What to know about gambling before you go to Vegas

If you fancy placing a bet or two (or 20), you’ve hit the jackpot in Las Vegas.

Gambling in all of its forms has been legal in Nevada since 1931, which has made Las Vegas the essential place in the USA to let it ride, double down and max bet (oh my!). Even with other states legalizing casinos and sports betting as well as Native American tribes unveiling casino-resort destinations, Sin City remains in a class of its own.  

And yet…that grumpy chain-smoking dude at the blackjack table judging your every hit. The hundreds of lights blinking at you on a single slot machine. The seemingly endless plusses and minuses on a sportsbook screen glaring down on the masses. We’d forgive gambling rookies for finding it all very intimidating. 

But don’t be scared. Las Vegas is as friendly as it gets in terms of easing into your new favorite game. 

In between strolling The Strip, a day trip into the desert and seeing a fabulous show, chances are you’ll want to give the tables and slots a shot. When you do, here are the answers to any Las Vegas gambling rookie’s key questions.

How many different games can I play in Vegas?

With new games being unveiled seemingly every day – particularly from slot-machine manufacturers – you can easily gamble hundreds of different ways under the roof of a single Las Vegas casino. Table games include such classics as blackjack, roulette, craps, baccarat and various forms of poker, like Ultimate Texas Hold ’Em and Three Card Poker. 

Slot machines feature thousands of different themes, paylines and jackpot options. Among the most omnipresent machines citywide are Megabucks and Wheel of Fortune, which have progressive statewide jackpots that often reach the million-plus level. Sports betting is also a significant draw: you can bet on everything from big-time NFL battles to a small soccer match in Colombia. In some casinos, you’ll even find halls where you can play bingo. 

What are the rules? 

You must be 21 years or older to gamble and drink in Las Vegas casinos. An important yet unspoken rule in our increasingly digital world: casinos don’t take kindly to folks being on the phone during table game action. This policy extends to taking phone calls, scrolling digital inboxes and making Google searches as to whether or not you should hit on 12 against a dealer’s 6 at a blackjack table. (Don’t tire your fingers: the answer is no.)

As for game-specific rules, your best bet is to simply ask a dealer or pit boss before you sit down. Don’t make the rookie mistake of plopping it at a table, betting $100 and saying, “Um, how do I play this?” Settle in at an empty or relatively empty table game – and don’t be bashful in getting your questions answered before diving in.

What about refreshments? In Nevada, you can indeed drink for free while gambling. If you’re feeding a video poker machine embedded in a casino bar, count on the bartender comping your drinks. The same goes for when you’re sitting at slot machines and table games: cocktail waiters and waitresses make regular rounds. Whether your drinks are comped or not (and, really, especially if they’re not), make sure to tip your bartenders and waiters with each round. 

If you don’t quite follow the rules for table games like craps, feel free to ask the dealer for a primer © Sean Locke / Stocksy

What is the etiquette? And what about strategies for the different games?

Remember that you will be playing every game (save for the action in poker rooms) against the dealer (or “house”). You are not competing against the person at the slot machine next to yours, the dice roller that’s on fire at the craps table or your fellow players at the blackjack table.

Don’t be afraid to ask the dealer general questions about both etiquette and strategy. You’ll be sure to get an opinion – but remember that this is gambling, and you may want to go with your gut regardless. Here are a few pro tips that align with the odds of common games: 

  • Blackjack: Stay if your cards add up to 12 or more and the dealer has a 3, 4, 5 or 6 showing.
  • Three Card Poker: Play if you have a Queen–6–4 or better.
  • Video poker: Always place the maximum bet, as there is a higher bonus payout should you hit a coveted royal flush.

How much money should I bring to place bets with?

This is contingent on how much money you are willing to lose. Casinos are in business to make money, after all – and the house always has the edge. Always.

Bet minimums run the gamut in Las Vegas – you can wager a (literal) penny on select slot machine spins, or $100,000-plus on a single roulette spin at a high-limit table. Before sitting down at any machine or table, note the minimum and maximum bets posted – and place yours accordingly. 

Given that ATM machines within casinos charge exorbitant fees (typically $10, in addition to any fees charged by your bank), bring your budgeted cash amount with you rather than make an on-site withdrawal.

We must never fail to mention that gambling can highly be addictive, and isn’t for everyone. If you’re having trouble stepping away once you’ve started, chat with a casino employee or call the Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER.

Are there dress codes at Las Vegas casinos? 

Las Vegas resorts span high-end restaurants, raucous nightclubs and the most informal of poolsides. Given that diversity, dress codes really aren’t a thing on the gambling floor. If you’re coming from the pool, you may be asked to cover up – but that’s about as strict as it will get.

You won’t have any trouble finding a free slot machine at any Vegas casino © Kit Leong / Shutterstock

Which casinos are best for beginners? 

You’ll likely want to start cheap, and blackjack table minimums can be indicative of the prices of other table games at any given casino. A $5 blackjack table isn’t too common these days – but you can find many of them at the no-frills Ellis Island, just off The Strip, and at Downtown Grand. Fun fact: Downtown Grand even offers a $1 game of blackjack. 

Most casinos also offer free “learn to play” sessions. For example, the Golden Nugget offers daily lessons on nine different games spanning pai gow poker to craps to roulette. Ask someone at the casino cage (cashier) wherever you may be staying for the latest schedule of free lessons.

Which game is easiest?

Slot machines merely require you to push a button or pull a lever. That’s it. If you know the basics of poker, the video version of the card game is pretty seamless as well. A third option is roulette: there are 38 numbers (inclusive of 0 and 00) on most roulette wheels in Las Vegas, with your odds contingent on how many numbers you place bets on.

Is there such a thing as a smart bet?

It’s called gambling for a reason, and any form it takes carries inherent risks and zero guarantees of winning. With that said…a “smart bet” in Las Vegas would be one with a lower house edge, meaning better odds to the player. Some of the safer, long-established bets in Vegas include betting the pass line in craps, betting on the banker in baccarat and playing blackjack “according to the book” (or basic strategy).

Keep planning your trip to Las Vegas:

All the best things to do in Sin City
Skip the casino floor and check out these free things to do
How to get around Las Vegas
See desert beauty at the city’s best parks

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