If ads for casinos were true, each one would be a glittering palace where the drinks flowed freely, the blackjacks never ended, and chips rained down from the sky. But it's not so simple. There's enough lingo (what's a nickel?), etiquette (not celebrating if everyone else busts), and unspoken rules (don't jinx a hot shooter) to make your eyes spin like slot machines.
After spending an embarrassing amount of my twenties (both years and bills) in casinos, I've made some bad decisions, and witnessed countless others. Don't be like me. Don't do any of these things in a casino.
Thinking you'll win money
Disabuse yourself of this notion immediately. Nobody's opening up Blockbuster franchises anymore for a reason -- there's no money in it. Casinos, on the other hand, pop up on a regular basis. There are roughly 1,500 in the US alone, and it's because they're proven moneymakers. Not to be confused with Chris Moneymaker, an unproven player who changed the poker world in 2003. But as for casinos, well, they make money because of that thing called a house advantage. Sure, you can win money, but if you play long enough, you won't.
Going to make rent
Arguably an extension of the previous idea, but a more drastically stupid example. You're not Lola from Run Lola Run. But if you actually are Lola from Run Lola Run, I enjoyed your work in The Bourne Identity. Though I'm still not sold on how you came out with such a great haircut when Matt Damon chopped your locks off into a bathtub.
Going back to the ATM
Know exactly how much money you're willing to drop in a given period of time. Bring that to the table with you, and if you lose it, take a break and go to the bar. You're not gonna win your money back. I once saw a guy on a fixed income lose $10,000 in the span of three hours, and he kept saying, "My pacemaker can't take this." That's how you get a pacemaker in the first place.
Borrowing money from a friend
It's like going back to the ATM, except you're not sharing a room with the ATM, and the ATM won't email you next week, asking where its money is.
Paying for your drinks
And if you are, then there are only one of two possible reasons why: you're either in a casino that doesn't comp drinks, which means you're not in Las Vegas, or you simply have no idea what you're doing. If it's the former, well, don't get your hopes too high about what kind of a place you're throwing your money around in. A lot of states have laws prohibiting free drinks. If it's the latter, well, you're just not making the most of your time and money.
Spilling your drink on the table
This bad decision is not casino-specific. You look like a dumbass when you spill a drink in a bar. But spilling your drink in a casino multiplies your dumbassery by 10 -- with just the flick of the wrist, you've single-handedly forced your table to close and everyone sitting at it to relocate to a new lucky table. And if you've ever been in a casino, you'd know that crusty and friendly types alike do not enjoy giving up the warm chair they've occupied for hours. Use the cupholder.
Not tipping your waitress
She doesn't put on that skimpy outfit and haul around drinks because she likes being called "Honey," and having insurance salesmen in town for a conference ogling her. If you're willing to lose your money at a table game, you can afford to give her a buck per drink.
Not tipping your dealer
He doesn't put on that vest and haul around cards because he likes being called... OK, you get the joke. But whether you win money, or lose money, you should always be tipping your dealer. They usually pool the money and split it among the crew, so get them in the game with a small bet. If you're betting $20 per hand, put a $5 chip up there every now and again for the dealer. If you both win... you both win. And if you both lose, they still keep the tip.
Sitting down at a silent table
Find the table that's making the most noise. Generally, that means people are: a) winning, b) drinking, c) winning and drinking, and d) having a good time. You're there to have a good time, after all, which will be exponentially increased by a table full of people drinking, yelling, and high-fiving each other. Because this correlates strongly with the table winning money. And you like winning money. Once, I got cleaned out at a blackjack table and moved to another with three dudes drinking for a bachelor party -- we played together for nine hours. Granted, I went to work the next morning on no sleep, but I was also $2,000 richer.
Hitting on 16 in Blackjack vs. paint
No, it has nothing to do with the age of consent inside a casino. That's 21 in the US, anyway. But a fair number of people will tell you, "Never hit on 16," when you're against a dealer's face card.
Not hitting on 16 in Blackjack vs. paint
Conversely, plenty of people will tell you the exact opposite -- that you should ALWAYS hit on 16. Well, if the dealer has a 7 or better, you're giving yourself a fighting chance.
Splitting 10s in Blackjack
If you want to sit at a Blackjack table by yourself and lose money, do this. Otherwise, do not do this.
Making field bets in Craps
Every bet is a sucker bet, if you play the numbers. But making Horn Bets, or placing chips on "hard" anything is basically just throwing your money into the wind. There's a time and a place for that -- it's called the early evening at the Spearmint Rhino. Although it IS still funny to yell out "HARD DICK!" to get the stick man thinking you're throwing chips down on hard six.
