Table games are fun because the odds are generally better than machines, they’re more social, and you have the benefit of a dealer (and often other players) who are happy to help you. They can be intimidating because there is some basic table etiquette you have to follow, but everyone is playing against the house, so the players will all be friendly! The games are pretty simple and the dealers are always happy to help and pretty patient as long as you follow some basic rules I’ll outline below.
- Pai Gow Poker
- Ultimate Texas Hold Em/3 Card/4 Card Poker
Advantages of Table Games
Everyone goes to Las Vegas to have a good time, so people are usually in a pleasant mood and very friendly. Everyone is playing against the dealer, so the sense of camaraderie furthers the friendships. There’s nothing more satisfying than celebrating a table win with a table full of your friends (be they new or old); some of my favorite memories in Las Vegas are from the tables
Even though you’re playing against the dealer’s hand, they’re there to help you. They can give you advice on the correct plays in every game, so don’t be shy asking questions. If you tell them that it’s your first time playing, they’ll take good care of you and look out for you. Dealers also have their own personality, so it can be fun to get to know them and enjoy the unique mood they set.
Table games have some of the best odds in the casino. Playing Blackjack or Craps with good strategy reduces the house edge to less than 2%. This translates to more play time and more free drinks!
Slower rate of play
The pace of the game is much slower at the tables, especially when you’re at a table full of friendly people. Whereas you can expect to go through 20-30 spins a minute on slots, at the tables you will go through about 60 blackjack hands or 45 roulette spins an hour. Although you’re betting more, you’re doing it less frequently. With the decreased volatility of most table games, it’s a good bet that you’ll last a while… all while taking advantage of the free drinks!
Tables games have the best drink service in the casino. Since it’s a smaller area for the cocktail waitress to cover (and table games generally require more strategy, which diminishes with intoxication), drinks are always flowing freely.
Disadvantages of Table Games
Higher minimum bets
Although the rate of play is slower at table games, the minimum bet is higher. It evens out in the long run, but the $5 minimum bet per hand (as low as you will find in Las Vegas) can be intimidating.
As I discuss in my guide to table etiquette, it’s considered poor taste to jump in and out of a blackjack or craps game. Pai Gow and Roulette are a little more forgiving, but it’s still difficult to table hop. Most table games aren’t well-suited to one off bets, but if you’ve got time to belly up, they’re great.
Rating can be hit or miss
Rating (how you are credited with points while gambling at tables) is an imperfect science, since it depends on the pit boss’ discretion. Frustratingly, you can’t see the points as you earn them, which can make it challenging if you’re targeting a certain amount for a promotion. To make matters worse, since table games have better odds, you earn fewer points per dollar wagered (which is offset by the better payout).
Intimidating for beginners
Many beginners are intimidated by the process of buying into a table game, following the appropriate casino etiquette, and interacting with dealers. These concerns are usually overblown; I firmly believe that table games can be just as accessible, fun, and stress-free as machines, and hope to show you how throughout Viva Las Value.
The big difference between table games and machines is how you bet your money. Before you can place a bet at a table, you need to convert your cash into chips. Each casino has different designs on their chips, but they are always in the same denominations and (usually) the same color. These are as follows:
$1 – white or blue, also known as “singles”
$5 – red, also known as “nickels”
$25 – green, also known as “quarters”
$100 – black
$500 – purple
$1000 – orange
There are also denominations for $5000, $25000, and $100000, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the colors, since I have never held one. (If you’re balling out that hard, please excuse my shameless plug and feel free to make a karma donation to support Viva Las Value.)
Buying In and Cashing Out
When you decide to buy in to a table, you will sit down and place your players card and cash (no TITOs accepted) on the table; etiquette for this can vary slightly by game, so be sure to read my guide for your specific game.
The dealer may ask you something along the lines of “how would you like it?” They’re not propositioning you, but rather asking you what denomination you’d like your chips. If you wanted all $5 chips, you could ask for $5 chips, or show off your new lingo and request “all reds” or “all nickels.” Don’t worry too much here, because you can always get change or break your chips.
Over the course of your game, you may need to break some of your larger chips into smaller ones. To do this, wait until the table is clear of cards and push the chip(s) toward the dealer and ask for change. They will break your chip(s) into smaller denominations and slide them towards you.
You can also push a stack of lower denomination chips towards the dealer and ask to color up, which means get the largest possible chip. This can be a useful strategy for protecting winnings.
