As a writer by trade, and a gambling enthusiast throughout all of my adult life, I enjoy bringing a journal along whenever I head out to the casino. For the most part, I’m taking notes on my own play, recording results, and keeping track of my expenditures. But I also have a little fun, too.
Whether I’m playing or just walking around, I get a kick out of documenting all of the odd little slang terms casino regulars casually banter back and forth with.
Here’s 21 casino colloquialisms that every gambler should be happy to hear.
1 – Sharp
For our first entry on the list, I’ve chosen an extremely common bit of lingo which actually has two distinct meanings to the casino crowd.
First and foremost, card players deemed to be “sharp” are especially skilled in games like Texas holdem, blackjack, and even real money video poker.
*Believe me, despite many people mistaking this one as “card shark,” sharp is the correct usage.
Shifting to the realm of sports betting, a “sharp” bettor is one who consistently identifies the best available odds, sides, and action. To wit, sportsbook managers keep a running list of known sharps, limiting their action when appropriate and even using their betting to improve the book’s internal odds making process.
2 – Wise Guy
Essentially, the “wise guys” were the original sharps, mob-connected figures hailing from the East Coast who ran the underworld sports betting racket way back when.
These days, any successful professional bettor who knows their stuff can be tabbed as a modern-day wise guy.
3 – Beast
Whether you excel at blackjack, video poker, cash games, or tournaments, winning much more often than you lose secures the “beast” label. Becoming a beast in these skill-based games almost always takes a ton of study, hard work, and dedication to the craft.
4 – Luck-Box
I did say almost up above, now, didn’t I? In rare cases, a beast can be born through nothing more than sheer good luck.
And when a gambler always seems to draw that perfect card to down the dealer, nail the point number, or hit their number, they soon become known far and wide as bona fide “luck-box.”
5 – Card-Rack
If you find a luck-box whose good fortune appears to be limited exclusively to card games, congratulations, you’ve just met your first “card-rack” in the flesh.
Card racks are the folks who call for the nine of spades just before it appears to make their hand. And when all seems lost ahead of the river card, a real rack doesn’t even flinch when their miracle flush comes through.
6 – Whale
Every so often, you can pull a Captain Ahab and set eyes on a “whale” in the wild while strolling through the casino.
Casinos obviously cater to their pet whales’ every whim, hoping to harpoon their high-rolling prey and haul in the bounty that Ahab never could. While they treat almost everyone well, casinos treat high rollers with a completely different set of rules compared to the average gambler.
7 – George
The next time you overhear a dealer or server refer to you as “George,” consider that one of the highest compliments they can pay. And yes, that holds true even if you’re a woman.
In the casino employee community, a George is just any player who tips more generously than most. Maybe they’re whales with money to burn, card-racks who want to share the wealth, or simply good souls who know service industry workers rely on tips to stay afloat.
8 – Arm
At the craps table, a select handful of players seem to have an uncanny knack for rolling the dice with some semblance of control.
These seemingly skilled shooters, better known as “arms” in craps vernacular, tend to go on extended rolls that last far longer than the average player. When everyone calls for a six to hit the point, they simply smile and let the old 3-3 fly without missing a beat.
Whether the arms out there are merely luck-boxes enjoying a short-term upswing, or legitimate “dice controllers,” will always be a matter of fierce debate.
9 – Natural
In blackjack, the term “natural” refers to the game’s eponymous best hand—Ace + 10 value for a winning blackjack on the deal.
Baccarat players also shoot for naturals by making an eight or nine on the first two cards.
As a player, however, earning that natural status requires a display of raw skill, of pure talent that can’t be taught.
10 – Coattail
If you happened to be a natural at the roulette table—which would prove quite difficult considering the lack of influence players have on that game’s outcome—don’t be surprised when others start to “coattail” your bets.
If the game’s top player opts for a 3-9-21 combination inside plus Red / 1st Column on the outside, and others merely mimic their choices, the initial bettor is now the table coattail.
11 – Honeymooner
No matter what the game happens to be, most veteran gamblers believe that rank rookies will invariably experience a bout of beginner’s luck.
And when a newbie does just that, winning in spite of themselves, they are said to be enjoying the “honeymoon phase.” Thus, a beginner who starts winning right out of the gate is called a “honeymooner.”
12 – Spin Doctor
Folks who always seem to spin their starting stack of chips, or their initial credit count on the machines, into significant profits are known as “spin doctors.”
13 – Reg
Short for “regular,” the term “reg” generally refers to a player recognized as competent, qualified, and experienced by his or her peers.
Regs often look down upon the “recs,” or recreational players who make preventable mistakes while not taking the game quite as seriously.
14 – Fave
Whenever you enjoy a higher statistical probability of winning than you do losing, you’re said to be the favorite at that point in the bet.
For example, after getting your chip stack in with Ace-King against Ace-Queen preflop in Texas holdem, you’ll be a 72% “fave” to win after a five-card runout.
15 – Snapper
A holdover from the days when blackjack dealers paid out naturals using half-dollar coins, “snapper” is just another word for a 21 on the deal.
Coins might not be as popular in today’s 6:5 games, but landing blackjack will still attract calls of “snapper!” from old-school dealers.
16 – Heater
Another way to say somebody has hit a hot streak or lucky run, going on a “heater” is what every gambler craves when they’re mixing it up.
Savvy players seem to know intuitively when a heater is on the way, pressing their bets to take advantage of the consecutive winners to come
17 – Grinder
Any reg who can be found toiling in the pit or on the machines, day in and day out like they’re working a 9-to-5, is looked on with pride as a legitimate “grinder.”
In order to overcome the statistical edge against players, skill-game grinders know they need to put in heavy levels of volume to smooth out the bumps and bruises of short-term variance.
18 – Chip Leader
At any tournament or cash game poker table, the player holding the most chips (in terms of value, not quantity) has earned the title of “chip leader.”
19 – Table Captain
And when a chip leader uses that natural advantage to take over the table, bullying and bluffing opponents into submission, they emerge as the “table captain.”
Table captains tend to talk more, play more pots, and indeed, add to their chip leading status with little resistance.
20 – End Boss
The best table captains know how to turn a chip lead into a run at the final table.
A nod to video game end bosses like Bowser in the Super Mario Bros. series, this honorific implies that you’re the final hurdle other players know they’ll have to conquer in order to win.
21 – Winner, Winner… Chicken Dinner!
Back in Sin City’s glory days, every casino in town served up a decent chicken dinner plate for under $2. And because most tourists in that era stuck with the $2 minimum bet, landing a winning hand prompted the best dealers to cry out “Winner, Winner… Chicken Dinner!”
Casino meals might cost a tad more in 2021, but veteran gamblers still use this congratulatory call to this day.
Join the Community
As you can see, there’s no shortage of ways to praise other players on the casino floor. Learning the uniquely inclusive language used by gamblers from coast to coast is simply one aspect of joining this eclectic community.
Sure, it might be strange to have a stranger call you “George” when your name is “John,” but trust me, you’ll get the hang of things in no time flat. And now that you know how to speak in casino code, be sure to pay it forward by teaching the next beginner how to blend in with the regs.