Last Updated: March 1, 2013
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For those who have never played a table game before, this section is for you. It will benefit everybody if you know the basics of gambling protocol before you sit down for the first time. Few things are more annoying than a beginner at a table who doesn’t know what to do and has to be told everything several times by the dealer. Before your first time at a table game ask if your casino offers gaming instructions. At specific times of the day many casinos will give a tour of all the major games, explaining the rules and how to play. Some casinos offer a designated table where people can play with play chips to get their feet wet. If none of these options are available, then I would suggest watching a game from behind for a few minutes before sitting down. Notice the procedure and when you sit down try not to disrupt it. Following are some pointers which you can learn now or learn the hard way:
Understand the rules before you sit down.
Buy or cash in chips between hands only. If you sit down while a hand is in progress, wait patiently for the conclusion of the hand then buy in. Use this time to get your money ready.
Know that red chips are $5, greens are $25, and blacks are $100. At the table you may ask the dealer to make change for a large denomination chip, but don't ask to exchange small denomination chips for large ones.
When you cash out, the dealers prefer for you to trade in smaller denominations of chips for large ones. Between hands, give the dealer neat stacks of chips and let him/her count them and change them in.
In some games the cards are dealt face up. If this is the case, never touch your cards.
If the cards are dealt face down, then only touch your cards with one hand only! If you break this rule you will almost always get a sharp rebuke. Be gentle with the cards; don't bend them or put drinks on them. Some players have tried to cheat by bending specific cards slightly, for example the aces, and the dealers have to guard against this. I’ve seen new players told repeatedly to only touch their cards with one hand. If you can't seem to break the two-hand habit then sit on one hand if you have to. In some games, like Caribbean Stud Poker, you may not even touch your cards until the dealer signifies that you may by turning on a light.
Never touch your bet once the first card has been dealt. Wait until after the hand is over.
Do not drink excessively. Much worse than a new player is a drunk.
Speaking as a non-smoker, if you must smoke please try to maximize the time between cigarettes. When you exhale do not do so in the face of other players or the dealer. When you are done with your cigarette please fully put it out, not letting it emit smoke from the ash tray. I respect your right to smoke, even at my table, but try to make it as painless for me as possible.
In blackjack do not rebuke another player for the way they play their hand. There is a mistaken belief that unnecessary hitting causes everyone to lose at blackjack. This is addressed in more depth in my blackjack FAQ.
Do not ask the dealer for advice. Dealers do not want to be blamed if you follow their advice and you lose so they will usually give a vague answer if you ask. An exception is pai gow and pai gow poker, where you may ask the dealer how he would play his hand according to the "house way."
Do not ask for pity if you have a bad hand, it happens to everyone. Numerous times I have seen a player hit a stiff hand in blackjack and get an additional small card but still be in the 12-16 point range. When this happens some players will often show their cards to the dealer, make a big sigh, and expect some sympathy for having to make another decision. Nobody cares about your hand but you, make a decision quickly and do not hold up the game.
Tipping is more open to your judgement than the other rules of etiquette. In my opinion you should tip 2/3 based on how friendly and helpful the dealer is and 1/3 on how much you are winning/losing. Even if you are losing you should still tip if the dealer has been trying to make the experience more fun.
Some games, especially blackjack, involve hand signals to signify how you want to play your cards. You must use hand signals, verbal instructions are not enough. Please know them before you sit down, it is very annoying when a new player has to be instructed over and over. Here are the hand signals in blackjack when the cards are dealt face up:
- Hit: Tap the table.
- Stand: Wave your hand, palm open, parallel to the table.
- Double/Split: Place your matching bet next to, never on top of, your original bet. If you have two fours or two fives, you should hold up one finger if you are doubling, and two fingers if you are splitting.
Here are the hand signals in blackjack when the cards are dealt face down:
- Hit: Lightly scrape the corner of the cards against the felt.
- Stand: Slide your cards under your bet. Do not lift your chips in the process.
