Most blackjack players who’ve played for any length of time understand that rules for the game vary from casino to casino. In fact, they vary from one table to another.
The obvious example is the size of the payout for a blackjack (a 2-card total of 21).
The standard for decades is for a blackjack to pay off at 3 to 2 odds.
But recently, many casinos started offering blackjack games that pay off at 6 to 5 odds.
What does this do to the house edge?
It increases the house’s advantage by 1.5%.
That might not sound like much, but a basic strategy player at a standard blackjack player faces a house edge of only 0.5%.
This means that the house’s mathematical edge quadruples because of what seems like one small rules change.
In this post, I look at some of the rules changes and what stakes they happen at.
6/5 Blackjack Versus 3/2 Blackjack
Some casinos offer 6/5 blackjack at their lower stakes tables while offering the standard 3/2 payouts at their higher stakes tables.
Let’s take a hypothetical Las Vegas casino and look at what happens to their profits when they implement this rules change at lower stakes.
They might offer the standard 3/2 payout on their $25 minimum tables. An average blackjack player might play 80 hands per hour at such a table, putting $2000 per hour into action.
Assuming perfect strategy on the part of that player, you’re looking at a house edge of only 0.5%, which means that a player at this table will lose an average of $10 per hour at this table. A table full of these players might generate $60 per hour for the casino.
The players at the $5 table are only putting $400 per hour into action.
But with the 6/5 payout in effect, the house edge increases from 0.5% to 2%.
This means that the players at this table are losing $8 per hour – almost as much as the players gambling 5 times as much per hand at the other table.
Casinos want to encourage action at the higher stakes tables because they make more money from gamblers who are betting more per hand.
But the payout for a blackjack isn’t the only rule a casino might change.
Hitting and Standing on a Soft 17
Everyone knows that the dealer has to hit any total of 16 or less.
It’s better for the player if the dealer has to stand on all totals of 17 – even soft totals of 17.
But in lower stakes games, the dealer hits a soft 17.
What does this do to the house edge?
It increases it by 0.2% — which sounds like a minor increase, but it’s a bigger increase than you might think.
Suppose a casino has a game where the minimum bet is $50, and the dealer has to stand on all 17s. The house edge for such a game might be 0.5%.
At 80 hands per hour, the gambler is putting $4000 per hour into action. The expected loss per hour for that player is $20.
That same casino might have a game with a minimum bet of $25, but the dealer hits a soft 17. This increases the house edge from 0.5% to 0.7%.
The gamblers at this table are putting $2000 per hour into action, but now they’re losing $14 per hour instead of the $10 per hour you’d expect.
The casino STILL makes more money from the higher limit table, but by just changing one small rule, they come closer to getting the same kind of hourly win rate.
The Worst Blackjack Rules in Las Vegas Are at the Strip Casinos
80% of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip are owned by the same 4 companies. They all have similar blackjack rules – and those rules aren’t as favorable to the players as you’d hope.
Your best bet as a blackjack player is to just avoid the blackjack games on the Strip altogether. You can find better games elsewhere in the city.
For one thing, it’s almost impossible to find blackjack for less than $10 per hand on the Strip.
You’d think that such casinos would offer terrible rules for players, but you’d be surprised.
For example, I’ve read reports about the $3 games at Arizona Charlies. You can double down on any total there, and you can even double down after splitting. Good luck finding those generous rules at one of the Strip casinos.
You can also play $5 blackjack at Arizona Charlies from a 2-deck shoe, which is practically unheard of elsewhere in Vegas. And, if you didn’t already know it, the more decks you have in use, the higher the house edge becomes.
Single deck blackjack has the lowest house edge, everything else being equal.
You can find $5 blackjack at a host of locals casinos, especially in Downtown. Some of the casinos offering $5 blackjack include Boulder Station, El Cortez, and the Orleans.
In fact, any of the Stations casinos offer good rules for low stakes blackjack players.
If You ARE Going to Play Blackjack on the Strip
Treasure Island is your best bet for $10 blackjack on the Strip, but those tables are usually crowded, and there aren’t many of them. The game does have good rules, though – you can even find a game there sometimes that’s dealt from just 2 decks.
But, if you’re going to play blackjack on the Strip, you’re probably going to need to wager $25 prer hand or more. Any of the MGM properties are good for this level of play.
These include Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, Mirage, Monte Carlo, and New York New York,
Comparing Rules Variations in Blackjack
For the most part, the rules variations in blackjack involve giving the player more options or fewer options. In any given blackjack situation, having more options is better than having fewer options.
For example, in some casinos, you can only double down on a 9, 10, or 11.
In other casinos, you’re allowed to double down on any total.
In some casinos, you’re allowed to double down after splitting.
In others, you can’t double down after splitting.
These are all examples of how having more flexibility in your choices increases or decreases the house edge.
You always want to decrease the house edge when you can.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking the 0.1% or 0.2% doesn’t matter.
When you’re dealing with something like the house edge, every tenth of a percent matters.
What if You Want to Count Cards?
If you want to count cards, one of the first things you want to do is find a casino that isn’t using a continuous shuffling machine. You can’t get an edge counting cards if the discards get shuffled back into the deck immediately.
Card counting works because some higher value cards are no longer in the deck, or some lower value cards are no longer in the deck. When the composition of the deck becomes favorable to the player instead of to the house, the card counter raises the size of his bets.
You can’t do that if you’re getting cards from a freshly shuffled deck every hand.
Also, the fewer decks being used, the better it is for the card counter. Every card dealt from a single deck affects the house edge.
But the value of each card is diluted in a pack of cards made up of multiple decks.
Here’s an example:
If 4 aces have been dealt out of a single deck blackjack game, it’s now impossible to get dealt a blackjack before the cards are shuffled again. This is advantageous for the casino, and the card counter knows it and lowers his bet accordingly.
But if you’re playing in an 8-deck game, you have 32 aces in the deck total. The elimination of 4 of those aces doesn’t make nearly as much of a difference.
Tiny differences in the rules have a major effect on the math involved when playing real money blackjack. Generally, you’ll find more flexibility in the games with lower stakes.
You’ll have a hard time finding a combination of low stakes and good rules variations on the Strip in Las Vegas, especially. Try to stick with the casinos Downtown or on Boulder Highway if you’re a low roller looking for a game with good odds.