It’s easy to find online blackjack games. But the rising popularity of live dealer games highlights a nagging concern that has plagued the online gaming industry for over two decades.
Are online blackjack games rigged?
Honestly, there is no way to know for sure. That’s more because of the immense number of blackjack gaming sites than for any other reason. But you’re trusting the online casino to play a fair game.
With live dealer blackjack you can see the dealer pulling cards. It feels more transparent than when you’re playing a computer simulation.
Does that really matter, though?
We don’t need to invoke the laws of physics to explain why blackjack simulators feel a bit unnatural. But it’s worth looking at the differences between online blackjack and playing in a land-based casino.
1 – Blackjack Simulations Vary in Design
I’ve played some shady blackjack simulators. I say they are shady because they were obviously using random numbers to “guess” what card should come next.
You might be thinking these games all work the same way but they don’t. An honest blackjack simulator tracks all the cards in the shoe. Whether it’s a 1-deck game or an 8-deck game, if the Ace of Spades is dealt the game tracks that virtual card until the next shuffle.
The shady games don’t track the cards. They just spin up a random number and use it to decide what card is dealt next. You could see the Ace of Spades come up 3 times in a row on a “single deck” game.
I test online blackjack games in free play mode before putting any money on the line. As long as I’m satisfied they are tracking the virtual cards I feel it’s worth taking a chance on the game.
But even if all the games work as you want them to, you can’t assume you’ll be able to count cards.
Online blackjack games demand perfect play more than we want to admit. Players are proud and stubborn. We’re all experts in the game.
If you’re losing at online blackjack it could be you’ve picked a bad game, but it could also be that you’re making the wrong assumptions about how the game works.
2 – Online Blackjack Feels Different from Playing in a Casino
I don’t know if anyone has studied the psychology of blackjack players, comparing online play to land-based casino play. But it always feels different to me.
I wonder – in the back of my mind – if I make different decisions based on the environment. The temptation to take some extra risks seems a little stronger in a 1-on-1 game where I don’t have any other players to think about.
In a land-based casino I’m less likely to make a risky play because I don’t want to see people rolling their eyes at me. In an online game I might go for the money a little more often.
If I’m not just imagining that, and if other players gamble the same way, then maybe we’re cheating ourselves by trying to be more bold in private play.
Maybe this is yet another reason why casinos love whales so much. They often ask for and get private tables.
3 – Have You Chosen the Right Casino?
Where you gamble online makes a difference. I honestly, truly believe that. I’ve read so many player complaints and casino blacklist reports that I know some of these sites are cheating players.
The game already favors the house. Blackjack may have one of the lowest house edges among casino games but it’s still designed to take your money. So if a casino sets out to cheat players it can do so in one of two ways.
There are certain online casino operators who change brands like runway models change clothes in a fashion show. As soon as they are caught cheating players they shut down their sites and open new casinos.
If you get a spooky feeling of déjà vu when testing a new casino, your instincts could be right. It’s always a good idea to look for player complaints and how they are resolved when testing new casinos.
4 – Have You Chosen the Right Kind of Blackjack Game?
There are two ways that blackjack games can differ from what you know.
I’ve already discussed the first way a game can differ above – where the specific game’s card management may be something other than what you expect.
But the other way a game can differ is more obvious. You might pick a blackjack game with a slightly different name from what you’re used to playing. If try out Double Up Blackjack without understanding how the rules are slightly different you’ll use the wrong playing strategy and end up losing all of your real money.
The casino may be offering you better odds on some hands but you’ll pay for those odds in other ways. If you don’t understand the rules of the game and how the odds differ from what you expect, you’ll have a harder time winning than in the game you know.
5 – Inconsistent Play Doesn’t Improve Your Chances
Everyone gets frustrated with a run of bad luck. Giving in to the temptation to change things up with crazy betting or playing angles isn’t going to improve your chances of winning.
You might get a good hand if you do something stupid. But the good hand comes in spite of doing something stupid, not because you took a chance on unorthodox play.
Basic blackjack strategy doesn’t guarantee you’ll win. Basic strategy offers you the best chance of holding the house edge down in a fair game. The better you are with basic strategy the better your chances of winning but you could still lose.
Blackjack is not just a game of skill. It’s a game of chance and skill. The casino plays blackjack because the rules affect who chance favors.
No matter how good a player’s skill is the house is betting more on chance than skill. In fact, the house is betting more on players’ unrealistic faith in their own skill. All the dealer must do is follow the house rules.
Since chance is against you making things worse by tossing your skills out the window isn’t helping. Yes, I wrote above that I sometimes do this. But my eyes are open.
And I know I shouldn’t do that.
6 – Do You Practice Enough?
Nothing replaces practice. If you don’t practice playing the game enough you won’t be ready for the real money games.
I know some people who only play blackjack for real money. If you have enough money to lose then you can practice like that.
Even though the free play games may not be as exciting as the real money games, if you’re serious about beating online casino blackjack you need to practice, practice, practice.
There is no excuse for entering a lame horse in a race and no reason not to practice blackjack on free games.
7 – Do You Have the Budget You Need?
How much money do you need to stake yourself as a professional gambler? That figure may depend on many different factors but it’s going to be in the thousands of dollars.
Blackjack may be easier to win than other games but if you judge winning by how much money you have at the end of the session then you need a good bankroll.
Because the payout odds on blackjack are so low compared to other games you need to make bigger wagers to win big. And that means any mistake will be costly.
Everyone’s got a story about rolling $50 into a $500 night at the blackjack tables. But no matter how many hands you win during the game the last hand matters the most.
Whether you leave the table with more money than you started depends in part on you. And that is true in online blackjack too.
Think of it this way: the less you practice the more money you’ll need to stay in the game.
If you’re compensating for a lack of practice and skill in basic strategy with money you’re less likely to beat the online game than the odds and probability tables predict.
A fair and honest online blackjack game can be beaten just as much as its offline counterparts. The rules may change slightly because of how the cards are managed but this is true in land-based casinos.
The house rules may also change and as with land-based casinos the player must study the rules before playing the game.
Beyond those factors it comes down to managing your own expectations and habits. If you play the online game with less preparation than you bring to the land-based game you should expect different results over time.
But there is also the chance you pick the wrong casino. Be very sure before you hand your money over to strangers that they can be trusted.