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How To Win At A Casino

With all due respect to the good people of Thackerville, Okla., I am not currently aware of any defensible reason to rumble down their I-35 off-ramp other than to wander, aimlessly and awestruck, around the world’s largest casino. That is, unless you really like tornadoes or porno stores, the two things other than flat land prevalent in that part of the country. There are tons of casinos like the WinStar, all of them a fraction of its size, but nevertheless in similarly out-of-the-way places, in buildings that seem to jut right up out of the landscape, like giant-ass cacti you can smoke inside.

On the other hand, you’ll find quite a few casinos plopped right down atop the most desirable and expensive real estate in the world; the Caribbean is full of them, for instance, and if you take a fancy enough boat there, you can even gamble on the way down. Clearly, we humans love our casinos, so we’ve stuck them in environments as varied as there are on the planet, and we’ll probably keep doing that until the damn bubble bursts. You can be anywhere in the world when you step into a casino, but every one of those doors will take you to, essentially, the exact same place. Here are some tips on how to thrive there, if not profit.


Embrace the Surreality

I haven’t been in every casino on the planet, thank the Good Lord, but I’ve visited my fair share. I’ve yanked on gas-station slot machines up and down our nation’s great highways and byways. I’ve spent my birthday in Las Vegas’s Aria and my honeymoon throwing dice at the Oranjestad Renaissance. I celebrated Columbus Day 2015 in the aforementioned WinStar Resort, which is located on and operated by an independent Native American nation (the Chickasaw reservation, if you want to be a dick about it). As you might expect, given the reams of cruel history knotted up in the holiday, Columbus Day on a reservation is just another day.

After all, there are no bad memories in casinos.

There are no good memories in casinos, either. Everything you experience while gambling is fleeting by design. Memories indicate the passage of time, and all casinos endeavor to induce a time-resistant fugue state in their captive audiences. There are no clocks in casinos, as we all know, and few if any windows. The law mandates that a certain amount of doors be made available in case the joint burns down, which it never will, because you could drag a flamethrower into a casino and run out of gasoline before you’re even done lighting cigarettes. Casinos are alternate-universe sandboxes for the world’s least conscientious humans, and there’s only one rule: Don’t throw the sand.


The Fancier The Slot Machine, The Worse The Payout

Arcades didn’t die out—they just transmogrified into casinos. The optics are more or less the same: Players put some money in a big metal box, yank on it for a while, stare at a light, and eventually realize they are gaining nothing from the experience. Except, you might be thinking, America’s arcades were filled to the brim with excitement and mirth, while casinos are hostile caves plastered wall-to-wall with grimy levers and spilled beer. Wrong again, idiot!


Slots take many different shapes and sizes, but the end result is generally the same.


Yes, there is lots of spilled beer in most casinos—especially ones in which I happen to be drinking—but the truth about gaming technology is that the “One-Armed Bandits” of old couldn’t be any more anachronistic today if they accepted coal scrip and prodded you to vote Bull Moose. Modern slot machines, by contrast, are not only more visually engaging, they’re also more emotionally manipulative. Plus the payouts are worse.

You can still find red 7s, cherries, and lame shit like that if you look for machines in low-value areas like hallways or toilet stalls, where, trust me, you do not want to hit the jackpot. But the heavy hitters now include Wheel of Fortune—complete with a towering, physical facsimile of the eponymous Wheel—or the touchscreen-fueled, neon- and Spandex-clad banquette of vibrating rumble seats attached to the Batman TV series machines. (There’s also a Superman version, but fuck Superman, he sucks.) The Wizard of Odds, a great website for anyone who wants to attempt to lose slightly less money while gambling, writes that these flashier games are generally harder to understand and less likely to pay out than their duller, more simplistic cousins. They’re cooler-looking and more fun on purpose. It’s hard to cast aspersions on the folks who would rather spend time with the absolutely delightful Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory machine, which offers a progressive jackpot and virtually all the musical scenes from the original film, than a poker simulator that would look more at home in a dilapidated bus station. But cast your aspersions, because those people are losers. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with Ellen Degeneres.


Don’t Start Nothin’, Won’t Be Nothin’

At any blackjack table in any casino in the world, you’ll notice that some of your fellow patrons act as if they know the dealer personally. They might ask how her kids are doing, or what time she gets off work, and she might smile at them in a way that punctuates how hollow the perfunctory good luck, sir she offered you really was. These people are most likely locals, stopping off in the casino after (or instead of) work. They will make every bad bet on the table, and they will not like you. They are not to be imitated, and they are not to be fucked with.


