The casino has the mathematical advantage in
every game. The approximate house advantage for each game, given the
rules common in Vegas Strip casinos, is:
1.4% (drops to about .7% with odds
1.5% (when using the complete "basic
2% on the few "loose" machines to 25%
Now you see why casinos consider slot machines
their "bread and butter". Only the few loose machines in a casino
offer the slot player anything close to the kind of favorable odds
most table games offer.
Vegas is a lot more fun when you know what you're doing at the
tables. It not only makes the games more enjoyable but it gives you
a fighting chance against "the house". The best surprise of all is
that it doesn't take a lot of time or effort learn how to do it
right. The information below will show you the right ways to play
craps and blackjack according to widely-held strategies, plus a
little roulette routine that I like to play which allows me to enjoy
the game without risking a big chunk of my bank-roll. There's also a
page with tips and techniques that may be helpful if you do want to
try your luck at a slot machine.
how to play craps according to
widely-held strategies. (It's the BEST casino game and a lot
easier than you think!). If you've read the explanation or
you're familiar with craps, you may find this summary page
A little something to try at the
guide to playing casino poker.
How to play blackjack with
information specific to the "multi-deck" and "double-deck" games
played in the casinos, as well as how to use the flash-cards
Three color-coded flash-cards showing how to
play all hands at blackjack according to the widely-accepted
"basic strategy". I created two versions of these cards. The
easy version is not quite as comprehensive but there is less to
remember. It is perfectly fine for the recreational gambler. For
those who want every advantage they can get, the complete
version is more comprehensive, with all hands conforming to the
"basic strategy" for multi-deck games (which are the most common
in Las Vegas casinos).
The easy version:
The complete version
tips and techniques for slot machine play.
Go Ahead -
Most people are hesitant to try table games like
craps or blackjack. They're afraid that, as a beginner, they'll look
foolish to the dealer and other players. They assume that everyone
at the tables is an experienced player and knows what they're doing.
The fact is most people never bother to read
anything at all about the games they play. They'll play blackjack
and stand on 17 or more because that's what the dealer does. Every
book on craps I've ever read says to ignore most of the layout yet
it's covered with chips from these "experienced" players. Chances
are, if you read the documents I have above, and spend some time
practicing with Cardoza's computer game (mentioned below), you'll be
the most knowledgeable person at most tables. Keep in mind that 99%
of the people at most tables are visiting from out of town just like
you, not regular players. Typically, locals who do play more often
don't frequent the Strip casinos because traffic and parking is such
a hassle in that area.
REMEMBER: The dealers are NOT "the enemy".
They don't get paid a lot yet they see "the boss" raking in
millions. If you were in their shoes would you have a problem giving
away some of the boss' money? Of course not, and neither do they. As
a matter of fact, they want you to win. It's a known fact that
winning players tip more, and tips are an important part of their
income. Most dealers welcome new players. (Sure there's a few snotty
ones and a few that are just having a bad day. They're people with
personal lives just like you and I.) If it's your first time
playing, let the dealer know. If you're not sure how to play a hand
or place a bet, ask the dealer. They're more than willing to help.
When you approach a table look for a placard on
the table top. (At a craps table they're usually fastened to the
inside wall next to the dealers.) These placards will show the
minimum bet level for that table. Note that these placards are often
changed as minimum bet levels will usually be higher Thursday nights
When you get to a table and need chips, always
place your money down on the table surface. Never try to hand a
dealer anything directly. The "eye-in-the-sky" cameras need to
monitor all transactions for security and in case there's a dispute
between a player and a dealer. (That's also why you need to use hand
signals in blackjack to indicate your play.)
If you don't like the bet levels normally
associated with table games (minimum bet levels at the tables in
most casinos is $5 to $10), check out some of the smaller places
like Bill's Saloon (between the
or Casino Royale (between the
They usually have lower minimum bet levels. Some of the older places
on the "north end" of the Strip and downtown often have lower
minimums also. The Sahara on the north end of the Strip and Slots A
Fun (just south of Circus Circus) have $1 tables most nights.
