Going To Vegas
Gambling Guide

Gambling Guide

Thu, Nov 22, 2012

Casino Games

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 bets)


1.5% (when using the complete "basic strategy")




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.

  • Easy-to-follow explanation of 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 helpful.

  • A little something to try at the roulette table.

  • A beginner's 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 below.

  • 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:

    • View/Print as a Web page

    • View/Print/Save the Adobe Acrobat file ( 21-fc-ez.pdf ). It is formatted to fit on Avery #5388 (laser) and #8388 (inkjet) index card sheets for printing.

  • The complete version

    • View/Print as a Web page

    • View/Print/Save the Adobe Acrobat file ( 21-fc.pdf ). It is formatted to fit on Avery #5388 (laser) and #8388 (inkjet) index card sheets for printing.

  • Some tips and techniques for slot machine play.

Go Ahead - Play!

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. WRONG!

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 through Sundays.

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 Flamingo and Bally's) or Casino Royale (between the Venetian and Harrah's). 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 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.

Casino managers 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).

If 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 the max.

Bars for the Pre-Party Party

  • "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 of money.  

  • 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".

Betting Guidelines

  • 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 Strip.  

  • 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.

Getting "Rated"

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.)

<77274560>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!

Don't increase 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 guests.

While 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.

Casino Software

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 XP.

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".

Free Lessons

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 times.

  • Craps - Mon-Thur: 11 am & 3 pm, Fri: 11 am

  • 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 over.)

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 Palace.

The Excalibur 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.