- Double/Split: Place your cards face up on the table, just above your bet. Then place your matching bet next to, never on top of, your original bet. If you have two fours or two fives, you should hold up one finger if you are doubling, and two fingers if you are splitting.
If you bust then lay down your cards face up by your bet. Do not throw them in disgust, as it is very rude. If you can’t handle losing, then don’t play at all.
If you plan to play craps please visit my section on craps where I give specific craps etiquette suggestions.
“Thou Shalt Tip” is one of my Ten Commandments of Gambling. This includes tipping dealers and cocktail waitresses. In my opinion dealers should be tipped 2/3 according to their service and 1/3 according to how much you are winning or losing. There is no firm social norm but I suggest about one half your average bet per hour. The smaller your average bet the greater the ratio of tip to bet should be. Cocktail waitresses should get $1 per drink, and water counts. I highly recommend for more information on proper cocktail waitress etiquette. Tipping in electronic games, namely slots, video poker, and video keno, is a matter of much debate with no firm social norm. After discussing this with a number of experts in this area I think a good rule of thumb is to tip 0.5% to 1.0% on any jackpot requiring a hand pay. The smaller the jackpot the larger the percentage.
In an earlier edition of my etiquette tips I incorrectly said the player should only feel obligated to tip if the dealer is friendly and they are winning. Here is what some dealers had to say:
Love your page and agree with almost all your opinions I’ve read with the notable exception of tipping. As a person with years of experience dealing, I take exception to your advice in regards to not tipping unless you are winning. We dealers work just as hard for you regardless of your good fortune or, unfortunately more often, your bad. I, and most other dealers I know, feel that after any length of time at a table a tip should be offered occasionally even when losing. Now don’t get me wrong. If you were to sit down and lose continuously, obviously I wouldn’t think a tip would be forthcoming (I also think a change of tables, games, casinos or plans for the day would be in order). Since tips are given in return for a courteous service provided, tips shouldn’t be withheld based on gambling success.
Thank You, Dave
Here is what another dealer said:
I appreciate that you provided a rebuttal for your tipping policy. Playing at a table with a friendly efficient dealer and failing to tip because you didn’t win is the same as receiving good service from a restaurant and not tipping the wait staff because you didn’t like the flavor of the soup. The waitress and dealer serve, with the understanding that you will tip if the service is good, they don’t cook the food or decide the outcome of the game. If you can’t afford the food and the tip for the server, eat at home. If you can’t afford to gamble and tip the dealer, play at home. A tip is the price of the service, not tipping is stealing the service.
In the spirit of providing dealer comments here is another one:
I get so tired of being blamed for people losing, for being called names and for people getting so mad when they lose. I am also tired of dealing to drunk people. I work the graveyard shift and have for years now. I deal to intoxicated people often and it’s no fun at all. In my opinion, the best player is the one who comes for fun and has a good attitude. If my cards aren’t friendly, then move on to another table. We as dealers are teased a lot about being mean and taking people’s money and while a lot of it’s fun (we tease back too!!)....the player that gets too mad & frustrated because he’s losing shouldn’t be there at all!
Biloxi Blackjack Dealer
Here are some more comments from a dealer about the etiquette of tipping:
I’m glad someone is curious about the topic of tipping. Dealers make minimum wage, plus tips. As dealers, we want all of the players to win so that they will come across with tips. Remember that pit bosses, hosts, and mangement want the players to lose because they are accountable for the “hold” to the owners (who give out bonus checks). The bottom line is that dealers are the only friends the players have when playing table games. It’s time for more players to treat dealers like friends. I can say with great confidence that less than 40% of the people who play blackjack tip the dealer. God bless the people who do tip!!!