If you like playing slot machines, you may want
to try your luck at places like O'Shea's (between the
Imperial Palace and the Flamingo), or Slots A Fun (just south of
Circus). These types of places rely on slot machines for their
livelihood and can't afford to develop a reputation of having
"tight" machines. The down-side of playing at these types of places
is that you won't build up any comp points that could get you a free
or reduced room rate (most don't have rooms), but for the average
nickel or quarter slot player they may yield better results.
aren't stupid. They offer you free
drinks while you're gambling for a
reason. The more intoxicated you get the
more you are likely to bet. It's best
not to drink a lot of alcohol while
you're gaming. Most of the time I'll
just ask for orange juice or a soft
drink (they're free too).
you're at a table and mother nature calls, you need to run up to
your room, or you just feel like stepping outside for a breath of
fresh air, you don't need to pack up your chips and take them with
you. At the craps table, tell the dealer you'd like to "get
covered". You leave your chips in the table rail tray and wait for a
floor man or pit boss to come over and cover them with a towel or
cloth. At blackjack or other tables tell the dealer you want to take
a break. They will keep an eye on your chips for you while you're
gone. This is particularly helpful if you're at a hot table and you
don't want to lose your spot. (I've seen hot craps tables where it
is literally impossible to try and sandwich into a spot on the
rail.) Don't abuse the courtesy by being gone for long periods of
time or leaving frequently. 15 to 20 minutes per break is usually
Bars for the
"The cage" is a slang term for the casino
cashier. A casino only has one cashier area. It typically has a
row of windows like you'd see in a bank. You can do all kinds of
exchanging of chips/coins/cash at the cage. It's also where you
go to set up a credit line if you're going to be doing some
heavy gaming. A credit line will allow you to get chips at the
tables by signing a "marker" so you don't have to carry large
amounts of cash around with you.
Change booths are small square or circular
booths scattered around the casino, mainly in the machine areas.
In a lot of casinos these booths have bars in the windows so
they look like cages, but there is only one "cage" and that's
the cashier. Booths handle cash-to-coin and coin-to-cash
transactions only. They will not handle chips, which is why they
are typically only located in machine areas.
There are two types of attendants that will
handle cash-to-coin transactions only (i.e. you can't exchange
your coins for cash with them when you're done playing). Roving
change attendants roam the machine areas pushing carts around.
Slot attendants are usually located in the middle of a large
carousel of machines. They can also give you those plastic
buckets for holding your coins.
The slot and
change attendants work around a casino's
machines every day. Ask them which
machines are "loose", but be sure to tip
them if you walk away a winner.
Coins: Casinos have their own
"house coins" in denominations of $1, $5, $25, and even
higher for "high limit" machines. Nickel and quarter
machines take US coins. As noted above, you can exchange
cash for coins (both US and "house") at the cage, at
booths, and with attendants. You can only exchange coins
for cash at the cage and booths. Attendants will not do
this. You don't really need coins to play machines
because most have currency readers on them that will
accept a wide range of US bill denominations. However, I
would suggest using coins because it will slow down your
play, lengthening your gaming session for a given amount
Chips: Casinos have their own
chips in denominations of $1, $5, $25, $100, and up.
(The new Aladdin even has chips in $1,000,000
denominations.) Chips are available from the dealer at
the tables but you can only exchange chips for cash at
the casino's cashiers cage. The exception to this rule
are the chips at a roulette table. Those chips are color-coded
for each player and you have to exchange them before you
leave the table. They'll only give you regular casino
chips in exchange, not cash. When you're ready to leave
a table game other than roulette and you've got quite a
few chips, tell the dealer you'd like to "change up" or
"color up". They will exchange your many smaller
denomination chips for fewer larger denomination chips.
They want you to do this because they need the smaller
denomination chips to give to arriving players.
In most cases one casino will not honor the coins
or chips from another casino. If you're going from one casino to
another, be sure to go to the main cashiers cage to exchange your
coins and chips for cash before leaving. Also, while it's not widely
known, if you just want to place one or two quick bets at a table as
you're passing through, you can put cash down on the table. For
example, I'll often put a $5 bill down on red or black at a roulette
table when I'm on my way to dinner.
While casinos don't honor each others chips, most
do follow the same color-coding scheme. This makes it's easier to
tell the denomination of a chip just by looking at it. It also
allows you to ask for chips by their color. For example, instead of
saying "twenty five dollar chips" you can simply say "green".
