Vegas Casinos Mess With Blackjack Rules to Increase House Advantage

Blackjack used to be one of the best bets in Vegas. Easy to understand, with decent odds. The house advantage on a single-deck game of blackjack, under standard rules, was a measly .18%.

But the casinos are intent to wring out the fun. Here’s how they’re doing it:

    • Cutting the payout for hitting blackjack from 3:2 to 6:5
    • Requiring the dealer to hit and not stand on a “soft 17″
    • Limiting players’ rights to double-down
    • Increasing the number of decks in the shoe

Phil Gordon might explain the exact numbers behind all these, but each of these is bad for the player.

Time to start reading the fine print — those plastic cards that state the minimum bet and other table rules. Each casino can have different rules. Rules aren’t even standard within the same hotel.

If you want to play old-school single-deck blackjack with 3:2 payouts, you’ll have to head to the El Cortez or Four Queens hotels. Neither of them are swanky, but your odds of winning are a lot higher. MARK ASHLEY

Las Vegas: A winner’s guide to blackjack [LA Times]

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  1. GenXCub says:

    Most of those rules have been in place for a long time. As a Vegas resident, I will tell you this:

    1) The 6:5 blackjack payout will almost ALWAYS only be on Single Deck games. Double-Deck and Shoe games will still be 3:2.

    2) Downtown is the last bastion of “stand on all 17’s” Strip and the fancier neighborhood casinos (The coasts, fiestas, stations) have been “Hot on Soft 17″ for as long as I’ve lived here (7 years).

    3) I haven’t seen Double Down limitations (I frequent the Station casino places), but there are Split Limitations (split aces receive only 1 card, face down)

    4) Increasing decks in the shoe are only to discourage card counting. If you play basic strategy (If dealer has X and you have Y, perform Z) the number of decks doesn’t affect your win percentage. If you include some form of card count, then it will.

  2. 44 in a Row says:

    As far as single-deck blackjack, 6:5 is absolutely a ripoff. On the other hand, before the 6:5 payouts were introduced, single-deck blackjack had nearly disappeared from the Strip. The trick is not to think of it as a “modification” to an old game, but an entirely new game; in fact, a lot of the purists don’t consider anything that’s not 3:2 to really be “blackjack”, and you’ll notice in a lot of casinos that they’ll refer to it as something like “Single Deck 21″ when there’s a 6:5 payout.

    H17 vs. S17 is trickier to discern, because you often have to look at the felt itself, as opposed to the card on the table. Most places, unfortunately, are becoming H17, but it’s a much smaller change to the house edge (adds about 0.2%) as compared to 6:5 (which adds about 1.4%).

    The double-down restrictions are something that I’ve heard of, but never actually seen in practice. I’m not aware of any casinos that actually restrict doubling to 10-11 or 9-10-11, with the exception of those video blackjack games.

    No matter what, it’s even more important to learn basic strategy for blackjack, than it is to spend your time worrying about the rules on the individual tables. Sure, check the rules, and try to get the best deal you can, but basic strategy is an absolute must.

  3. 44 in a Row says:

    And GenXCub beat me to all of that. The only thing I’d add is that the limitations on splitting are pretty much universal; I’ve never been in a casino that lets you draw on split aces.

    I also have to take issue, somewhat, with the article’s claim about the continuous shuffle machines. They’re right that you play more hands, and thus lose faster; in a game where you’re at a disadvantage on every hand, the only thing that determines how much you win or lose in the long run is how many hands you play. But, as with adding decks, it doesn’t actually affect your odds on an individual hand unless you’re counting cards.

  4. OnceWasCool says:

    Save TONS of money by just mailing them a check for half of what you plan to gamble and stay at home! :)

  5. JohnMc says:

    Well if one treats Vegas gambling for its entertainment value then do the odds matter? I fully expect to lose so if I break even or win a little so much the better.

  6. 44 in a Row says:

    But, as with adding decks, it doesn’t actually affect your odds on an individual hand unless you’re counting cards.

    Gah. I stand corrected. The math shows that more decks does, in fact, mean a higher house edge; it has something to do wtih the greater quantity of low cards, leading to fewer busts, which benefits the house.

    But either way, like JohnMc says, it’s entertainment. When I spent $10 to go to the movies, or $200 to go skiing, that’s my entertainment expense and I don’t expect to get any of that money back. Gambling is no different.

