Most blackjack play takes place in a high energy casino environment. It’s hardly a game that’s played “for fun,” and certainly not something you’d inflict upon friends at a kitchen-table poker game. If you’ve never been to a casino, or have not paid close attention to the environment, here’s some basic casino information.
A casino operation (“the house”) provides a place for gamblers to gamble, though the term “gambling” itself is generally frowned upon (they call it “gaming”). One fundamental about which a player should make no mistake: a casino does not provide this environment as a public service—it’s a business, and the casino expects to turn a profit off its customers.
For that reason, you’ll never find a fair game in a casino. Though you have a chance of winning at anything, the odds are always stacked in favour of the house—and the effectiveness of this is evident in the lavish decor you’ll find in most casinos.
A casino is usually attached to a hotel, more often a resort, with various accommodations and attractions to attract and serve guests. The main business, the money-maker for the entire operation, is the casino itself.
If state regulations permit, the layout of the complex will place the casino at the centre of everything—so that going from one place to another will always require a trip through the casino.
The casino itself is laid out to compel the player to follow a path that will take him past as many “gaming opportunities” as possible—you’ll never follow a path between any two points without passing by (or often through) a few banks of slot machines or the gaming pits. Though the intention isn’t to “trap” or “confuse” players, as some would suggest, the net effect can certainly give a person that sense.
In most casinos, the majority of the floor space is occupied by slot machines (as they are the largest money-maker), accompanied by one or more long rows (pits) of table games. There is no particular order to the way the tables are grouped, except that similar games tend to be clustered (two or three tables side-by-side, offering the same game). Clusters of the same game may be dispersed in several locations, such that a blackjack cluster may be at either end of the pits to make it more likely a passer-by will encounter a game he might wish to play.
The blackjack pit (more often one of several clusters of blackjack tables in a pit shared with other games) is a sort of island, ringed by tables on the outside edges, with space for staff between them. One important thing to remember: the inside of the pit is an employees-only zone. Unless you’ve been invited (and that seldom ever happens), stay outside of this area.
In a typical visit, you may encounter the following casino personnel:
A casino dealer is stationed at each blackjack table. Unlike a few other games, only one dealer is needed. Besides physical their location, dealers are identified by their uniform, which can vary according to the theme of the casino, but generally includes a shirt with short or half-length sleeves (leaving the forearms bare so the players can see that, quite literally, there’s nothing up their sleeves).
The dealer’s job is to conduct the game—to handle all cards, equipment, and cheques in play—and to make sure that the game is played fairly and proper procedures are followed. The dealer also serves as a “host” to players—making them feel at ease and generally avoiding any negative confrontations. Although, strictly speaking, the dealer is supposed to call the pit boss when any infraction in procedures occur, they will often ask players to correct minor mistakes to save the pit boss the time and the player the embarrassment.
In general, the casino dealer is on the player’s “side.” This is because dealers are rewarded from both sides of the table for keeping the players in good spirits. A dealer earns more tips from a table full of happy players than from a table full of unhappy ones, or a table that is empty. Also, a dealer who attracts more players and keeps them at the table for a greater length of time deals a greater number of hands, generating more “action” for the house, and therefore stands a much better chance of earning a raise or promotion than a dealer who does not.
A blackjack dealer may provide the player’s advice if they ask. Even if he’s forbidden to give advice, you may notice that he will pause to give a player the opportunity to rethink a bad move, or also ask “are you sure about that?” At the very least, the dealer will be on the side of the players in spirit—he’ll be the only one at the table who seems happy when he’s busted his hand and apologetic when he wins.
Even though these actions and mannerisms make the blackjack dealer seem like a player’s friend, he remains an employee of the casino. He’s forbidden to cheat on behalf of the players and, in some cases, even prohibited to provide advice. What’s more, he’s continuously monitored by casino management, as well as a galaxy of video cameras, to make sure that he follows the rules imposed upon him by the house.
Since the penalties for breaking the rules imposed upon him by the house can be dire (termination, or even criminal charges), the dealer will strictly obey the restrictions and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. But otherwise, a good casino dealer will do all he can within those limits to assist the players.
The wait staff works on the outside of the pit, generally serving beverages to the players. Their rules of conduct and the etiquette the players should extend them are usually similar to wait for staff in any restaurant or bar.
The principal difference in the casino environment is that most of the services wait staff provide are complimentary to players—which leads to one additional point of etiquette: you should not ask the wait staff to bring you a drink unless you are playing. You should walk to the bar and pay for it. Regarding tobacco, some casinos also provide complementary cigarettes to players but generally restrict this comp to players who are at tables where the minimum wager is $25 or more.
Uniformed security personnel are seldom seen at the card pits, but may appear when bringing or removing a large amount of cheques or cash from a table, or when any suspicious behaviour occurs on either side of the table. In some establishments, security patrols walk beats on the casino floor, but this rarely involves a pass by the card pits. Additionally, security personnel (when not involved in their regular duties) will also assist patrons in finding their way, recovering lost articles, and the like.
In general, the player’s interaction with security should be limited. Though it’s not necessary to avoid them altogether, it’s best to approach them only when necessary. Even then, it’s better to get the attention of management (the pit boss), who will then decide whether it is necessary to involve security.
The Pit Boss
A pit boss (also “pit manager”) is stationed in each cluster of tables to supervise the play and to attend to tasks that dealers are not authorised to address. Most often, there is no uniform for pit bosses—they wear formal business attire (suit and tie). The pit boss is the lowest rank of casino management, but still outranks all of the dealers and should be treated with respect and some degree of obeisance.
Most often, the pit boss remains in the background unless called upon by the dealer. Dealers are required to get the attention (permission) of the pit boss when …
- a player asks to be rated, or requests a comp
- conducting any transaction over a certain value (usually $100, whether in cash or cheques) or a credit transaction (a player requests a marker)
- performing any accident-prone procedure, such as “rolling” a large stack of cards after the shuffle
- addressing any irregularity (a dropped chip, bent card, etc.
- a player expresses a (genuine) complaint
- an unruly player needs to be scolded or ejected
In some cases, a pit boss may pass by the table of his own accord. In most cases, this is to monitor or discourage suspicious behaviour. Though sometimes, especially when business is slow, he may have a friendly chat with players for no other reason than to escape the monotony. Rarely, a pit boss may take over a game for a dealer who must step away unexpectedly.
As with security personnel, players should restrict their interactions with the pit boss. Even when a player knows a boss will need to be called, such as when he wants to be rated or comped, take out a marker, or exchange a large sum of cash or cheques, the player should address the dealer, and allow the dealer to call the pit boss.
Higher-level managers (A floor manager, or even the general manager) may also appear on the inside of the pit and may observe or interact with players on occasion. This is roughly the equivalent of a restaurant manager or owner who stops by to check up on things and, occasionally, ask patrons how things are “going.”
A player should be clear: it is not the task of any manager to oversee the operation of the establishment, not to serve or accommodate the players. It is exceedingly rude to expect a casino manager to involve himself in any trivial matter that another employee could have handled unless that player has already attempted, and failed, to obtain resolution through the established channels (first the dealer, then the pit boss).