Rule No. 1: Don't bet more than you
can afford to lose financially or emotionally. If you're going
to be miserable because you lost x number of dollars then don't
bet x number of dollars. Go to Vegas to have fun, not make
money. Gaming is a form of entertainment just like going to a
concert or out for a night on the town. Your "bank-roll" should
reflect how much this entertainment is worth to you.
Rule No. 2: When you go to Vegas
expect to leave your bank-roll there. Chances are you will.
Those multi-billion-dollar casinos got built by people just like
you and I. "The house" has the mathematical advantage in every
game and over the long run they will get most of your money.
It's the ups and downs in the short run where you have a chance
of coming out ahead.
Rule No. 3: Quit while you're ahead.
If you hit a hot streak at a table greed kicks in and you try
and ride it for as long as you possibly can. Streaks end and if
a table turns "cold" take your winnings and end the session. If
your luck is lousy from the start, try a different game or go to
a different casino.
Most of all, don't get depressed if you have
one of those nights where your luck is lousy no matter what you
play or where you play it. We all have those. It's part of the
game. I've even had entire trips where I couldn't find a lucky
craps table anywhere on the
Rule No. 4: Don't "press" your bets. A
press is when you use your winnings from one bet to increase the
amount your next bet or other bets. (Players at a craps table
will often have multiple bets down and will use the winnings
from one bet to press another bet.) This too is a sign that
greed is kicking in. Take your winnings while you can get them
and stick to your original bet levels.
Rule No. 5: Lower your bet levels when
you're losing. If you start to sense a down-turn in your luck go
into "conservation mode" and play lesser amounts while you're
waiting for lady luck to return.
You'll often see
ads for "sure thing" or "break the
casino" systems or books. They're trash.
The only people striking it rich are the
hucksters and slime bags selling that
stuff. Don't buy it. Common sense
dictates that if someone really did come
up with a way to beat a casino, the last
thing they'd want to do is advertise it.
The first thing you should do is get a players
card from whatever casino you plan to spend the most time in.
Because these cards are commonly referred to as "slot cards", most
people erroneously think they are only good for slot and video poker
play. Not true. They're valuable for table gaming as well. These
cards can get you free nights, free food, and free room upgrades.
The casino term for "free stuff" is "comps" (short for
complimentaries). The free drinks you get while gambling are comps.
Machines: Insert the card into the card
reader before you start pumping coins into a slot or video poker
machine. DON'T FORGET TO TAKE YOUR CARD OUT OF THE MACHINE WHEN
YOU'RE DONE. People do it all the time. Especially if they had lousy
luck at that machine.
Tables: When you put your cash down on the
table to get chips, put your players card down on top of it and the
dealer will give it to a floor man or pit boss. You DON'T have to be
a "high roller" to qualify for comps, but you do have to place
minimum $10 bets in order to get rated at most casinos. You're rated
on what your average bet is and how long you play, but in an "up &
down" session you could play for eight hours making $10 bets and
come out even. Actually you'll have come out ahead because you
scored some comp points. (Don't give the dealer your card if you're
not going to be at the table for at least an hour. Having a floor
man or bit boss set up to rate you only to have you leave after 20
minutes won't leave a good impression with them.)
Note: To give you an idea of how valuable
getting rated can be, I found a $200 round-trip flight to Vegas and
when I called the hotel they offered me all four nights for free
based on my play during my previous visit. I had a 5-day / 4-night
vacation in Vegas for little more than $200!
your bet level or play longer just to
get comps. If lady luck isn't with you
it'll cost you a lot more than the value
of the comps.
How to collect: The next time you
plan to go to Vegas, and have a date in mind, book your room
by calling the hotel and asking for the Casino Marketing or
Casino Reservations office. Tell them you used their
"players card" on your last visit, when you plan to visit,
and ask what they can give you for a room rate. Casinos are
all over the map on their comp policies so you could hear
anything from "regular room rate" (commonly referred to as
the "rack rate") or a reduced "casino rate" to "all nights
free". Or they may offer you a free "upgrade" to a larger
room or small suite. Your room comp level will also depend
on how booked they are during the time of your visit. If
there's a big convention in town your comp level will be
lower so ask them if you can get a better rate by arriving
on a different date. Another advantage of booking this way
is that the resorts will often set aside rooms during busy
periods for their players card-holders. I recently called a
resort's 800 reservations number very late at night and was
told they were booked solid for the dates I mentioned.
