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Table Etiquette (from Both Sides of the Atlantic)

Different Worlds

In Europe, roulette is an immensely popular game. It is a comfortable, quiet, leisurely game usually enjoyed by the fairer sex and systems players. The table limits are higher and the house edge is smaller.

When you consider the fact that there is only one zero (37 pockets instead of 38), the house edge is brought down to 2.70%. Then compound that with the "En Prison" rule for even-money wagers and you'll find the edge cut down to a less formidable 1.35%. If you think you might visit any of the European casinos, plan ahead. Find out if they have a dress code. The more elegant casinos will require formal dress. Also, the casinos may actually be private clubs, open only to club members and their guests. This is especially true in the United Kingdom. After you apply for membership, you will have to wait at least 24 hours before playing. Be wary… tipping the dealer may not be allowed. Before visiting these establishments for the first time, remember to do your homework up front.

The casinos stateside have a much different atmosphere. American games run two to three times faster. You'll probably find a more casual dress and attitude. On one recent visit to Las Vegas, I watched as two young couples, sprinkling the layout and swiggin' beer, were having an amusing and uninhibited time at one of the roulette tables at the California Club. Whenever one of them would hit a straight-up winner, all four would jump to their feet… banging backsides and singing "Roller coaster… of love…" I have to admit, everyone was enjoying themselves, including the dealer and the supervisor. But what a contrast to the more reserved and slower paced games found on the "continent." Tipping the dealer in North America is not only permitted, it is often encouraged. It is possible to find single-zero wheels in Las Vegas and the "Surrender" rule (similar to the En Prison rule) in Atlantic City, but I have not seen both available at the same casino, or even in the same city.

En Prison vs. Surrender

By the way, now is probably a good time to explain the difference between the European "En Prison" rule and the Atlantic City "Surrender" rule. Basically, in Europe, when the single-zero comes up, all even-money wagers are frozen (or put "En Prison") until a nonzero number results, deciding the bet's fate. If the bet wins on the subsequent spin, then it is returned to the bettor. If it is not a winner, then it is lost. Here's an example: You wager $5 on "red." If red comes up immediately, you win $5, getting back $10 total. If "black" comes up, you lose, but if "green" comes up, you wouldn't necessarily lose. You at least have a chance to get your original bet back. If red appears on the next spin, then you would receive your $5 back, with no winnings. If black is the result… you lose. You would remain in prison if green appears again. This effectively cuts the house edge in half, from 2.70% down to 1.35% for all even-money wagers.

Surrender also cuts the house edge in half for even-money wagers, but it works a little differently. If you had put that same $5 bet on "red" in Atlantic City, and a zero or double zero (green) appeared, then the dealer would immediately give you $2.50 back instead of losing the whole thing. The Atlantic City casinos don't wait for the next spin to decide if you get $0 or $5 back. They split the difference and settle right away. Thus the casino's edge is cut from 5.26% down to 2.63% for even-money bets.

Table Layout and Seating

In Europe, you'll usually find two betting layouts with one single-zero wheel in between. The spinner or croupier operates the wheel. Two dealers on either side watch the betting layout and assist with placing bets. In Europe, dealers often place about 80% of the wagers. Aside from the extra dealers, there is usually an Inspector or boss who presides over the game. Interestingly, the Inspector must have the ability to recall all of the bets that were placed and whom they belong to, for the previous two spins! This is done to help alleviate confusion. One wheel can accommodate 12 to 16 seated players. In North America, one wheel per betting layout is customary. The wheel is positioned at the far end beyond the top of the betting layout. Most times one dealer is stationed behind the wheel and controls the entire game. A floating supervisor or boss will monitor two tables at a time. These games will accommodate 5 or 6 seated patrons, but sometimes a second row of players will stand behind them. I've seen 10 to 12 patrons squeezing in to play at one table. In North America, the dealers assist with placing only about 20% of the wagers. Usually a second dealer will help to sort out chips when the action gets hot.

If you wish to sit and relax, find an open seat. If you have options, select a seat that fits your needs. For example if you are a wheel watcher, you'll probably appreciate sitting right next to the wheel. I call this "first base". From this position you can easily see the wheel and cover the top and middle of the betting layout. The next position, I call "center," is the best seat for reaching the entire betting baize. With great access to the layout and good visibility of the wheel, this is probably my favorite seat. The third position (last seat on the straightaway) is "second base," this seat offers the worst view of the wheel. You will need assistance from the dealer if you wish to place wagers at the top of the layout. Just around the corner are two seats that directly face the wheel. Keeping with our baseball notation, these would be "shortstop" and "third base." Reaching for anything beyond the third dozens would require quite a stretch, but they are usually afforded a good view of the action. Sometimes a sixth chair is positioned around the corner from third base (same side of the table as the dealer). This player can access most of the layout and sports a great view of the wheel, also. The European tables may have 1 or 2 additional seats on the same side of the table that the dealer occupies. Another option, which I usually accept, is to stand. I like to watch the wheel from behind the seated first base player. After the seated players have placed most of their bets, and the dealer has commenced spinning the ball, I reach over between first and center and place my bets. Usually a quick, "excuse me please" is all that is required for them to give you some room.

Wheel Chips vs. House Chips

In Europe, all players bet with the same house checks (or chips). Sometimes if the game heats up, the confusion is very real. Imagine… you're down to your last few chips. You place one each on 26, 0 and 32. The ball crosses onto the rotor near 7, strikes 35 and dribbles into 26! Just as you reach for your winnings, another patron has firmly wrenched his hands around your winning stacks, claiming them as his. But you know that you wagered on the 0 and its two neighbors. Everyone looks at you as though you were trying to pull a fast one!?! Unfortunately, this scenario has probably happened many times before. Just make sure to keep your guard up at all times. Betting the same number of chips each spin will help. If you are betting neighbors (forming a sector) or favorite numbers, it will be easier to locate your bets. If you are just sprinkling the layout as you see fit with no particular pattern to speak of, then you may lose track of your wagers too easily.