  7. Hexum2600 says:

    Thats exactly right, except why do I always feel disapointed when I actually win money? Throws my budget all off…

    Regardless, I stick with the nations largest legalized form of gambling, the stock market.

  8. ajn007 says:

    I have long advised visitors to Vegas to avoid the Strip for anything but sightseeing and eating. Gambling on the strip is generally for (rich) suckers.

  9. healthdog says:

    I am shocked – shocked! – to hear that casinos make attempts to get all of the gambler’s money.

  10. GenXCub says:

    @JohnMc: Yes, the odds do matter. The whole point of gambling is to win, even though over time, you will not (not counting sports/race betting and poker). If you flew out here to Vegas for a vacation and either 1) lost $100 or 2) lost $1000, it technically colors how you viewed the vacation.

    I understand the spirit of your comment because you shouldn’t expect to win, but you should also expect to get your money’s worth. When I go out to the casino and drop $20 in a video slot, if it lasts me 20 minutes, I’m not disturbed. If it drops me in 90 seconds, it’s very annoying. We want to get the best bang for our buck, especially if we lose.

  11. GenXCub says:

    @44 in a Row: 44, can you direct me to the math? While I realize that it benefits the house to have more lower cards in a deck, shouldn’t the percentages equal out? (honest question, not being snarky)

  12. humphrmi says:

    The odds anywhere are with the house, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Vegas or at the Pottawatamie Bingo House in Wisconsin. But for me, regardless of the odds, it’s how much fun I have, for how long.

    I used to be able to sit down at not-the-cheapest blackjack table and play a couple hundred bucks for hours. It was fun. If I walked away with half of that, I spent 50-100 bucks for 3 hours of fun. That’s cheap for Vegas.

    Now a couple hundred bucks, between the table minimums and the odss, only seems to last 30 minutes or so. Feh. So I go play Craps now :)

  13. 44 in a Row says:

    GenXClub:

    http://wizardofodds.com/blackjack/appendix10.html

    That’s the Wizard of Odds comparison of the CSM to a shoe, which is a start.

    Also look at this:

    http://www.bjrnet.com/faq21_7.htm

    That article has some other references which explain it better than I can hope to. Basically, having more low cards gets you in two ways. The first is because the dealer is less likely to bust (it’s much more likely that the dealer will pull 3 or 4 low cards in a row when there are more available in the shoe); the second is because you’re less likely to get the face cards you want when doubling down, which is where a surprisingly large percentage of your expected winnings come from.

  14. RumorsDaily says:

    Assuming I don’t count cards (which I don’t) why would I have any preference for 1 deck blackjack over 6 deck blackjack? Is the assumption on one deck that everybody’s counting cards?

  15. LaFontaine says:

    Who cares about casino games anymore? Slots, poker, blackjack, all are destined to go the way of horse racing and fargo. The real action is on sports betting, and it should be state-run and nationwide because it’d make a shitload and relieve us of a tax burden.

  16. Joe Hass says:

    Ingen: At a single deck game, each hand starts fresh with all 52 cards in play. However, when you have a multi-deck game, as you go further into the deck, the quantity of each point-value card can either help or hurt you (this is what’s known as the “count” for card counters). Obviously, it works both ways (it can either help you if there are a lot of high cards or hurt you if they’re lower).

    Further, there’s the metric of hands per hour. A casino wants to deal you as many hands an hour as possible, simply because the more you play, the better the chance is the house will win (hence why you see automatic shufflers or, worse yet, the continuous shuffling machines). At a single deck game, the dealer has to shuffle the deck every hand, taking 20 to 30 seconds each time. At a multi-deck game, even when they hit the end of the shoe marker, it takes only 60 to 75 seconds to swap out decks. Less time futzing around means more hands for the house to pull a five on a 16.

    Bottom line: all else being equal, always pick the table with the fewer decks.

  17. jfurdell says:

    I always play at Mandalay Bay when I’m in Vegas. Half the tables are stand-on-soft-17, and although they don’t advertise it, they also have late surrender. This means you can (and should) surrender half your bet when you have 16 against a 9 or 10, or 15 against a 10. That also increases your odds slightly and not too many other places offer it.