One of the coolest parts about becoming part of a casino’s insular community is swapping slang with your fellow gamblers. Regulars seem to have a language all their own, one which lets them talk in code and quickly identify members of the same club.
In terms of positive terminology, you’ve got your “card sharps” (skilled players), your “whales” (high-rollers), and your “luck-boxes” (players who always seem to snatch improbable victories from the jaws of defeat).
On the other hand, gamblers can be a cutthroat crowd when it comes to hazing the uninitiated. If you ever hear somebody spit one of these 21 slang terms in your direction, you’ll know negative vibes are being sent your way.
1 – Fish
Originally coined in the poker room, calling someone a “fish” has become the ultimate insult for gamblers in any game. And the reasons behind the name make sense sense too.
2 – Mush
In the cult classic gangster flick A Bronx Tale (1993), the young narrator introduces audiences to a sorry soul by the name of Eddie “The Mush.”
Here’s how viewers first come to know the dice player and horse bettor who never seemed to win:
“Eddie Mush was a degenerate gambler. He was the world’s biggest loser. He was “Mush” because everything he touched turned to mush.”
Sure enough, whenever Eddie Mush shows his face, hot shooters go cold and first-place horses suddenly pull up lame. If somebody accuses you of “mushing” their action, they’re basically just calling you a “jinx.”
3 – Degen
Speaking of degenerate gamblers, that phrase has come to serve as an honorific of sorts in some gambling circles.
Essentially, the boldest players who never shy away from an obscure bet for all the marbles can be praised for being a “true degen.”
With that said, outside of the compulsive gambler crowd, being labeled a basic “degen” simply alludes to your penchant for problematic play.
4 – Flea
This one is used almost exclusively by casino staff to peg those annoying players who try to exploit the casino comp reward system.
Begging the sportsbook attendant for free drink tickets makes you a “flea.” The same goes for asking a tourist to put your players club card in their machine to score free comp points. Indeed, fleas are a bloodsucking nuisance, so if the shoe fits…
5 – Nit
In the gambling world, calling somebody a “nit” is akin to saying they’re cheap or tight with money.
Nobody likes a nit, and for good reason.
6 – Square
Avid sports bettors refer to the consistent winners as “sharp” players, which leaves the losers to be called “square.”
Even the sportsbooks themselves differentiate between sharp money wagered by pros at their favorite sportsbook, and square money put up by tourists off the street.
7 – Beard
Sticking with the sportsbook scene for a moment, many Las Vegas bet shops make a point to limit their liability when dealing with known sharps.
And when a successful bettor wants to evade those limits, he or she employs the services of a “beard” to place wagers on their behalf. Working as a beard isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but be careful. If you’re caught in the act, you might just earn a property ban for your trouble.
8 – Railbird
Most commonly encountered surrounding poker tables and craps games, a “railbird” is nothing but a bystander who does nothing but observe the action.
Maybe they’ve gone broke already and can’t rebuy, or perhaps they’re just curious and want to learn. The more notorious railbirds circle the table in hopes of snatching a fallen chip when nobody is watching.
If you’ve been openly deemed a railbird, you should know that the real gamblers are wondering why you even came to the casino at all.
9 – Pigeon
Once a railbird just starting out musters up the courage to take a seat, chances are high that they’ll move on to become a “pigeon” next.
10 – Tilted (or On Tilt)
Originally pioneered way back when pinball was all the rage, “tilting” first referred to the practice of leaning the machine to keep your ball in play.
That definition was eventually ported to the poker community, where an angry player who can’t let go of a previous loss is said to be “on tilt.” When you’re “tilting” or “tilted,” you’re probably making impulsive bets out of frustration, while further compounding one bad beat with a series of even worse decisions.
11 – Mechanic
If you’ve ever seen the poker flick “Rounders” (1998), you already know how a trained “mechanic” operates at the card table.
In that movie, the seedy character “Worm” returns home from a prison bid with a new set of skills. By stacking the deck to create “setup” hands, and sliding perfect cards off the bottom to rig the river card in his favor, a good mechanic can destroy unsuspecting opponents in short order.
12 – Ploppy
Moving on to the video poker machines, a “ploppy” is one of those careless players who simply plops down on any old game without checking the pay table first.
As experienced VP players know well, even the slightest deviation from a variant’s “full pay” table can tilt the house edge heavily against you. Ploppies don’t care though, as most of them never even notice the difference between 9/6 Jacks or Better and its inferior 8/6 and 9/5 alternatives.
13 – Rathole
Ever notice a neighboring player start sneaking chips, one at a time, from their stack to their pocket?
Ratholing is not permitted under most house rules though, so watch out for the eye in the sky up above.
14 – Tom
Casino dealers and staff refer to regulars who tip generously as “George,” with the flip side of that coin typically called “Tom.”
Thus, if your name is continually confused with Tom at the casino, it’s almost always because you’re failing to tip when the time comes.
15 – Dirty
A fairly self-explanatory example of negative casino vernacular, “dirty” players are those who try to cheat their way to success.
You might see a dirty blackjack player peeking low to see card faces as they leave the shoe. Dirty roulette regulars like to pull chips back right when the ball bounces into a losing space. And in poker, the dirtiest competitors snatch chips from their neighbor’s stack or mark quality cards for future use.
16 – Punter
If you had a big stack of chips one moment, only to lose it all in one fell swoop, congratulations! You’re a bona fide “punter.”
When somebody “punts” their money away, they’re essentially surrendering it to the house without much of a fight. Playing sensibly at the craps table, losing a few bets, and throwing the rest of your money away on a risky “Yo-leven” wager is a classic punt.
Punter can also simply mean bettor. The negative aspect tends to depend on the context.
17 – Scared Money
“Scared money don’t make money,” as the old saying goes.
So, try not to be such a nit that people come right out and say it this one to your face.
18 – Angle Shooter
Playing dirty against the house is one thing, but “angle shooters” are the folks who try to use confusing rules and technicalities to bully fellow players at the poker table.
Shooting an angle to steal a cheap win is a big badge of dishonor, even amongst the thieves who earn their keep scooping up opponents’ chip stacks.
19 – Silver Miner
If you ever catch a sad sack carefully checking the coin trays on slot or video poker machines, you’ve caught yourself a “silver miner.”
20 – Drawing Dead
When you have no cards left in the deck that can produce a win, you are officially “drawing dead.”
21 – Busto
Find yourself drawing dead enough times and you’ll be on the fast track to going “busto.”
Naturally, there’s no shame in losing on any given night, so the busto moniker is most often used on gamblers who have gone broke entirely in life.
It Pays to Know the Game
Casino gamblers can be a tough crowd to say the least, especially on perceived outsiders who seem like they don’t belong. With that said, you shouldn’t fret if you hear a few of these words used in your direction on occasion.
Chances are, you’re just being “needled” (another slang word for “gently teased”) to test your moxie. Don’t get too comfortable, though. Because if the words on this list become a constant soundtrack during your casino sessions, you might just be doing something to deserve the scorn.