Treating $100 in Craps like $100 in any other game
Craps offers the most action (i.e. betting) of any casino game. And when a shooter's running hot, there's no more fun place in the house. But all those bets add up quick. If you're betting behind (you should), a bet that minimizes the house advantage, your little $5 wager can quickly turn into $50 on the table, depending on where you play. I've lost $500 in 10 minutes making $20 bets. It's not fun.
As the adage goes, if you can't spot the sucker at the table, you are the sucker. Low-limit poker games have plenty of fish (bad players), but also plenty of sharks. So while you may think your Tuesday night poker game skills, wraparound sunglasses, and iPod make you seem like a pro, taking three minutes to debate a $10 raise just makes you look like a clown. As do the wraparound sunglasses.
Winning a huge pot at poker, then cashing out
Everyone at the table will be thinking about how they want to beat the living tar out of you, and if they see you at a club later, or out on the street, well, they just might. Also, why are you filled with living tar?
Touching anyone else's chips
Have you ever examined a sidewalk up close? This is an excellent way to do that.
Trying to take your chips before everyone else is paid out
This is just an amateur-hour move. The dealer is trained to pay everyone in a specific order. Wait your turn -- nobody's trying to pull any tricks on you. You will get yours in due time.
Thinking that hot babe alone by the slots is into you
She's a prostitute.
Showing up to a club with all your boys
Quite a number of casinos double as the home to some of the world's most ridiculous clubs. But showing up with a gaggle of high school buddies while trying to get into a place like Moon after midnight is a fantastic way to not get into Moon until 2am.
Taking pictures of anything
It's a Las Vegas cliche but it's true. Casino hosts and pit bosses do not take kindly to photography under any circumstances.
Thinking you know how to count cards
No matter how many times you've seen the movie 21, just remember: you're not Kevin Spacey. Or even the doofus who'd never have a shot with Kate Bosworth in real life. Stick to basic strategy, ask the dealer what you should do if you're uncertain, and keep sucking down your free drinks.
Walking away from a slot machine
Because those things are programmed to pay out to the next retired person who strolls by and randomly tosses in a coin. Probably.
Berating anyone, ever
Yelling at another poker player for a bad beat? They call that "tapping the fish bowl," and it's bad form. Acting like the dealer "screwed you" by dealing two 15s when you split in Blackjack? That's just asinine. Imagine if someone showed up at your cubicle and berated you for successfully sending an email, just because they didn't like your word choice. That's basically what you're doing here. Don't do it. Don't.
The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas
Filling up on carbs at the buffet
Maybe you just wanna pig out on sushi. Sushi is great. But all that rice is going to fill you up. Go for the all-you-can-eat moneymakers. Namely, proteins. Crab legs? Might as well be painted in gold leaf. Prime rib? You're not making that at home. Soup? It's spiced up water. While you may not turn to dust like the dude at the end ofIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it still behooves you to choose your buffet holy grail (i.e. plate) wisely.
Going to the dinner buffet instead of the lunch buffet
Much like at high-end restaurants, buffets offer essentially the same food for a lesser price at lunch. At some places, the price difference is negligible. But at, say, the Wynn, the difference is $18 on a weekday. Sure, you might miss out on caviar on Friday and Saturday nights at the Bellagio -- but are you really going to a buffet on a weekend night to eat caviar?
Not using a player rewards card
Most casinos are owned by some larger conglomerate, like Harrah's or MGM Resorts International. For you, that means playing at a casino that's part of a larger group of casinos can pay off in comps. What are comps? Well, depending on how much money you bet, and how long you play a given game, you accrue free stuff. Sometimes, that's just a sandwich after a few hours. But sometimes, it can be a free room in a nicer hotel. I've played enough time in one casino in Windsor, Ontario, to get free rooms for several weekends in Vegas. And I don't even bet that much.
Not asking for comps
If you have a player rewards card, guest services and managers are out to give you a pleasant experience, and that often translates to additional free stuff. By simply asking, "Can I get my room comped?" or "Can I get a free buffet?" you stand a much better chance of getting better freebies. You have nothing to lose -- they might say no. They might also say yes. And free prime rib and key lime pie are the best prime rib and key lime pie.
If you can't afford or refuse to split your cards or double down when the time calls for it in Blackjack, just take your chips and head over to the bar. At least there, you'll know exactly how much your drinks cost.
Being "up" for the night, then just betting it all on black
Or, if you're not Wesley Snipes, on red. Either way, you're up $100 and figure, "Why wouldn't I want to be up $200?" Because there's actually a better chance you're up $0 when it comes time to leave.
Ryan Craggs is Thrillist's Travel Editor. He cut his teeth in underground card games and gambled his way through college. Follow him @ryanrcraggs.