Casino Rituals

Most of the procedures at a blackjack table are handled very meticulously: they are done in a particular fashion to maintain regularity and security. To the staff, and anyone who has seen them a number of times, they seem regular and mundane—but if you have a curious mind, you might be interested toknow the details.

Opening the Table

A table opening is a procedure that requires between two and four people: the dealer, the pit boss, a supervisor, and security—the last two being optional.

The pit boss will unlock the rack (which contains a large stash of cheques) as well as a drawer or case containing all equipment, such as the shoe, cut card, and discard tray. He, and perhaps the dealer or on of the others present, will inspect each piece of equipment to make sure that it is in proper working order and that no cards remain from the previous game.

The cover of the rack is then removed and the table bankroll is counted and verified. One or more stacks of chips will be removed and counted out on the table to verify (or “prove”) their worth, and these chips, once returned to the rack, can be used as a gauge for the other stacks.

The dealer and pit boss will verify the total amount against an inventory slip created when the table was last closed. A new inventory slip will be completed and signed, then placed in the drop box.

Fresh decks of cards will be brought to the table, as many as will be used in the game. The pit boss will inspect the seals before allowing the dealer to open them. Both will inspect the cards, front and back, to make sure that the decks are complete and that no cards are flawed—marked in any way that can identify them when they are laid face-down.

The rack cover is then removed from the table and the decks are spread out, and remain there until players are seated and the game begins.

Changing Cash and Cheques

In some casinos, players are not allowed to wager with cash. Even when it is allowed, players are encouraged to use cheques. There is some truth to the suggestion that this is done so players will be less reluctant to wager cheques than cash, but the primary motive is security: it is easier to see the value of a stack of cheques of different colors than a heap of bills that are all the same color, especially at a distance or through a camera.

When accepting bills, the dealer will lay them out meticulously on the table in full view of the cameras. Most bills are laud in rows of five wide and four deep—if more than one denomination is presented, or more than 25 bills of a single denomination, the dealer will verify them in stages—bills will be placed across other bills in layers, and each layer will be visually verified.

When any transaction exceeds a certain amount (usually $100), the dealer must get the approval of the pit boss. If the amount is large, the pit boss may come to the table and visually verify the bills the dealer has laid out.

The correct amount of cheques will be removed from the tray and placed in stacks five high (except for $25 cheques, which are stacked four high). The dealer may ask the player which denominations of cheque he prefers—but more often, this decision is obvious from the table limits. After the bills are stacked and placed in the drop box, the dealer will slide the cheques to the player.

When a player requests a cheque-for-cheque transaction, the same procedures as a cash-for-cheque transaction will be followed. The dealer will stack and verify both the player’s cheques and those being offered as change, call for approval for changes over a certain amount, and place the chips the player provided into the rack before sliding his change back to him. In some casinos, the dealers are permitted to covert only one denomination at a time, and may change $1 to $5 before $5 to $25 before $250 to $100, etc.

Running the Game

Each hand is conducted according to a set procedure that does not, or should not, ever vary.

Before the cards are dealt, the dealer will take a cursory glance at the table—specifically, at the wagers in the betting spots, to make sure that all wagers are within house limits. Depending on the house, the dealer may ask players to correct bets that are beneath or over the limit, or may call for a pit boss to instruct the player. The dealer may also prompt a player who has not placed a bet, if only by pausing, that the hand is about to begin. The dealer may call “all bets in” before dealing, though this is often omitted if all players from the previous hands have already placed their wagers.

The cards are dealt in a clockwise fashion, starting with the player at the dealer’s left and ending with the dealer himself. All players receive their first card, then their second. Once all cards are dealt, the dealer turns over his upcard, and play commences.

Each of the players executes his hand in the same order in which cards were served—beginning with the player at the dealer’s left and moving clockwise. If a player draws blackjack, this wager is paid off immediately (as soon as it’s the player’s turn) and the dealer collects his cards. If the player busts, the dealer collects both cards and cheques. At the end of the round, the dealer plays his own hand.