Having one of their players cards I called the Casino
Marketing office the next morning and when I asked the
representative if they had any rooms available for the same
dates she responded "Sure". But remember, this only applies
if you already have one of their players cards and have
spent some "rate-able" time patronizing their tables or
building up points on their machines. You don't necessarily
have to have a balance of points remaining on your card from
machine play. They simply check past balances to try and
gauge your level of play. You may even want to ask them if
you do have a points balance and, if so, if they can be
applied toward a room upgrade.
If you get your
room comped, ask if there's a "special"
check-in line you should use at the
hotel's registration desk. Many hotels
have VIP check-in lines for their comped
it's not carved in stone, a good rule of thumb is that the
newer an establishment is the higher your bet levels will
have to be to qualify for a room comp. (The newer places may
not even take a players card in their nickel and quarter
machines.) But in any case you won't know until you ask.
Comp records are only good for about 18 months.
If you think it will be longer than that before you return, you may
want to try and get your comps when you check out. Ask the desk
clerk if your play during your visit qualified you for any
reductions in your room charges. Or if you have a late flight you
could try to get the hotel's late check-out option as a comp. Again,
you have to ask. They're not going to offer it to you.
If you've been playing for 2 to 3 hours there are
also certain comps you may be able to get while you're at a table.
When you give your cash and players card to a dealer at the start of
your session notice who they give your card to. This person will
typically be a floor man or pit boss. When you're getting ready to
end your play, get this individual's attention and ask them "How
long would I have to play for a dinner?" (Be sure to say "dinner"
and not "buffet" as dinners are the most expensive meals and you may
get a comp to one of their better restaurants.) They will either
give you a comp slip or tell you how much longer they'd like you to
play. If you already got a meal comp at a different table, or time
is more important to you than money, ask for a "line pass". This
allows you to go directly to the head of the line at buffets and
shows at that establishment. Other comps you can ask for at the
table are a cigar, a pack of cigarettes, or drinks which contain
very expensive liquors. Naturally, your level of play will affect
your level of success in obtaining these types of comps.
Gaming is like any other sport, when you practice
you become a better player. I highly recommend using simulation
software to help you sharpen your skills for craps, blackjack,
poker, video poker, and roulette.
Most "super-store" retailers sell Hoyle Casino
and it is also available from Amazon for $11.
You can also download a free trial version of
Hoyle Casino 3D from cnet.com where you get 25 30-minute game
sessions. You an remove this limitation by purchasing a $30 license
fee on line. (Note that that the download file is over 500 meg in
size so even with a broadband connection it will take awhile to
download.) SP4 is required for 2000 systems and SP1 is required for
I've read some bad
reviews about Hoyle Casino 2003 through
2007 editions. You may want to try and
find a used copy of Hoyle Casino 2002 on
Amazon or eBay. It'll still run on XP
systems and will be a lot cheaper.
This type of software is very useful in
helping you memorize the blackjack flash-cards available
above. You can also use it to practice with the above craps
and roulette documents to help give you a fighting chance
against "the house".
Once you've read and practiced on your computer,
it's time to get some hands on experience. If you're still not
comfortable with the thought of getting in on a live game, stop by
the Imperial Palace. They offer FREE gaming lessons to any casino
patron (you don't have to be a guest of the hotel). Things may
change, but as of this writing the following are the offerings and
Craps - Mon-Thur: 11 am & 3 pm, Fri:
Blackjack - Mon-Fri: 9 am
Roulette - Mon-Fri: 10 am
Baccarat - Mon-Fri: 10 am
The lessons are held at tables in their
respective areas right in the casino. The tables may have placards
on them with the lesson times. If not, ask a floor man or pit boss
in the respective area for the lesson table location. No
arrangements are necessary. Just have a seat (or stand in the case
of craps) at the table a few minutes before lesson time. (It's a
nice gesture to tip the dealer who conducts the lesson when it's
Note: One Web site I visited said that
other casinos offer similar lessons but I have no first-hand
knowledge of them. You may want to check with a casino
representative at the resort you're staying at to see if similar
lessons are offered before making a special trip over the Imperial
has free poker lessons. I'm not talking about those contrived poker
games like Pai Gow or Caribbean Stud. I'm talking about the real
man-to-man poker games played in casino poker rooms. Lessons are
given every afternoon at 2 pm in their poker room.