Valentine's special: As we're celebrating, let's order chips

If the classic date movie `Ocean's Twelve' inspires a night out at a casino, read Hermione Eyre's guide first

Finally, he asks you out. He looks into your eyes (good) takes you by the hand (very good) and tells you he wants to take you to a casino. Bells start to sound in your ears. Not wedding bells - alarm bells. Because there is possibly no worse partner you could have than an addicted gambler. So let us try the scenario again.

He looks into your eyes, etc, etc, and tells you he wants to take you to the movies. Ocean's Twelve. Perfect. And then, several dates later, once it is clear that neither of you is a seasoned and compulsive gambler, you decide to visit a casino together. This is where the fun begins.

Only 3 per cent of the UK population have ever been into a casino. Casinos are intimidating, and a visit requires forethought. But it will be well worth it, because the gambling subculture is dramatic and bizarre. Casinos may not be as rarefied as in the movies (the only place they still say "Rien ne va plus" is France). But a visit will be an experience, and thus, romantic. You'll leave having discovered something together, and either won or lost together too. Gambling culture is homogenous worldwide, so whether you are in the Crown in Melbourne, or the Casino di Campione at Lake Como, the etiquette and rules of play will be the same.

Choosing your casino.

A gambling den in Lahore is probably not a safe place to visit. But large casinos are extremely safe, and most are run according to almost military precision. Try for the most upscale casino in town; lower-end chain casinos are run for small-time addicts who don't notice grubby, peeling gambling chips and will probably be wearing pyjamas under their overcoats. That said, before you breeze into the swellest, most elegant casino, check how much you are going to have to spend per throw. Ask what prices the roulette tables are set at: a single roulette chip could cost as much as Û30.

What to wear.

When I was working on the tables at Gala Casino, I saw a couple come in dressed for the evening in black tie and a ballgown. Their embarrassment was tangible. At Le Casino Monte Carlo it is a different story, yet dressing ostentatiously will always mark you out as a casino tourist. True gamblers have little thought for personal presentation, as I discovered when dealing required me to stand closer to them than I would have liked.

Getting inside.

Many casinos abroad require that you show your passport; it might also be useful to take it along with you when you join a UK casino. Stepping through the door of the premier independent London clubs (Crockford's, the Clermont, the Ritz) costs a flat pounds 1,000 membership fee. At Aspinall's, the Mayfair casino where Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman went on a date, you have to pay the fee, be recommended by an existing member and approved by the membership committee. It might be easier to join The Groucho Club.

Most other UK clubs are free to join, although 24 hours must elapse before you play. In Vegas, you have to be over 21 to gamble. (You only have to be over 18 to get married in an Elvis chapel, however, so your visit might not be pointless.)

Choosing your game.

Dice ("craps") is difficult to master. It is only worth a blind punt if you want an excuse to ask your partner to kiss the dice before you throw it. Black Jack is easy if you watch a few games closely first. Don't be inhibited about this; it's what real gamblers do in order to see the way the pack is falling.

Playing. Be sensitive about butting into an ongoing game of Black Jack. The other players will feel you have interrupted their run of cards. Instead, pitch in with a bet directly after a shuffle. Never touch the cards: you could be marking an ace and the croupier will bite your head off. During any game, affect as many superstitions as possible. People will think you are a real gambler, whether you are in Sun City or Atlantic City.

Don't forget that in international casinos, drinks come free, and that there is a reason for this. Tipping croupiers for a big win is also customary abroad.

By contrast, in the UK, it is at present illegal to take a drink on to the gambling floor, and croupiers are not allowed to take tips. However, waitresses will serve you complimentary sandwiches, but since they are generally unpaid they depend upon tips and you might get a cross word (or even tea spilt down your leg) if you don't oblige. Neither of these look good on a date.

Most importantly, however, remember that it is never, ever, a good idea to try to con a casino. Whatever Julia Roberts might say to the contrary.

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