In Puerto Rico, where I vacationed this year, local butts in seats outnumbered tourist keisters by at least three to one. For me, a person with less than zero foresight who spent his academic years half-learning and then totally forgetting Latin, Italian, and German, that means that I had virtually no idea what was going on at any given time. Depending on the game, and the temperament of your fellow gamblers, this may be of very little concern. On the other hand, the booze is free in San Juan casinos, and blackjack brings out the worst in us all.

So when the very animated man to the dealer’s immediate right flings a $5 chip at your wife, instructing her to not take another card lest it disrupt the flow of the deck, don’t call him “a little bitch.” Moreover, don’t tell him to “go fuck [him]self” when he erupts in a Spanish tirade about your play, because the woman who removed her chips from the table when you sat down is his girlfriend, and may be bilingual. These are the standards for enjoying yourself in an unfamiliar environment and remaining as unstabbed as Ben Carson’s childhood friends. Here are some more:

Don’t make an enemy of the dealer. It’s true, actually, that standing pat on a soft 14 and splitting 10s are mathematically suboptimal plays. He can offer that advice to you if he wants, and it’s not technically against house rules for him to scoff when you ignore him. Similarly, you’re not breaking any laws by clapping in his face like you just got the and-one when you win the hand, but it is very poor form. Just don’t tip him if you absolutely must send a message.


Go easy on the free drinks. The average complimentary casino cocktail pour is rather light, to say the least, and if you’re going to get drunk off of them, it will be a product of pure volume over margin—think of this as the Walmart Method. Generally speaking, though, even this will start to become difficult as the room fills up and your money fades away. At the very least, when the sun goes down, waitresses will avoid the penny slots like somebody snuck a bunch of bear traps over there. As a result, your “free” drinks are going to require you to put more than a couple of dollars at risk. The inevitable result is the most expensive Sunny D and vodka you’ve ever consumed.

Don’t expect much out of the pit boss. These guys get paid to bring a piece of paper over to the table and put a checkmark on it four times an hour. They don’t have time to open up a table just so you can lose your little $50 nanostack, and they will absolutely not give you any comps once you do. I’ve been comped a couple of buffets before, but only in Tunica, and only because everyone watched me essentially buy a 10-minute course in how not to play craps for $300. If you don’t manage to piss away a house payment, you will not be receiving a free room. Not even in Mississippi.


Stay Away From The Weird Ones

I don’t know how to play Baccarat, Mini-Baccarat, Pai Gow Tiles, Pai Gow Poker, Keno, Ultrakeno, Doublegame, Doublegame Classic, Big Bettor, Money Master, Crazy Elevens, 2 for 3s, Cardswap, Flip and Tip, Jazzman Hands, Wild Time, Dragon Scowl, Riverboat Accident, Deck of Jacks, or Diamond Six. What’s more, some of those games are actually real, and they’re everywhere. If you know how to play those games, that’s fantastic. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them. In fact, I hear Baccarat is quite simple (which is what everyone says when they’ve finally figured out something really complicated), but unless you’re a savant, there will be a limit to the number of games you can play well. Here’s what you need to know:

Craps: Bet the “Pass Line” by putting one chip on that section of the table. When you’re comfortable with that, you may graduate to the Odds bet, wherein you put somewhere between two and five additional chips in a stack directly behind your Pass Line bet. You won’t know how much you are allowed to put here until you ask. Do not be afraid to ask; there are approximately 10 employees at every craps table, so they will have the time to answer your questions about, say, all the other bets you can make at a craps table that I proudly know fuck-all about.


Blackjack: Try to get to 21, and settle for 17. Double down on 11. You can’t fuck this up, regardless of what superstitious assholes will tell you.

Roulette: Ignore the board that keeps track of previous spins. Everything else you can do in this game is more or less equally bad, in that the payout will never match the risk. Just bet on black if you want to feel superior to the spray-and-pray crowd. Or just sit in your hotel room and flip a coin if you’re so fuckin’ cool.


Slots: As discussed, only play the shitty-looking ones, and don’t expect to win those, either. Your sole mission is to look alive long enough to get a free beer and move on.

There’s no advice that I—or anyone else, for that matter—can give that will guarantee you of a profitable time in any of the fine gambling institutions around the world. And while I respect the opinion that there is money to be made by making certain bets in certain ways, I also know that the odds are ever in the house’s favor. Your mood and behavior is the only factor you truly control. So just think of gambling as entertainment, and any funds returned to you as icing, or gravy, or money you paid for in advance. You may lose a shitload of dough this way, but hey, so did Donald Trump.


Jesse Farrar is a writer for hire, heavyset grillman, and father of two. Read his Beer Idiot column here, follow him on Twitter here, and email him at


Illustration by Sam Woolley.

Adequate Man is Deadspin’s self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.


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