Whether the dealer stands are busts, cards are collected and wagers paid or taken in reverse order, starting with the player at the dealer’s right and moving back to the left. Typically, the dealer will take and pay wagers, then make a second pass to collect the cards that remain on the table.

The end of the hand is a typical (and, in most cases, appropriate) time for players to make transactions (buy or exchange cheques) and to enter or leave the game.

Unless the cut card has shown, the next hand is dealt from the same deck or shoe. Otherwise, the cards must be shuffled.

The Shuffle

There are a wide variety of shuffling techniques that vary among locations, and often among dealers in the same casino. Some operations are rumored to be fastidious, and require the dealers to follow a specific procedure. However, in most cases, the cards are sufficiently randomized regardless of the precise technique.

The most straightforward shuffle involves placing the cards in the discard tray on top of the stack of undealt cards, then dividing the deck into smaller stacks—the number of stacks will depend on the number of decks in the game—and riffling them together. The cut-and-riffle procedure is generally done at least twice to ensure randomization, though it is most commonly done three or four times.

There are three common variations to the basic shuffle:

  • Plugging—instead of stacking the undealt cards on top of those from the discard tray, or vice versa, the dealer may insert them, a few at a time, into the stack from the discard tray.
  • Stripping—the dealer may take the deck, or some portions of it, and drop it into a stack by adding a few cards from the top and bottom.
  • Washing—the dealer may mix the deck, or some portions of it, by placing the cards face-down on the table, spreading them out, and sliding them around by moving both hands in a circular pattern. This is seldom done except when a new deck is introduced to the table.

Typically, these techniques are used to counteract “clumping.” Because of theway the cards are collected, sections of the deck may become “rich” in high-value cards, which is disadvantageous to a player who doesn’t read clumps (and disadvantageous to the house if a player does). However, some dealers incorporate these techniques into their standard shuffle as a matter or course.

Retiring the Deck

It’s fairly common for the deck in a hand-dealt game to be retired and a fresh deck brought to the table, because the cards are shuffled more often in shoe-dealt games (which can warp them) and are handled by the players (coating them with sweat and oil, and in some cases just plain grime). The deck may also be retired and if one or more cards is damaged, if there is any suspicion they have been marked, or at the house’s prerogative.

The procedure for retiring a deck requires the existing cards to be removed before new cards are brought. The pit boss will collect the cards, checking the shoe, discard rack, other equipment, and the general area to ensure all cards have been collected. These cards are usually cut into stacks and placed into their boxes in no particular order (the decks are not re-composed at the table) and sealed in a plastic bag, which is placed in a lock-box beneath the table. In some houses, a slip may be signed by the dealer and pit boss and enclosed in the bag, or they may sign a tape seal. It’s worth noting that used cards are generally inspected at a later time, the decks recomposed and re-sealed, and these may be given as comps to players or sold in the casino’s gift shop.

Once the old cards have been retired, fresh decks are brought to the table. The dealer may remove the cellophane wrappers, but must always wait for the pit boss to be present before breaking the tape seals. In some cases, decks may contain unused cards (such as jokers) which must be removed. The dealer and pit boss inspect the decks face-down to ensure that there are no flaws or markings on the backs, then the dealer spreads the decks face-up for inspection to ensure that they are complete.

Provided that the decks pass inspection, the cards are thoroughly washed and shuffled, and play resumes.

Changing Dealers

In most casinos, dealers are rotated fairly frequently—sometimes as often as every half-hour. The primary reason for changing this frequently is security: the most insidious forms of cheating involve collusion between a player and an employee, usually a dealer—and if dealers are rotate regularly, this reduces the opportunity for a player and a dealer to work cooperatively against the house.

The change of dealers takes place according to specific procedures meant to ensure that nothing is passed between the departing and incoming dealer, and that nothing is removed from or brought to the table. This is as important to the players as it is to the house in ensuring the fairness of the game.

An incoming dealer will approach from the pit and stand behind the departing one—throughout the change procedure, there is no physical contact between them, except that the incoming dealer may tap the departing one on the should to announce his presence.