Most casino dealers share tips, but the one I work for, and a few others keep their own tips. Players can always ask the dealer how tips are handled. Players will generally get better service in a casino where dealers keep their own tips. Regardless of which casino players are in, tipping is greatly appreciated because we depend on tips to survive. Being a dealer is much like being a waiter or bartender. Most people won’t go out to eat if they can not afford to tip the food server; the same should apply to gambling in casinos. We dealers call tippers “Live” or “George,” and we call non-tippers “Stiffs.” I don’t mind dealing to Stiffs as long as they don’t expect me to do anything but deal the game. There’s nothing worse than dealing to a table full of Stiffs who want to be catered to, entertained, and talked to for the entire hour, but none of them are courteous enough to tip. Most Stiffs just don’t know the etiquette of tipping because management doesn’t allow dealers to encourage players to tip. A George is a high-roller who hands out hundred, five hundred, and thousand dollar chips to dealers. Georges are rare, but they’re out there and are held in the highest regard by dealers. These are the players who make pit bosses wish they were still dealers. If a player wants to be considered Live, all they have to do is put the dealer up for .50 cents or a dollar on most hands they play (doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up quickly). Don’t hand the money in; bet it for the dealer. Players can ask the dealer how to bet the tip if they don’t already know. Players should definitely not wait until the dealer goes on break before they finally give a tip; this isn’t a cab ride, it’s per-hand service. Bottom line: Don’t be Stiff, be Live, and your casino experience is guaranteed to be much more enjoyable.
The following letter expresses another point of view regarding some of Chuck’s comments:
After reading a posted letter from a Dealer (Chuck) in your Gambling Etiquette section concerning tipping, I had to comment on a few of his statements. I have been in the casino business for 14 years at 8 different casinos (all in the Table Games department) and am currently an Assistant Manager in Tucson, Arizona.
Although I agree with Chuck the Dealer that guests should tip Dealers, I don’t agree with the implied assumption that guests should tip all Dealers. Tipping, as you have pointed out, should be based on guest service. Most casinos in Arizona (as well as most of the west coast) are “keep your own” so we deal with the entitlement issue every day. Although our Dealers do very well, there are always some who are never happy with how much they make. These seem to be the ones who have the attitude that they are entitled to more, even though their guest service (or dealing) skills are less than acceptable. If a Dealer, like any other service industry employee, wants to improve their bottom line, they should work to enhance their guest service skills. Remember, as a Dealer, you are a front line employee and there for the guest.
I also don’t agree with Chuck’s statement, “I don’t mind dealing to Stiffs as long as they don’t expect me to do anything but deal the game.” As Table Games Management, we expect all Dealers to both deal their games to procedure as well as deliver excellent guest service regardless of the amount of tips they receive. I doubt Chucks employer would care much for his attitude. It sounds as though he is shooting himself in the foot--remember Chuck, all guests are potential tippers! Why would a guest tip you if you are doing nothing but “dealing the game?” Even though it’s an easy job, you still have to work.
Chuck is also quite misdirected with the statement that Pit Bosses, Hosts and Management want the guests to lose. On the contrary, we like nothing more than to see guests win and leave happy. It is not a question of wanting them to lose (remember, the odds are stacked in our favor). We don’t want the guest to lose--they will lose. Gone are the days of the “old school” casinos where they sweat the money and look at every guest as a potential cheat. The new casino attitude is not “us against them,” but “how can we make the guests experience more enjoyable?” As the Wizard can tell you, the numbers will take care of themselves.
Chuck mentions that Management does not allow Dealers to encourage players to tip, implying that we don’t want our Dealers to make money. Casino Management does not allow Dealers to ask for tips (or hustle, as in hustling for tips) for obvious reasons — we don’t want beggars dealing our games. Imagine how a guest would feel if their Dealer tried to “shame” them into tipping. I have never been to a restaurant and had the waiter/waitress tell me how to tip and how much I should give them for their service. As mentioned before, the guest should tip based on service and not because they were pressured into it by a greedy Dealer.
I’m very glad that the subject of tipping has come up on your website so that players can become more educated on how and why they should tip. I have never worked with anyone in casino management who does not want their front line employees to be successful financially. On the contrary, I want our Dealers to be successful! If they are making lots of tips that means that our guests are happy and enjoy their experience in our casino and with our staff. That also means they will return to our casino and not go to our competitors. In both a management and front line sense, that is job security!
This section is dedicated to Brian Coppersmith, a decent gambler but a habitual violator of gambling etiquette.