The Insider in Blackjack
The true story of a casino dealer who’s seen it all in Las Vegas–and has money-making tips to share with you
By Jack Salay
There is hot, and then there is Jersey hot. I’m specifically referring to Trenton, the way I remember my town being in the summer of 1965.
I was 11 years old, and one of the kids in our group decided it was too hot to go outside and play baseball. Instead, we were going to play a game called “blackjack” against each other, for money.
This became a common practice on those scorching summer days. I got better and better at dealing and playing the game–so much so that in about a year, I won enough to buy our family its first color TV. My career as a dealer started without me even knowing it.
Fast-forward to the year 1978, after I graduated from Embry Riddle with a degree in aeronautics, when Resorts International opened the first casino in New Jersey. I strolled onto the casino floor for the first time and my eyes lit up!
There was action everywhere I looked–electricity in the air, money flying around, and beautiful women in every direction. Right at that moment, I knew I had to work in that type of environment.
So a couple of years later, I pulled up stakes and moved to Las Vegas. I got off the plane with $2,000 and two suitcases to start my career in the casino industry. The game of craps interested me more than blackjack, so I decided to keep blackjack in my back pocket and go to a dealers’ school to learn craps.
I enrolled in the school and attended six days a week, and after just two months I was ready to audition for a job in a casino. Excited but incredibly nervous, I took the audition– and passed! I started my career at a small casino on the Strip that was named Little Caesar’s.
Little Caesar’s only had one craps table and three blackjack tables. The minimum bet on the craps table was only 50 cents! But I didn’t care. I was working on the legendary Las Vegas Strip, across the street from casinos like The Dunes and Caesars Palace.
Over the next five years I learned roulette to complement my craps and blackjack skills. I moved up from casino to casino, dealing to bigger and bigger action along the way. But it wasn’t until January of 1985, when I started working at the iconic Sands Hotel and Casino, that I reached the big time. This is where I officially went from dealing lousy 50-cent craps games to working with gamblers who bet tens of thousands of dollars per hand.
The craps crew I worked with was the best in the business. I was learning from the guys who opened the Sands in the 1950s! They taught me how to anticipate players’ moves, how to deal the game more efficiently, how to make more money servicing the players, and how to have fun doing it.
At the Sands, I dealt to people who had money. Serious money–and they weren’t shy about betting it. I remember one night when my relief dealer and I dealt blackjack to two Hollywood television producers. We wound up taking $500,000 from them. Needless to say, they weren’t very happy, but the casino manager was very happy with us.
On another occasion, I dealt to the world’s richest man at the time. (I don’t want to mention his name; when you work with VIPS, being discreet is part of the gig). He’d stay at the Sands and get two whole floors of rooms for his party and play $100,000 every roll of the dice on the craps table. Sometimes he would win big, and sometimes he would get hammered. The money that was exchanging hands was unreal. My boss never told me how much–but with multiple floors of rooms being comped to him and his entourage, I knew it was ridiculously huge.
I also worked at Steve Wynn’s groundbreaking Mirage Casino when it opened in 1989. In the early days, there were so many bets on the craps layout that you couldn’t even see the numbers on it. The atmosphere was amazing. There were celebrities, sports superstars from past and present, politicians, and business people from every country around the globe constantly playing at my table.
One night, a multi-millionaire and his wife were playing baccarat, and she burned through a million dollars. To punish her, he arranged to have one million dollars cash placed on a table beside her while she kept betting, so she would realize what she lost! (It probably didn’t help.)
Every night, rubbing elbows with these people, was an adventure. I remember one night at the Desert Inn, a man gave me $54,000 to bet on the numbers on the craps table. The next roll was a seven, and he lost it all. I looked at him to see his reaction–it didn’t even faze him. How much money did this guy have? I wondered.
I had some incredible experiences working in the casino business over the last 30 years. I’m also a flight instructor, which led me to realize that if I could teach people how to fly, I could definitely teach them how to play craps. So I finally decided it was time to write a book on the subject. My book is called How to Play Craps, and I wrote it mainly for beginners.
In my book, I break down the game to its simplest form. Each bet is individually explained and the location of the bet on the craps layout is pictured and outlined. Every bet is clearly explained and spelled out.
How to Play Craps also covers the true odds of winning particular bets–not the odds the casino pays you. In craps, you can bet on, or against, any number on any roll. I explain how to do this in the most effective way possible. I also explain table etiquette, so you can blend into the game like you’ve been playing it for years. And I reveal how to get the dealers on your side, to ensure you’re getting as much help and advice from them as possible. I even cover how to select which table to play at, and why; these decisions could decide your fate before you even start!
If you’re a novice craps player, here are a few quick tips:
- If you decide to bet on a seven rolling on the next roll, bet on a three-way seven on the hop instead of an “any seven” bet. It pays more for the same amount wagered.
- Don’t want to bet on the pass line, but want to bet on all the numbers? Make a place bet on the five, six and eight, plus make a bet in the field. You’ll win every time a field number is rolled. If a five, six or eight gets rolled, you’ll lose your field bet but recoup the field bet loss by winning your place bet on the five, six or eight. You have a bet on every number but the seven.
- Another approach is to bet on the Don’t Pass line. Once a number is established, make a place bet on the six and eight. Wait for either the six or eight to hit. Collect your winnings from the place bet, take down the place bets, and wait for the seven to roll, which wins on the Don’t Pass line.
- If you make a bet on the Don’t Pass line and the six or eight gets rolled, and you think they’re going to roll it again, you can take down your Don’t Pass bet (any bet that is in your favor the casino will allow you to take down).
- The next time you make a Pass line or Come bet, think about this: There are only four ways to lose this bet on the first roll. Four out of 36! Think twice about making that any craps bet to insure your bet. Most of the time, this bet–and most proposition bets–will eat away at your bankroll.
- There are 36 combinations of numbers on the dice. If you make a field bet, there are 16 ways to win and 20 ways to lose. That’s less than a 50/50 chance on every roll. If you play the field every roll, you will lose over time. The numbers are against you. Most veteran players do not play the field.
- The worst bet is betting on long shots (proposition bets). An example would be: betting on the two or twelve to roll next. The odds of winning this bet is 35 to 1. And if you win, they only pay you 30 to 1.
- One of the most common rookie mistakes I see every night? Continuing to bet the table minimum while they’re on a winning streak. If you’re feeling hot, increase your bet. Invest your winnings back into the game, and go for a big payday. (Note, I’m talking about betting with your winnings. A big part of being a consistent craps winner is knowing when to walk away and save your bankroll for another, and hopefully luckier, day.)
Jack Salay has been in the casino and gaming industry for 28 years. He has worked in major casinos in Las Vegas including the Mirage, Sands, Desert Inn, MGM and Tropicana, dealing craps, blackjack and roulette. He currently works at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. For a copy of his book, visit www.crapsthebook.com.
The Insider in Blackjack.