The departing dealer will finish the hand he is dealing or any transactions that are taking place before beginning the “clapping out” procedure, which usually consists of setting the deck or shoe in the middle of the layout and clapping his hands (a signal to the pit boss). The departing dealer will display both sides of his hands to the players (assuring them he’s not leaving with any cards), as well as for the camera (to prove he’s not palmed any cheques). The dealer’s hands remain palms-up as he steps away from the table and departs through the pit.

Once the departing dealer has left, the incoming dealer “tap in”. He will generally display his hands to the players and camera (to prove nothing is being brought into the game), then tap the edge of the rack (another signal to the pit boss) before resuming play. Generally, the incoming dealer will not shuffle the cards (unless it is necessary because the cut card has shown—and even then, the departing dealer generally shuffles before clapping out), but will usually burn the first card from the deck before resuming play.

Changing Limits

At most tables, the minimum and maximum limits will remain the same from the time the table is opened until the time it is closed. It is not uncommon for the limit at the low-roller tables to be increased during high traffic periods (from $5 to $10 or even $25, whatever players seem to be willing to wager) or to be decreased if the higher limits do not draw sufficient players at the game.

Only the pit boss (never the dealer) is authorized to adjust table limits. There are no formal procedures for changing a table’s limits, but there seem to be a few common practices. Primarily, a limit will not be immediately increased unless players are already betting at an increased level. The pit boss will set a placard announcing the higher limits on the table, and will announce to the players that the limit will be increased, but will generally allow the shoe to be played out at the preexisting limits. A similar procedure may be used if one or more players are betting the maximum at a table at which the limits will be lowered—but it is uncommon for the players to bet at that level, or for the house to lower limits at a table where even one player is seated.

Irregularities

Mistakes are not uncommon at the blackjack table, and are handled according to procedures that are dictated by the local gaming commission. The dealer, pit boss, and the casino seldom have any leeway in correcting them. Some of the more common irregularities, and their resolutions, are as follows:

If a player fails to place his wager in the betting spot, the dealer will deal around him. If the dealer neglects to deal to a player who has placed a wager, the player will sit out that hand. The cards will never be backed up or dealt out of sequence to include a player in arrears.

If a player’s wager is over or under the house limits, the dealer may ask him to correct it, or may call the pit boss to make the correction. However, if any cards have been dealt, the wager must stand, regardless of the table limits.

Likewise, if a player attempts to double or split for and additional amount that is more than his original wager, the dealer may ask him to correct it or call the pit boss to make the correction. If any cards are dealt before the error is noticed, the wager must stand.

If the dealer mistakenly deals only one card to a player, that player may opt to have the second card dealt him when it is his turn, or to sit out the hand. The second card will be dealt only after all other players have received their cards—either after the hand is dealt to the rest of the table, or when they player’s turn comes up.

If the dealer mistakenly draws a card from the shoe and its value has not exposed it, it will be used as the next card in play. If it has been exposed, it will be discarded. If the dealer finds a card that is face-up in the shoe, it will also be discarded.

If the dealer mistakenly takes another hit to a hand that has already reached its limit (hard 17), that card will not be included in the dealer’s hand, but will be discarded.

If a the dealer begins to deal a new hand after the cut card has shown that hand will be played from the remaining cards. If the cards run out during the course of the round, the cards from the discard tray will be shuffled and used to complete the round of play.

Closing a Table

It is unheard of for a casino to close a table while even one player is playing—this procedure takes place only at empty tables (and in casinos that actually close at a specific hour, players are dismissed before the closing takes place). The procedure for closing a table is provided for trivial interest:

The dealer will bring the float cover from beneath the table and place it over the rack, but will generally leave it unlocked while the deck is retired (cards are collected, bagged, and sealed with the requisite paperwork).

All gaming equipment is inspected, then removed from the table and placed in a drawer beneath it, then the dealer will count the table’s bankroll in the presence of a pit boss. An inventory slip will be completed, singed, and dropped through the slot. Finally, the float cover will be replaced and locked.