“Hit me.” As I tapped my finger on the table, I wasn’t sure if I was making the right call. Then the dealer flipped my card. Twenty one! I was safe and ready to play another round. On this Saturday evening I was gambling with my own hard-earned money. But converted into chips it didn’t feel like real cash — just toy markers for keeping score in a game, like Monopoly money. That made the chips all too easy to wager.
Gambling isn’t my usual thing. I’d tried my hand once at roulette in Vegas, won enough to pay for my trip within an hour and cashed out while I was ahead. But after being invited down to Angel of the Winds Casino & Hotel in Arlington, WA, I decided to give gaming another shot.
The night before, we had learned the basics during a practice game. When we decided to go all in, we were given more chips anytime we asked the dealer. We got a feeling for when we should hit or stay, picked up tips and learned the signals so we wouldn’t look like complete beginners. By the time we’d finished our lesson and dinner, the lure of my comfy king-size bed had proved irresistible. This evening, I’d promised myself to fight the siren call of white cotton sheets and sleep in favour of green baize table tops and blackjack, while putting my own money on the line.
After exploring the tulip festival on Saturday, I feasted at the dinner buffet and then retreated to my room for a nap. Refreshed, I grabbed half my winnings from the night before and headed down to the casino floor. By leaving the other half in my room, I ensured I wouldn’t lose everything and that at worst, I’d get several exciting hours of entertainment without going broke. But questions still raced through my mind: Would I remember the tips from our dry runs? When do I hit again? When do I split?
I searched around for the right kind of table, one with a low minimum and empty spaces. The only spots that were free were first and third base. I decided to go for the first one and converted some crisp twenties to chips. After a couple of rounds, I jumped spots to try out third base.I wanted time to decide what to do and I figured I wouldn’t be there for that long, as my stake would run out quickly.
I was doing pretty well and kept winning chips. As I got comfortable with the other players, I confessed my beginner status, which made me the target of some gentle joshing. I did have a strategy: I was playing for low amounts —$5 a hand — while others were wagering a couple of hundred bucks on some rounds. If they had more than twenty on the table and it was borderline decision whether I should hit or stay, I would let them come to a decision. My amatuer tactics paid off, as the high rollers would tip me for their big wins, in addition to the dealer. It took away my fear of making the wrong decision, and it cost them hundreds.
As the night went on, three of us stayed steadily at the table while others drifted in for a few hands before moving on. One of the die-hards, a guy we’ll call Luke, was a fun loving, middle-aged man who knew all the dealers and pit bosses, and was a great tipper. Luke was a local who loved playing at the casino. He would come in every couple of weeks with a set stake to wager; Once it was gone, so was he. While switching between small and large bets, he gave me tips when I forgot to split or when I needed advice on how to play the cards, and regaled me with fascinating tales about his experiences growing up in the area.
At one point, a freshly turned-21 adult sat down at the table and changed a few hundred dollars into chips. His obvious tipsyness was reflected in his gambling decisions: hitting on 19, staying on 10, and so on. In return for this entertainment, we taught him a little etiquette as he loved to let out the occasional swear word and didn’t know that he should be tipping, especially when he won big. Eventually, his grandmother came in, took his chips and cashed him out. It turned out she’d been waiting outside in her car for several hours and was ready to head home. It wasn’t exactly a James Bond-style casino departure, but it was memorable in its own way, and we were sad to see him go.
Time flies when you are playing. Before I knew it, they announced the table was closing after we finished the deck. My energy was high from the adrenaline of winning, the cool air in the casino and the company of my table mates. As I cashed out, I looked at the clock: 3AM! I was grateful to be pretty much already home: a short walk across the lobby, an quick elevator ride, and I was in my cozy, oversized bed.
The next morning was tough as I imposed an early wake-up time on myself to take advantage of the buffet breakfast, which was full of crepes, eggs, fruit and pastry. As I sipped my tea in the lobby, waiting for my travel writer friends to arrive for a meeting, I was daydreaming of heading up to my room for another nap and taking advantage of the dual head shower to wash away the tiredness.
If you go:
Between its casino and restaurants, you could spend your whole weekend indoors at Angel of the Winds without getting bored. But it also makes a very convenient base for exploring the Mount Vernon area. You can head out to the tulip festival during April, or visit Granite Falls and other small country towns any time of year. The resort is also close enough to Seattle to pop up there for an evening.
Smoking is allowed on the casino floor, but not in the hotel. It wasn’t as smoky as I remember the Vegas casino being, but part of that is the declining percentage of people who smoke.
Tips for playing blackjack from the Angel of the Winds staff:
- Most casinos will not acknowledge verbal instructions; proper hand signals are essential. For games where the cards are face up, remember the following signals. If you forget, don’t be afraid to ask the dealer::
- “Stand” – wave hand over your cards without moving your arm, left to right.
- “Hit” – Tap the table
- “Double Down” or “Split” – place the additional bet next to your original bet. If you have two fours or fives, hold up one finger to double down and two fingers to split.
- Don’t purchase insurance.
- Don’t sit in first base when you are learning and getting a feel for the game. It will give you longer to review your cards before deciding on what to do.
- Set up a maximum you are going to spend. Once you run out of money, leave and enjoy the outdoors, your travelling companions or your room.
- Stand when your hand is 12-16 if the dealer has 2-6.
- Hit when your hand is 12-16 if the dealer has 7-Ace
- Always split Aces and 8s