What to expect at the tables and how to act

If you've never gambled in a casino it can be a little intimidating sitting down at a table for the first time. There's really no need to be hesitant, though. While new gamblers are sure to commit a faux paus or two, rest assured that it's almost impossible for you to make any major mistakes. Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

Know which game you're joining and know the table minimum

There are few things more embarrassing in Vegas than sitting down, tossing out a $5 chip and then being told, "I'm sorry, sir, this is a $50 table." So before sitting down, look for a small plastic sign at one side of the gaming table. This will tell you exactly what is being played and the minimum bet for the table.

Buying into the game

When you want to join a game, wait for a break in the action and place your paper money on the table, but don't place it directly in the area reserved for bets (these are usually marked with a square or circle). The dealer can't take the money directly from your hand, so you have to place it on the table. They'll then count it out and give you chips in return. If you plan on enjoying the complimentary drinks the casino makes available, it's a good idea to ask the dealer to give you some chips in singles ($1 denomination) to use as tips for the cocktail waitresses.

Something to be careful of: If you accidentally place your cash in the betting square, the dealer may ask "Money plays?" This means they want to know if you wish to risk all the cash on one bet instead of buying chips. If this happens, just tell them no, that you're buying in.

Watch your hands

Dealers and pit bosses are understandably touchy about touching, since it's a favorite method of cheaters to change their bets or mark cards. Here's the rule to follow: If you're a game where the cards are dealt face up, don't touch anything other than your chips, and only then before cards are dealt (or in special cases like doubling down or splitting; see the blackjack section for details on those). If cards are dealt face down, touch them only with one hand. If you're playing a game with dice, follow the one-hand rule and don't pull them away from the table.

Wait your turn

Everything a dealer does is done in order. Asking for a player's decision, taking their bets, making payoffs, etc. Keep an eye on how everything proceeds, but don't panic if your winnings aren't paid out immediately. They'll get to you.

Speak up

If you're unsure of what to do or how something works, ask the dealer. Unless they're a real jerk they won't mind answering. Helping new players learn the game is part of their job.

Tables aren't a place for phones or cameras

If you have to make or take a call, step away from the table. If you're on the phone for more than few seconds you'll likely be asked to hang up or move away. Photography is also off limits, so as much as you'd love to get a picture of you and your buddies playing blackjack, the pit bosses don't feel nearly as friendly about it. Keep your camera in your pocket.

Settling on the right table limit

Probably the most common mistake gamblers make is betting too large. There is no formula that tells you how much you should bet, but a good rule of thumb for a Vegas newbie is to estimate how much they could bet per round -- on a hand of blackjack, for example -- then halve that. In other words, if you think you can bet $10 per hand without damaging your bankroll, try betting $5 for starters. You can always increase your base unit later if it's clear that doing so won't hurt you.

When to leave the table

Maybe the most difficult thing for a gambler to do is to leave a table when they're losing. Being disciplined enough to walk away with a small loss, though, often saves you from an even larger one. There's nothing hard-and-fast that will clue you in that it's time go, but following this one rule will help staunch the bleeding of your wallet. As soon as the following thought enters your head, immediately gather the chips you have remaining and leave the table: "I'm just going to play until I am back to even, then I'll quit."

Of course if leaving the table while losing is the hardest thing for a gambler, leaving while winning is the second hardest. Staying too long is dangerous, though. Many a winning session has turned into a losing one because a player couldn't bring themselves to stop playing. Here's the thought that should key you that it's time to pocket your winnings an move on: "As soon as I get 'X' dollars I'll quit." Don't wait for whatever mythical figure that is, just quit. Trying to reach round numbers is particularly a problem, so don't fixate on them. Really, what's the difference between a $487 profit and a $500 one?

Really, there's no such thing as a free drink

Want to see a pit boss smile? If you're on a losing streak and really feel it's time to leave the table, say out loud, "I'll just play until that drink I ordered gets here."

That "free" cocktail coming your way may end up taking another 40 or 50 bucks out of your pocket.

When it's time to leave it's time to leave. Forget about the booze. You can buy your own drink at the bar for $4. Consider it a money-saving investment.

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