When you’re ready to cash out, you will probably have a collection of chips of different colors. You can just up and leave, but if you have a lot of chips, it can be hard to carry all of them. The casinos, in their unending benevolence (and desire to keep track of how much money is going in and out) offer you the option to color up, or consolidate your chips into the the least amount of chips. So if you had $135 of assorted chips, they would give you a black chip ($100), a green chip ($25), and two red chips ($10).
To color up, stack all of your chips into a pile (if you have a lot, two or three shorter piles are better than one tall, wobbly disaster waiting to happen), and slide it towards the dealer when the table is clear. If you’d like, you can count out and only push in an amount that’s easily divisible by 5/25/100, or you can slide your whole chip collection forward and the dealer will figure it out for you. The dealer will know what you’re doing, but you can ask them to “color me up” just to be sure. They will count your chips, stack them for the cameras, and give you the corresponding chips. You can then take these chips to another table, repeating the process to change them, or bring them to the cashier to cash out.
To cash your chips out, you will bring them to the cashier. When cashing out with a cashier, they may ask how you’d like your money, but even if they don’t, you can always ask. “Large” means the biggest possible dollar. You can request $50s, otherwise they will usually default to $20s or $100s. Chips are only valid in the casino where they are issued, so I recommend cashing them out before you leave.
Each table game has a minimum amount that you have to bet to play. These can range from $5 to $100. The limits will be posted on placards or video signs in the corner of the table. If you can’t find this, or have questions, you can always ask the dealer and they will gladly tell you.
You can always bet more than the table minimum (up to the table maximum, which I have never come close to), but you need to bet at least the minimum every hand.
Table minimums tend to be lower during less crowded times, such as weekdays or the morning/afternoon.
Just like servers, dealers are paid a low hourly wage and rely on tips. You have two options when it comes to tipping dealers. You can just give them a direct tip, or you can gamble for them.
If you’d like to tip directly, just toss them a chip after the hand and say “this is a tip for you.”
Most dealers prefer that you gamble it for them so they can share in the action, and have the chance to double their tip. Although it varies slightly based on the game, you generally will place your tip at the top of the betting circle/square, above your bet, and say “that’s a bet for you.” If you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to ask, as they will be more than happy to help you tip them! If your hand wins, the dealer will also win, and will collect your original tip bet and the winnings on it, effectively doubling their tip; if your hand loses, they will not get anything.
You can also bet for dealers above other players’ hands following the same steps, which goes a long way towards building a good table community.
It’s up to you how often you tip, but it’s common practice to do it after a big win, when you’re doing well, and/or periodically. Just like everything in Las Vegas, the more you tip, the better service you’ll receive.
General Steps for Gambling at a Table
Table games vary a lot, but they all have some steps in common; check out my guides for more information on specific games.
- Check the table minimum
- Wait until a stopping point in the game
- Place players card and cash on the table
- Tell the dealer what denomination of chips you’d like
- Place at least the minimum in the betting circle/square
- Play hand
- Repeat bet as many times as you’d like
- Tip periodically
- Enjoy free drinks
- Wait until a stopping point in the game
- Push stack of chips towards dealer and ask to color up
- Collect your chips
- Move to a new table and repeat or cash out chips at the cashier
Ask the dealer
Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer (or other players) for help! If you tell the table you’re new when you sit down, people will be eager to help you out. In most table games, the dealer can even give you advice on how to play, so take advantage of it — they deal hundreds of hands a day, so they know what they’re doing. These relationships are especially helpful when you’re 8 Heinekens deep and not adding very well (just trust me on this one).
A $1 dealer bet every couple hands will quickly win your dealer over. Dealers have a lot of control over the game, so it’s good to have them like you; if you make a mistake in play, they’ll double check with you, and if you screw up, they’ll be a lot more patient. Not only that, but it’s good karma and it makes you feel like a high-roller.
My signature move is to make a $1 bet for the dealer above every player’s hand. Not only can it be a big payday for the dealer, but it usually encourages others at the table to tip and gets some good table camaraderie going.
Talk to people
Even if you’re an introvert like me, it’s worth coming out of your shell and striking up conversation at the table. Remember, everyone is there to have a good time! You meet all kinds of people at the table, and my temporary friends have ended up being some of my most lasting Vegas memories — I’m looking at you, the unnamed Singaporean business man, the couple that just moved to Las Vegas on a whim, Beverly from Britain, and the Canadian lady who helped me monitor my flight after my phone got lost/stolen.
Check out my sister post on machines to see how they compare to table games.
Then, once you’ve got the differences down, head over to my overview of casino games to pick the game(s) you want to try!