In North America, the roulette games use special chips called "wheel chips." These chips will have a unique letter or design on them designating which table they belong to. They cannot be used anywhere else in the casino… only at the table from which they were issued. The wheel chips come in 6 or 7 different color groups of 300 chips each. Each seated player will usually have his own color to bet with, eliminating any confusion on the layout. After the dealer has paid off all the winning bets from the previous spin, place your buy-in (cash or casino checks) out on the layout and ask if there is a "color" available. You cannot hand the money to the dealer; place it down on the table. If the dealer does not see your buy-in right away, be patient; he may be busy. But do keep an eye on it until he is ready to convert it. He will count out your money or chips on the table in front of him. After getting a final check from the supervisor, he will push your colored wheel chips over to you.

You can buy in for any amount that you wish, as long as it is equal to or greater than the minimum bet allowed on that table (check the placard located near the wheel itself). The wheel chips are organized into stacks of 20. If the chip minimum for that table is 25 cents (downtown Vegas) and you give the dealer a $5 bill, he will assume that you want (20) 25-cent chips to play with. If, instead, you want (10) 50-cent chips or (5) $1 chips, you will have to inform him of your preference. There is a shelf on the back rim of the roulette wheel where one of each colored chip can be placed. The dealer will place a special marker button or "lammer" on your color to signify what it is worth. You can make your wheel chips worth the minimum (usually 25 cents, 50 cents or $1 each), $5 each, $25 each or up to $100 each in certain casinos, depending upon the amount of your buy-in. If you wish to play with chips worth more than $100 in value, talk to one of the bosses in the pit to see if they can accommodate you. No other person can use your chips to bet with, not even your own spouse, who may be standing right behind you.

Chips are cleared and moved by hand in North American casinos instead of by rake. You will notice that winning wagers are paid by "cutting" the chips. Dealers will bring their entire hand over a stack of chips and use the index finger to cut and separate chips into smaller stacks. Outside bets are simply paid off in like stacks. The dealer doesn't actually count the chips. He will pay you in two same-height stacks for 2-to-1 wagers or one equal stack for even-money bets. Winning bets are paid in Europe by "running out" the chips. Because the French-style chips are beveled on-edge and more awkward to handle, the winning bet is spread out left to right in front of the dealer and counted out precisely. This of course, accounts for much of the extra time taken. After the dealer has paid off all the winning bets, he will remove the marker or "dolly" from the winning number and place it near the wheel. This is your signal to begin betting. Players are given time to decide where they want to put their chips on the layout. After most bets appear to be placed, the dealer will commence spinning the ball. In North America, the dealer will typically spin the wheel head counter-clockwise and snap the ball in the clockwise direction. In Europe, the croupier will alternate directions on subsequent spins. The ball is always spun in the opposite direction that the wheel is spun. You may continue to wager after the ball is snapped, but only until the dealer cries, "No more bets" and waves his arm over the layout. Recently, many European casinos have set up special rooms offering "American games." They have adapted many of the American innovations like "square-edge" chips and a set of differently colored "wheel chips" for each table. Like the games in North America, these games clip along at a faster pace. As the inefficiencies of the French-style games become more apparent, I believe that the slower French games will give way to the faster, more profitable American style of play.

You must bet the table minimum on each spin (or nothing at all). If the table minimum is $5 and the chip minimums are $1 each, then each outside bet that you place must equal $5. The "outside bets" include the even-money wagers and the 2-to-1 wagers found on the outside of the layout. Any bets on or to an individual number (placed on the inside of the layout) are referred to as "inside bets." These only need to total up to the table minimum. So, for our $5 table, you could place one $1 chip on the 1-4 line, one on the number 5 straight up, one on the 16-19 split, one on the 10-street and one chip on the 17-21 corner to fulfill the minimum requirement for inside betting. At the same time if you wish to wager on "red" and the "second dozens," for instance, you will have to put down a complete and separate $5 bet on each one. Any additional outside bets will have to be $5 each. Once the ball settles into one of the numbered compartments or "pockets," he will mark the winning number. All losing bets are immediately removed from the layout. Winning bets are paid according to the proper odds offered by the casino. Before leaving the table, you must color-up your wheel chips at that table (where you received them). Stack them neatly into piles of 5, 10 or 20 chips each and announce to the dealer, "Color coming in." Push your stacks carefully over to the dealer. He will recount your chips, check their value and pay you in regular casino chips.

If the table is not busy, or you only wish to place a few quick bets, then use the regular casino chips. Most dealers won't mind if nobody else is using them. Just check with the dealer first. Also, if you confine your betting to the outside bets, then the regular house chips are fine. Unlike the inside bets, keep your bet separate from anyone else's. Stack your bet with the larger denominations on the bottom and the smallest denomination on top. Organizing your wager in this way will make it easier for the dealer to make quicker and more accurate payoffs. Be sure to read our accompanying article, "Various Wagers and Their Payoffs" for a better understanding of all the inside and outside bets, and what their payoffs are. Whether seated or standing at the table, conduct yourself with proper comportment. Sure, it's alright to enjoy yourself, but blowing smoke, bumping or shoving the other patrons or using crude language is all too common. A little respect for your fellow man will go a long way toward having a more pleasurable experience. Well… maybe I'll see you at the tables sometime.