having some sort of idea how much your trip will cost. A Las Vegas trip should be no different.

So set a loss limit, but DON'T adopt the "I brought X dollars to lose" method. This plan sounds sensible, but if you expect to lose, you will, because you won't be trying to play smart. You won't care what kind of bet you're making; if your "plan" is to lose $300, it doesn't really matter if you're making 10% disadvantage bets or 1% disadvantage bets... you'll reach your goal (losing) either way. This would seem to imply....

2) DO hope to get lucky, but DON'T assume that gambling is all luck.

Unless you're an expert, you can't win without luck, and even experts will admit that luck outweighs skill in the short run. So there's nothing wrong with hoping to get lucky.

On the other hand, if your assumption is "I'll win if I'm lucky and lose if I'm unlucky," you're making a big mistake. The House enjoys a much greater advantage at some games and some bets than others.

At a Craps table, for example, betting the Pass Line (the simplest and easiest of all Craps bets), you face only a small disadvantage. If you bet the Hardway bets in the middle of the table, though, you'll probably lose ten times as fast. So if the winds of chance and fate favor you just a little, you might be able to overcome the small house edge on the Pass Line, but not the big house edge on the Hardway bets.

The player who makes lots of big disadvantage bets is saying, in effect, "I'll win if I'm VERY lucky, lose if I'm a little lucky, and get crushed if I'm unlucky." You have to pick your spots.

3) DO ask for help, but DON'T ask the wrong people.

Dealers aren't robots; they're people with hearts and feelings, just like you and me. Most of the time, they're more than willing to help newcomers who ask for help politely. Their livelihood does NOT depend on fleecing everyone who comes near their table. If they are honest and friendly, the house advantage will make the casino enough money to keep their bosses happy.

Because so many people walk into casinos trying to "act cool," even when they know next to nothing about the games, dealers see amateurish mistakes all the time. When someone who is trying to act like a hotshot plays poorly, the dealer laughs, at least internally. But when someone possesses enough self-confidence and dignity to admit newcomer status, dealers will usually go out of their way to be helpful. There's no dishonor in being new to a game; even world champions were novices once. Only people who act debonair but play like "head full of air" draw disdain.

So if you find yourself confused, ask a dealer for help or advice. Your chances of getting this help go way up if you play at a low stakes table that isn't crowded. When high rollers have big money on the line, they want the dealer paying attention to them, not to a novice.

On the other hand, you DON'T want to ask your fellow players for help–or even to accept it if offered–because you have no way to evaluate the quality of advice you'll receive. Casinos are full of knuckleheads who can't get anyone to listen to them at home or at work. They try to compensate by acting like hotshots around people who don't know them.

Don't assume a big bettor knows a lot, either. I remember playing blackjack in the Bahamas when I was 21. I was betting $5 and $10 a hand and sweating my results. The guy next to me was betting $500 and $1,000 a hand. Seeing a youngster next to him, he kept offering advice. His heart might have been in the right place, but his advice was frequently wrong (I already knew perfect basic strategy and it was very clear that he didn't). After two hours I was up $150 and he was down what looked to be about $15,000. I thanked him for the lessons as I left.

Although you might occasionally run across a fellow player who actually knows a little something, most smart gamblers have already learned an important lesson about lessons: when the advice works, the recipient forgets all about you, but when it doesn't work, the recipient blames you. So smart gamblers have learned to keep their mouths shut and let other people make their own mistakes. Usually the people volunteering free advice are supplying a product worth just what you've paid for it: nothing.

4) DO play games of chance, but DON'T play games of skill.

Huh? That sounds like pretty strange advice from a professional gambler, but context is everything, and your context is "novice." Although an expert can beat Blackjack on a consistent basis, the casinos make more money from the blackjack tables than they do from the Craps tables, which no one can beat consistently.

Why does this happen? A terrific blackjack player can enjoy a tiny edge over the House...but a bad blackjack player (and that's you, if you're a novice; not a bad person, just a bad player, for now) will lose very quickly. So blackjack is a bad game for someone whose preparation consists of reading one article. Poker is even worse, because the skill element is greater. Card games like Caribbean Stud, Spanish 21 and Let It Ride fall into the same category; because you must exercise strategy in these games, a novice will lose very quickly.

If you are a complete novice, you should stick to games where you don't need to employ strategy. In such games, you just need to know where to plunk your money down, and then cross your fingers.

The best games for that are: Craps (betting the Pass Line), Baccarat (betting either Player or Bank; the rules might seem incomprehensible but the dealer takes care of everything for you, and with the emergence of Mini-Baccarat, you can now play the same game for low stakes), and certain kinds of slot machines (machines advertised as 98% or better return).

Stay away from the Money Wheel (also known as the Wheel of Fortune). Although the Money Wheel certainly qualifies as a pure chance game, the house percentage is too high to overcome. Also stay away from Roulette. European-style roulette gives the player a fighting chance, but in the American game, the house edge buries players quickly.

5) DO play to have fun, but DON'T go berserk.

Gambling can provide thrills and excitement, even if you're losing (although it certainly gets more fun if you're winning). Lose more than your pre-arranged limit, though, and the evening becomes a bad entertainment bargain, the equivalent of paying $1,000 for a ticket to a baseball game.

If Lady Luck chooses not to favor you on a particular day or night, exercise your adult free will and LEAVE. The casino will always be there, if you want to return. You will always have a chance to try to win your money back later, and those chances will be better if you try when you're not upset or angry.

Gambling is a little like playing with fire; sometimes useful, frequently dangerous, and potentially harmful. If you can avoid gambling when you're in a vulnerable emotional state, your first time playing with casino fire might result in a tiny scorch, but you'll dodge those third-degree burns that the self-styled experts so frequently suffer.

One final tip: if you DO win on your first trip, DON'T assume that winning is your birthright. Just because you got lucky once doesn't mean it will happen every time. Savor your victory the same way you would savor a good ski trip, a good baseball game, or a good opera, but it won't necessarily be that good next time around. Each gaming experience is different. But if you do decide you want to return, spend a little time on some gaming education. Whether you accept Branch Rickey's axiom that "luck is the residue of design" or the oft-quoted "the harder I work, the luckier I get," you'll almost certainly find that such efforts will earn big casino dividends.

Good luck, have fun, and, like they used to say on Hill Street Blues, be careful out there!

©1999 by Andrew N. S. Glazer
& Casino Conquests International, LLC
All Rights Reserved

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer:

Andrew N.S. Glazer
Andrew N. S. Glazer was a blackjack, backgammon and poker pro whom Newsweek Magazine called a "poker scholar." He also was the weekly gaming columnist for The Detroit Free Press, and a regular contributor to Chance Magazine, and the top gaming information websites.

Books by Andrew N.S. Glazer: