If you’re like me and haven’t been formally trained in table etiquette, formal dinners are daunting; you’re not sure what fork to use for your salad, which direction to pass the butter, what the hell to do with your napkin when you get up, or whether that’s your water or your neighbor’s. However, after learning a few simple rules, you can enjoy your meal stress free… oh shit, wrong table etiquette!
Just like a formal dinner can be unnerving for someone who hasn’t had etiquette training, table games can be intimidating for first time players. While experience is the best teacher, keeping in mind a few simple rules will make for a smooth and painless transition into a table game pro.
Etiquette varies by game, but there are a couple of universal rules that I will cover here that will have you well on your way to blending in as a seasoned gambler. These will pertain to appeasing surveillance, interacting with the dealer, and socializing with other players. I’ll save specific rules/superstitions for specific games for their guides.
Smile for the camera(s)
Sorry to thwart your dreams of living out Oceans Eleven or 21, but casinos have extensive surveillance systems in place. The little black orbs that you see every few feet on the ceiling are cameras (colloquially known as the “eye in the sky“) that cover every inch of the casino floor. With large surveillance rooms staffed 24/7/365 by multiple people, Big Brother is always watching.
Table games are the most susceptible to cheating, since the dealer and/or player have the potential to manipulate the cards, so they are under increased scrutiny. Dealers are closely watched to make sure that they aren’t stealing money or tampering with games. This is why you will see them wave or shake out their hands after handling money, shuffling cards, or picking up something from the table. Players are also also monitored, to keep honest people honest and make sure that they aren’t cheating or stealing chips. This requires you to do a couple of things when interacting with the dealer.
Interacting with the Dealer
Wait for a good time to buy in
In general, you want to wait until the previous hand is resolved, winners have been paid, and the dealer is ready to help you. If you’re not sure when that is, you can just sit down and hold your players card and cash in your hand until the dealer asks if you’d like to buy in, and they’ll take it from there.
If you try to buy in too early, more superstitious players may be annoyed.
When buying into a Blackjack game, it’s good form to either wait until the end of the deck (also known as “the shoe“) or ask if you can buy in earlier; people will usually say yes, but asking is polite.
You can buy into Roulette or Pai Gow Poker after the dealer has finished paying players and the table is clear.
Buying into a Craps game is the most challenging, since many players are superstitious and there are certain times that placing your money on the table could frustrate them. The best time is when the dice are being passed to a new shooter.
Don’t touch dealers or hand them anything
You should never hand a dealer anything directly. Instead, you should place your cash/ID/chips on the table and wait for them to pick it up and set it back down on the table before taking it. If you’re giving someone something, your natural tendency is to hand it to them, but that is counterproductive in a casino; it will create more work and frustration for the dealer. While it may feel rude and impersonal to place it on the table, it makes the transaction faster and easier for everyone.
Note: Cocktail waitresses and security are an exception to this. You can hand them your ID directly, since they don’t handle cash or have the ability to manipulate games.
Signal your intent
It is important to physically signal your intent. Even if it’s an obvious play or you’ve verbally indicated your intent, you need to make a gesture as well — the dealers are not supposed to continue until you’ve signaled your intent to the eye in the sky.
The dealers will help you with the specific gestures for the game you’re playing, but common ones include waving your hand parallel to the table to stay, or hitting/scratching the table for an additional card. Gesturing without having to be constantly reminded will keep the game running smoothly.
Don’t touch cards (at least until it’s time)
If the cards are dealt face up, you should never touch them. Most Blackjack games are dealt face up, and there is no reason to touch the cards, since you will express your intent with a gesture. Dealers get jumpy when players touch the cards (since they could be marking them, or adding/removing cards).
If your hand is dealt face down, you should only pick it up after the dealer signals you can; this is usually when they are finished dealing and no longer have cards in their hand. Pai Gow Poker, as well as most other poker variants, is dealt face down. Resist the temptation to look at your hand right away, and wait until the dealer signals and other players pick up their hands. If you’re unsure when you can look at your hand, you can ask, but you’ll quickly pick it up through observation (pun intended).
Wait until pays are complete
After you win, you may be tempted to pick up your winnings immediately. However, you need to wait until everyone is paid out.
Again, this looks a bit different for each game, but you’ll pick it up fast. As a general rule, wait until every winner has been paid and the dealer is setting up for the next hand.
For Roulette, you need to wait until all winning bets have been paid and the number marker has been removed.
For Blackjack and Pai Gow Poker, you can safely collect your winnings after all of the winning bets have been paid and the dealer is collecting the cards.
For Craps, you can safely collect your winnings after the dealer has completed going around the table to pay winning bets.
Stay off your phone
Keep your electronics in your pocket. Dealers will scold you if you have your phone out at the table (or are messing with your smart watch) since you could be using it to cheat. If you need to check your texts or take a call, step away from the table to do so.
Tip your dealer
This has nothing to do with the eye in the sky (unless you believe in a bigger Eye in the sky and/or karma), but please be a decent person and tip your dealer.
Interacting with Other Players
Don’t jump in and out
You aren’t a rabbit, so don’t hop between tables. Since you have to buy in/color down when you arrive and color up when you leave, it’s a pain in the ass to jump tables. Additionally, it will annoy other players who will have to wait as you get situated.
Once you’re at a Blackjack table, you should plan to bet on every hand. Many players will get annoyed if you jump in and out of hands, since they think that you’re “messing up the deck.” In reality, the odds remain the same regardless, but this can annoy people and cause frustration at the table, so it’s best to bet every hand. This doesn’t apply as much to Craps, Roulette, or Pai Gow Poker since the game continues the same way regardless of your bet, however, dealers or pit bosses may ask you to make a wager or stand up.
Only celebrate table wins
If you are one of the only players to get paid, it’s rude to celebrate loudly. It’s okay to be happy or show some relief, but other players might get mad at you if you carry on.
A “table win” is when everyone at the table gets paid. These commonly occur when the dealer busts in Blackjack, the shooter hits their point in Craps, or the dealer has a Pai Gow (bad hand) in Pai Gow poker, and lots of people win. You can (and should) celebrate these moments with your friends at the table! These are magical moments, and they should be celebrated with a table shot whenever possible.
Just do it!
I know it’s intimidating, but take after Nike and just do it! I waited a year to work up the courage to buy into a table game, and I wish I’d never waited. The atmosphere at a table is so fun, and I have met some of the most interesting people at the tables. Everyone’s there to have a good time (and if they’re not, leave!), so make the most of it.
Don’t be shy asking questions, especially as a beginner. Instead of fretting over what to do, just ask. If you own your inexperience, people will be happy to help. When you sit down, say something along the lines of “I haven’t played much before, so tell me if I do something dumb,” and everyone will be supportive and friendly!
Spread a dealer tip across the table
Bet for the dealer on top of each of the players’ hands soon after sitting down. Those who know that they can tip the dealer will respect you, and those who don’t will ask, and you can educate them about the importance of tipping. Not only will it bring the table together, but the dealer will go out of their way to help you.