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Going to the casino for the first time is sort of like starting out at the gym - there’s all this fancy looking equipment that you’re not quite sure how to use, and you’d rather keep a safe distance lest you embarrass yourself in front of people who actually know what they’re doing.

There’s no doubt that gambling in public can be a daunting experience for casino newbies, but in the same way that you’ll never learn how to ace a seated arm row exercise before trying it out, you’re going to have to place your first bet on a game before you come to feel comfortable at the casino.

The key is preparation; arrive at the casino wearing the appropriate style, order the right drinks, and get familiar with the different types of games in advance. Take a look through this brief guide on casino games and etiquette, and you’ll not only have an enjoyable night out - nobody will suspect that you’re the new guy at the gym! 

The Games

BlackJack

Straightforward, fun and iconic; BlackJack is not only popular for its simplicity but also because of its favourable player odds. When you play the card game, also known as 21, you need the sum total of your cards to be as close as possible to 21 - or at least closer to 21 than your dealer’s cards. If the dealer, against whom you’re competing, is closer to 21, or if you go ‘bust’ in exceeding 21 with your combined card value, you’ll lose your bet. You’ll always be dealt two cards for starters, and then you’ll tell the dealer to ‘stand’ or ‘hit’ (the latter meaning you’ll be dealt another card). Ace can have the value of 1 or 11 depending on what works in your favour, while being dealt two of the same card will give you the option to ‘split’ (have two separate hands going at the same time) which doubles your bet and essentially lets you play two games against the dealer’s one game.

Strategy tip: BlackJack, unlike most other casino games, allows for solid strategy. By studying a BlackJack odds table, you’ll develop a feeling for when to ‘stand’, ‘hit’ and ‘split’ to maximise chances of winning. Michael Shackleford, also known as the ‘Wizard of Odds’ is a mathematician who has published extensive BlackJack strategy in his book and on his website - we suggest you study his calculations if you’re serious about winning.

House edge odds: 0.5%

Fun fact: In the 90s, a group of students from MIT employed advanced card counting tactics playing BlackJack at casinos across the US and abroad, amassing an estimated $8 million dollars (and a lot of notoriety) during their run.

Slot machines

A staple of any casino that will appeal to the gambler who wants to take on the house with little regard for strategy, rules or having to do much thinking at all. In this sense it’s probably the casino equivalent of playing the lottery. The often interesting themes and rich visual allure of the machines also adds to their appeal. You pay your money and take your chances - chances that happen to be the same for everyone else. Insert money, hit the ‘spin’ button and you’re away. The reels will roll and then it’s all down to fate. Slot machines will vary in terms of complexity, ranging from those old-school ones with cherries, bells and bar signs, to the modern ones with lots of flashing lights, bonus rounds and progressive jackpots.
Strategy tip: It’s all based on algorithms so when it’s the machine’s time to pay out: it will. If you secure a big win, call it a day on that particular machine. It will take a while for the next big pay-out to come about.
House edge odds: The house edge is anywhere between 3% and 20% depending on the game in question. That means that for every $100 you gamble you’d expect the machine to return to the player somewhere between $97 and $80.
Fun fact: Slots are by far the most popular casino game online, and while there may not be any strategy to slot machines at a casino, when you play online you can take advantage of a whole bunch of different factors to maximize your winnings, as explained in this online slots guide.

Poker

Poker is unlike other casino games in that you can actually apply tons of strategy and become a talented player with consistent payouts. Easier said than done, of course. Poker is deeply complex from both a psychological and mathematical perspective. It’s also a card game with fascinating historical roots, which has resulted in several poker variants being played across the world today. The most common variant you’ll encounter at a casino sit-and-go game or a tournament is Texas Hold ‘Em. Winning requires making the strongest hand (based on the classic hand rankings) out of your two hole cards plus three of the five community cards - or at least making people believe you have the strongest hand. This bluffing aspect is arguably what appeals to most people about poker. Keep in mind that this is a game which requires concentration and skill, and it might be wise to host a few casual home games before buying an expensive tournament buy-in at a casino. 

Strategy tip: Entire books have been written on poker strategy, but ultimately the techniques and player style you employ will vary depending on the poker variant you’re playing. Common variants include Texas Hold’Em, Seven Card Stud, Crazy Pineapple, Omaha Hold’Em and HORSE.

House edge odds: Once again, the odds depend on the poker variant. However, keep in mind that you’re not really playing against the casino. Rather you’re playing against your opponents, whilst the casino simply takes a small share of every pot (known as the rake). The rake percentage varies from casino to casino.

Fun fact: The most successful professional poker player of all time, having amassed over $39 million in live tournament earnings to date, is Canadian Daniel Negreanu. In 1997, he became the youngest person ever to win a World Series of Poker bracelet.

Video Poker

This casino game is a cross between poker and slot machines. The winning hands are the same as when playing any type of poker but you’re playing against a video machine rather than against opponents at an actual card table. You draw five cards, choose which of those five you want to keep and then have the ones you don’t want replaced. You can only replace unwanted cards once. After the second draw you’ll qualify for a prize if you have a minimum hand of a pair of Jacks, or three-of-a-kind. The minimum hand varies from machine to machine. In most games you’ll have the chance to Double Up either by betting on whether the next card is red or black or by trying to draw a card that’s higher than the dealer’s. Some games include jokers or ‘wild deuces’ to help you, others don’t.
Strategy tip: It’s generally worth trying to double up two or three times on wins and then collecting if you manage. That’s your best chance of getting a bankroll together.
House edge odds: The house edge is between 0.5% and 5% so not a bad one to play.
Fun fact: There are at least 25 different versions of video poker, and each one has its own particular strategy. For this reason it’s important to look at the payout for each machine before you place your bet, as different video poker types can dramatically impact your success.

