by Kevin Blackwood
What do bull-riding and shooting craps have in common? No, the answer isn’t that either way you’ll get your butt kicked; nor does it have anything to do with the horn bet. The common denominator in both activities is that using two hands is against the rules.
If you’re a long-time craps player, you know what I’m talking about—the shooter can only touch the dice with one hand. Using both hands (or any other body part including your lovely companion’s lips for a good luck smooch) will earn you a reprimand from the pit boss and an eye-roll from the veteran players around the table as the pit crew halts the game to examine the dice for irregularities. After all, this isn’t your neighborhood Yahtzee game. Casinos are a very serious business and stringently controlled.
Double-Zero Tolerance Policy
Craps is not the only game with a strict list of dos and don’ts. Arcane and seemingly incongruous rules are commonplace in casinos, and an often odd system of etiquette has evolved inside the modern gambling establishment.
Casinos have a highly monitored indoor environment, sometimes more tightly regulated than prisons and banks. As a result, both casino personnel and gamblers must adhere to a rigorous code of behavior that dictates what they say, how they act, and even what gestures they’re allowed to make. Just watch a blackjack game for a few minutes and you’ll see a series of scratches, taps, and waves that would look silly anywhere else in the world—with the possible exception of the third-base coach on a baseball diamond.
Unfortunately for novices, there’s no manual you can buy that lists every little rule or protocol for gambling. Most learn them as they go, usually from negative reinforcements when they commit a violation. For example, in roulette, even if your winning stack is right in front of you, you can’t touch it until the croupier has lifted his ceremonial number-marker.
Some breaches of etiquette are not readily intuitive. While you can easily understand why fancy restaurants frown on cell phone use, you might be surprised to find out that making a call from a casino sports book is a no-no.
And it’s not just the casino that enforces the rules of conduct—sometimes it’s the customers. For example, an empty chair is not always empty and you might find yourself on the ugly end of a tirade from an otherwise sweet-looking grandmother who was playing two slot machines.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid making some horrible faux pas if you’ve never set foot inside a casino. And even if you’re reasonably experienced, it’s still common to sometimes screw up, especially in the more complicated games.
The Eye in the Sky
As a casino guest, it’s very easy to get on the wrong side of this long list of taboos, especially if you are tackling a new game for the first time. Even simple procedures like purchasing your chips or when to place the proper bets can vary greatly from one table to another.
Consequently Big Brother is on a 24/7 alert. Everyone watches everyone in a casino. Dealers watch players. Pit bosses watch dealers. Floor managers watch pit bosses. Shift managers watch floor managers. And the eye in the sky watches it all. And when you cross the line or break some unspoken rule, you will certainly get the attention of the wary cameras overhead.
Fortunately, most infractions are not serious and are punished only with a figurative slap on the wrist, such as firing up your Marlboro at a no-smoking table or inadvertently touching your cards in a face-up blackjack game. But some transgressions pay a higher penalty—they can lighten your wallet.
One common mistake is playing out of turn in a poker game. Not only is this irritating to the other players, it might cost you money. Pushing in a big raise before a player to the right of you has yet to act often results in that person folding a hand that he might have called with, resulting in a smaller pot for your monster hand.
Another example is Pai Gow Poker. If you set your hands incorrectly (the two-card hand has a higher value than the five-card hand), you automatically foul and lose the bet. So a smart approach is to always educate yourself before plunking your money down at a new game. Learning the correct way to play will not only save you some potential embarrassment, it might even save you some money.
Kevin Blackwood has written three books, including Play Blackjack Like the Pros and Casino Gambling For Dummies. More information about his books can be found at www.KevinBlackwood.com.
Casinos have an extensive list of dos and don’ts.