The Art of Ratholing
This post is meant to help low and moderate-stakes players. High-stakes players have to deal with other issues when contemplating ratholing. Advantage players and casinos use the term ratholing to describe players who take chips off the table.
There is nothing illegal when a player removes chips from the table. The practice of putting chips in your pocket is quite common among players. Ploppies who rathole chips do so in hopes of leaving the table a winner. What is more likely is ploppies will start to lose and then have to bring the ratholed chips back onto the table and eventually into the chip tray. Advantage players’ ratholed chips will usually find their way to the cashier's cage. That’s the difference between ploppies who rathole and advantage players who rathole.
Ratholing chips for an advantage player can be a winning strategy if it is done in a way that is not detected by the pit or surveillance. The problem with this play is the advantage player does not know when the move is successful. The player may think he/she was able to hide chips but was detected by surveillance, the dealer or the pit. While ratholing chips can be a winning strategy, it also can be a warning sign to the casino that they have an advantage player at the table. Ratholing in itself will probably not bring a backoff, but combined with other advantage plays that are detected by the pit or surveillance, could lead to a backoff. It is for this reason an advantage player should have a ratholing strategy as part of his/her advantage play. Where, when, how and why should be part of that strategy.
Where to rathole? This depends on your bet level and the casino. As an example, we will take a look at four casinos in Las Vegas: Mirage, Bellagio, SouthPoint and the El Cortez. Our game will be double deck using a 1-8 spread with green chips. Our sessions will be for 40 minutes. During a 40 minute play, it is unlikely your cash out will be more than a couple of thousand dollars. The Mirage cage will probably not give you a second look; $2000 is chump change to the Mirage. Your play with a 1-8 spread at green chip is unlikely to draw much attention from the pit. The only time you might have some concern from the pit would be in heads-up play, but during a busy night and with other players playing higher stakes, you should not need to rathole any chips.
If you can find green chip play at Bellagio, they will not pay any attention to you. Ratholing chips here is unnecessary. At the green chip level, you can play longer with less cover. When playing green chips at the high-end casinos, ratholing can do you more harm than good. While it is a move many players make, it can still draw attention to you.
Let's move down from the high-end casinos to a mid-level casino like SouthPoint. The first thing your scouting trip will discover is Southpoint sweats all action, red, green, black, etc. Knowing this information before you sit down for a session gives you some knowledge of how you should play. A player's green action is going to draw attention from the pit and surveillance. Any winnings will bring more attention. Keeping winnings off the table is a good strategy. You can do this through an effective rathole strategy. A $2000 win at Southpoint will cause pain for them. This is true at most mid-level casinos. These casinos are the best casinos for players to disguise their play with ratholing.
The El Cortez is a low-end casino. All low-end casinos sweat green action and higher. A player will be under constant scrutiny by the pit and surveillance when playing green or higher. Ratholing chips is an excellent way of extending your playing time if you can rathole without their knowledge. The El Cortez will sweat a $500 payout. All downtown casinos in Las Vegas, with the exception of the Golden Nugget, are low-end casinos.
Where to rathole should be part of your strategy. Red and green chip players should rathole at mid and low-level casinos and not worry about ratholing at the higher-end casinos.
When to rathole? A player should make the attempt when the dealer and the pit is distracted. Several instances might be: A dealer is paying off another player, the pit is doing paperwork or verifying a payout on another table. Any time the dealer or the pit is distracted is when an advantage player should make this play. Getting chips off the table just before a dealer change or during a shift change with a dealer or the pit is another good time to rathole. Always look for any confusion to get your chips off the table.
Most players, when ratholing chips, try to rathole black chips. This chip is the chip the pit tracks closer than any other. Ratholing green chips is more likely to go unnoticed. Ratholing black chips can be successful if you have a strategy in place that will confuse the pit on the black chip count. For example, a new player comes into the game and loses or exchanges black chips for a different color. A player is given black chips just before a dealer change and the pit does not walk over and verify the black chip count. The new dealer may not know how many black chips the old dealer gave out. They may credit your chips to the other player if you have yours off the table.
How to rathole? All that is needed is your imagination to get chips off the table. There are dozens of ways to accomplish this strategy. I am not going to mention all of the ones I use, but I will give some examples of ways to remove chips from the table and not be detected. A very easy way to remove one chip is when the pit boss gives you your player's card back; leave it lying on the table. During a moment of distraction, slip one chip underneath the player's card; then during the next distraction, put the card in your pocket, along with the chip underneath. You can do this move several times by just bringing your player's card back out of your pocket. If you need an excuse to put your player's cards back on the table, one is when a new dealer comes in tell them you are not sure you gave the pit your card. Ask for a comp and leave the card on the table. I've made this play often in a session.
Another way is to learn how to palm chips in your hand. Ask for a cup of black coffee. They always give it to you in a styrofoam cup. Stand up and turn away from the table. Take a sip of black coffee why you're doing this drop the chips you have palmed into the coffee cup. Then just go to the restroom and take the chips out of the coffee cup. Do a sleight-of-hand when you cash out, stand up and push your stacks toward the dealer with your right hand while at the same time drop chips into your left pants pocket. Pushing chips with your right hand may be just enough distraction to cover up the move you're making with your left hand. Have your wife, girlfriend, etc. approach the table during a dealer change and ask you for some playing money. The pit and dealer may miss your donation.
It is possible ratholing could be a complete waste of time and accomplishes nothing. This is one of the unknowns in advantage play. It is difficult to verify if these techniques are successful.
The one way you do not want to rathole is on the table. I've seen players stack black chips on the bottom with green chips next and red chips on the very top in very neatly arranged stacks. This is a dead giveaway to the pit. I've also seen players try to rathole chips on the bottom of their bet with a couple of green, and then a bunch of red. This also is a tell.
Why rathole? Ratholing is a way to confuse the casino's records of your play. Advantage players want the casino to believe they are losing money. Ratholing chips when and if it works, is a way to look like a losing ploppy. When you're playing unrated the casino should not have any record of your play. Ratholing chips for an advantage player can be a winning strategy if it is done in a way that is not detected by the pit or surveillance. Ratholing, when playing unrated may buy you a little time before the eventual backoff. (See also: LV Bear’s Guide to Minimizing Risk of Personal Injury During Casino Backoffs and Barrings)
When you are scouting a casino for future play. Ratholing is one of the things you want to consider. Knowing when to rathole and when it does not make a difference is an advantage play. Having a strategy of where, when, how and why should be a part of an advantage player’s strategy.