Craps

Here’s the thing about craps; it’s a far more complicated game than it first appears. Not only are the rules very complex but so is the terminology used at the table and the etiquette itself. For example, there are specific ways you should hold the dice and throw the dice. On each round there’s only ever one shooter (the person rolling the dice) while the other people round the table gamble on the outcome of the round once the dice have been thrown two or more times. Typically, it requires four members of casino staff to run a game. The shooter needs to decide whether to bet on ‘pass line’ or ‘don’t pass’ before they roll. The others round the table do the same but can also bet on other outcomes. After the first roll, either it will be settled as ‘pass line’, ‘don’t pass line’ or it will go to another roll depending on the numbers that came up.
Strategy tips:Don’t pass’ and ‘don’t come’ bets have the lowest house edge so if you’re desperate to play, learn how to place bets on these outcomes.
House edge odds: 1.4% to 5% with those mentioned above giving the least away to the house. Fun fact: Modern craps is believed to be an Americanized version of a game that dates back to 1125AD during the Crusades. 

Roulette

Arguably the most famous casino game of them all; roulette is the one with the big wooden wheel, the little ball and the green baize with lots of different squares on it. The first thing you’ll need to do is get chips of a different colour to everyone else’s so that when the croupier is paying out, they know whose chips are whose. So put your cash on the table and the croupier will give you them. Then you have to decide if you want to be on ‘almost’ even money shots (red/black, odd/even, 1-18/19-37), on an individual number, on sections of the board or on two or more squares at the same time. The fewer squares/numbers your bet covers, the lower your changes, and the more you are therefore likely to win if it does come in.
Strategy tip: The jury is still out as to whether it’s worth bothering with strategy or just picking numbers you like. Any roulette table will tell you what numbers have come up on the past few spins, so you can factor this into consideration if you like.
House edge odds: 2.5% if playing the standard European roulette wheel that only has one zero. Avoid the American one (two zeros) like the plague.
Fun fact: Whilst it it’s entirely appropriate to bring a drink with you to most casino games, roulette is an exception - it’s actually considered rude to sip from beverage while partaking in the game.

Baccarat

Not quite as complex as craps but a worthy second place. Punto Banco, Chemmy and Baccarat Banque are different types with the first one being the best known and the one explained here. Essentially, you’re betting on whether the player’s hand wins, the banker’s hand wins or whether it’s a tie. The player’s hand isn’t your hand nor is the banker’s hand the casino’s hand. You can bet on whichever one you want to win.  Cards are worth their face value, picture cards are worth 0, an Ace is worth nine. If you get say an eight and a four, the hand worth the second digit, in this case two, when the total is 12. Two cards are dealt to the player hand and the banker’s hand. If it’s a tie and you bet on it you’ll get paid out at 8/1 or 9/1 depending on the Casino. If one of the two has eight or nine the game is over straight away and winners are paid out. If no-one has eight or nine, the rules determine first whether the player is dealt a third card and then whether the Banker does. It will then be settled once there are no more cards to be drawn. Strategy tips: Betting on the player hand means you side-step the commission you have to pay on Banker (55%).
House edge odds: Starting at just 1.5%.
Fun fact: Baccarat is often mistakenly thought to be a French invention, but whilst France played a big role in popularizing the game, its origins traces back to Medieval Italy.

GENERAL TIPS

Set a budget

Perhaps the most important rule of all - unless you’re a fan of waking up the next day with a hangover and big sum of money out of pocket. It’s incredibly easy to lose track of how much you’re loosing versus how much you’re winning when you’re having fun at the casino. Decide, in advance, how much you are prepared to lose on that night - then take this amount out in cash and don’t spend anything more. 

Dress appropriately

Being stylishly dressed at the casino will almost definitely increase your confidence, and you’ll likely find that others at the casino will regard you with more respect than if you arrive in sweat pants and a t-shirt. Even if you end up out of luck, you can at least comfort yourself with the knowledge that you’re looking the part. Keep in mind that some of the the more upscale casinos have dress codes, so it might be a good idea to check this online in advance.

Don’t get drunk 

Have a drink, by all means. Just the right amount of alcohol will help you relax and have fun, but too much will result in sloppy betting. The casino is for gambling and socializing, so if your primary interest lies in sampling cocktails then you’re better heading to a bar instead. Classic drinks to order at a casino include straight spirits, a Vesper martini (you know, what Bond drinks), or a Screwdriver.

Practise beforehand

When it comes to card games like BlackJack and Texas Hold’Em, you can host some home games with friends before trying your hand at the casino. As for slots and video poker, you could prepare for the casino experience by getting a feel for the games online. There are plenty of sites that recreate classic casino atmospheres and even let you practise such classic games for free. 

Tip the dealer

Tipping etiquette differs across the world, but it is generally expected that players should tip the dealer when placing mid to high-stake bets - even if they’re losing. In a game like poker, some suggest that players should tip around 1-5% of each pot that they win. The most common way to tip a dealer is to pass them the value you want to tip in chips, which they will then place in a transparent ‘tip box’. You can also place a side bet just for the dealer, alongside your regular bet. If you notice the dealer is especially speedy, courteous and quiet, you might want to tip extra generously.

Have fun

Going to the casino shouldn’t be all about winning big. When you go in with the right approach, you’ll end up having an enjoyable experience whether you win or lose.


How to Not Look Like An Idiot  at the Casino
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