How to have fun — responsibly — at Lake Tahoe’s gambling venues |

How to have fun — responsibly — at Lake Tahoe’s gambling venues

Kevin MacMillan
Blackjack at the Crystal By Casino is a fun way to spend a weekend evening. Just be smart about how you play.
File photo |

Gambling. The concept that you can turn a single dollar into $100 with the pull of a handle on a slot machine or through the luck of a single number turning up when you spin the roulette wheel — there’s just something about a game of chance that’s too good for many of us to pass up.

Wait. There’s that pesky word: “luck.”

OK, so for that same “many of us,” it’s really all about luck. You might not even know what you’re doing when you put a five-spot into a slot machine and win hundreds. Others will claim they know all the tricks when they sit down at a table game, yet they still come up empty. And still others will spend countless hours running the stats on why a sports bet is a “lock,” only for that lovely thing about sports — the underdog — to ruin a three-team parlay.

In the end, it mostly is all about luck, and it’s really not worth constant trips to the ATM and anxiously checking your account balance after each $100 bill to learn that lesson.

Still, our Tahoe casinos are worth a visit for gaming, dinner and perhaps a show, and, so long as you don’t lose sight of things, you can have a really fun time.

Here are some tips from a local to make sure that happens — while also making it look like you (kind of) know what you’re doing:


When it comes to table games, blackjack is the most popular, and, considering some casinos only charge a $5 minimum bet, you’re bound to sit down for 40 bucks. Still, while splitting cards might seem fun, you almost never want to do it. The book says always split 8s, and in many cases, split 9s — and if it works out, great. But odds are, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re going to ruin a flow of cards for others at the table by splitting. And, for goodness sake, never, ever split a pair of face cards or 10s — that will get the whole table giving you the evil eye quickly.


Slipping some dollars in random slot and video poker machines is a fun way to spend a little bit of money and maybe snag a free drink or two. These things are random and, as quickly as you might get that big win, you’re bound to lose something like 20 of the next 22 spins. If you get a big hit early, you’re better off cashing out while you’re up, rather than losing it all and then stealing glances at the ATM machine that’s only a few paces away.


When you sit down to gamble, it won’t take long for a cocktail waitress to show up by your side to ask if you’d like a complimentary drink. If you’re at a table or a machine for awhile having a good night those waitresses will be back a few more times to take care of you. So do us all a favor and take care of them — throw them a few dollar chips here or there with each drink order. And while you’re at it, if your blackjack or three-card poker dealer is putting you on a heater with great cards, it’s customary to throw him or her a tip as well. Tahoe relies heavily on the service industry, and many of our locals make a living off of tips — so why not help them out while you’re here?


Cigar and cigarette smoke will waft into your nostrils upon immediate entry into a casino. If you’re a smoker, nothing wrong with that, but don’t be that guy who puffs away at a table with no appreciation for your surroundings. Be mindful of that secondhand smoke and where it’s going, and blow smoke away from your neighbors and the dealers. They might not give you better cards, but they’ll very much appreciate your discretion.


This one’s simple. If you don’t know how to play craps, then walk away. This is arguably the most confusing game in a casino, and odds are you’re going to lose that $20 quickly and shuffle away wondering what just happened. Believe me, if you’ve ever seen the teeny-bopper 1990 movie “The Wizard” starring Fred Savage and having plenty of footage shot at Tahoe, Truckee and Reno, it’s never that easy to win $400 in two minutes.


Similarly, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s best to not sit down at a poker table. Some of these people come to sit at the hold ‘em tables to make a living and will be quick to take advantage of a rookie. While some casinos don’t allow no-limit, every game is high stakes. Think of Joey Knish in the movie “Rounders.” Most likely, you’re no Matt Damon. Stick to the penny slots.


Sports betting will have even the most lax of sports fans screaming at the TV for that last-second touchdown or basket for a cash win. If you’ve never bet on sports before, no worries … there will be people around to ask how to bet. But the cardinal rule is to know your bets before going to the window. Nothing can be more frustrating to seasoned bettors than an amateur taking up valuable time at the window on NFL Sunday mornings just minutes before kickoff. It’s best to have it all figured out before you get to the counter — believe me, everyone will thank you.


Of course, aside from the jokes and all these tips and pointers — and the countless others you can get online (or by some drunken buffoon at the craps table) — there’s one that’s more important than anything: When the fun stops. It’s more of a slogan more than a tip, and, unfortunately for some, it’s been a forced lesson to learn the hard way. Just about as quickly as you smell cigarette smoke upon entry into a casino, you’ll find kiosks with hundreds of pamphlets with that slogan emblazoned on the cover. They are there for a reason — if you think you have a problem, please seek help. Visit for more information.

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