For casual blackjack enthusiasts and bona fide experts alike, making the transition from Las Vegas to Atlantic City can be jarring to say the least. While the classic casino card game’s fundamental rules and structure remain the same in both regions, Atlantic City’s blackjack scene has evolved differently over the last four decades.
From the payouts awarded to players who land a natural blackjack, to the number of decks in the shoe, and even the various “21” themed variants to emerge in the modern era, Garden State gamblers play the game a little differently than their brethren in Sin City.
1 – The Optimal 3:2 Payout for Making Blackjack Is the Norm in Atlantic City
Ask any real money blackjack grinder based in Las Vegas about their biggest lament, and you’ll undoubtedly hear horror stories about the shift from 3:2 to 6:5 payouts.
Those numbers refer to the payout ratio used when you land a natural blackjack or any 21 total on the deal using an ace and a 10-value card. Back in Las Vegas’ glory days, the standard 3:2 payout was in place to reward blackjack fans for their patience.
But since the turn of the 21st century, casino industry consolidation has led to corporate owners prioritizing profits over players by shifting to an inferior 6:5 payout.
Knowing most tourists and recreational players will never notice, the biggest Las Vegas casinos rolled out new betting rules as a way of padding their own bottom line.
As a result, that $20 bet you placed in Sin City before spiking blackjack won’t pay back $30 like it did in the good old days. Instead, the 6 to 5 ratio brings your haul down to $24, all while sending $6 straight into the casino’s coffers for no good reason. These days, the majority of 3:2 blackjack tables in Vegas require players to put up a hefty minimum bet of $25 or more.
Fortunately for folks who remember the golden era of blackjack, Atlantic City’s casinos have the common sense to stick with tradition. Around the Boardwalk district and beyond, blackjack games here opt for the 3:2 payout rate by default.
That’s a great thing for local players too, because that seemingly minor downgrade in the payout can wreak havoc on a blackjack player’s bankroll. While the application of a sound basic strategy at the 3:2 tables can shave your house edge down to 0.50%, playing the exact same way in a 6:5 game boosts the house’s advantage to over 2%.
2 – You Won’t Find a Double-Deck Table Running Anywhere in AC
On the flip side of that coin, blackjack players accustomed to the limited deck shoes found in Las Vegas are largely out of luck when visiting Atlantic City.
Thanks to Uston vs. Resorts International Hotel, a landmark decision rendered by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1982 which held that casinos cannot ban card counters, local card rooms decided to fight back. Stripped of the ability to give suspected card counters the boot, Atlantic City casinos simply stacked the proverbial deck to ensure “advantage play” techniques became all but obsolete.
With a single standard 52-card deck in play, a card counter only needs to track the 20 high-value cards—10s, jacks, queens, kings, and aces—in order to gauge their betting strategy going forward. Make it two decks in the shoe, as was the custom in Las Vegas for many years, and counters suddenly have 40 high cards to sort through on the fly.
Atlantic City casinos took this to the next level by unveiling the eight-deck blackjack shoe, thereby challenging counters to track 160 high cards. Because of this sea of change in the world of blackjack, the classic double-deck games of old are nowhere to be found from the Boardwalk to the Borgata.
3 – AC Casinos Don’t Allow Players to Use “Early Surrender” in Bad Spots
Another way blackjack tables in Atlantic City tilt the odds in favor of the house is by removing the player’s “early surrender” option.
When the dealer’s up card shows an ace or 10-value, the early surrender rule allows the player to forfeit half of their bet straightaway in exchange for keeping the other half.
In other words, if you wager $10 and see the dealer brandishing an ace or 10-value, making a dealer blackjack eminently possible, you can simply surrender now and keep $5 while the casino claims the other $5. From there, the dealer will scan their down card to check for blackjack. But when they have it, you’ll only lose one-half of your original bet.
Unfortunately for Atlantic City blackjack grinders, the early surrender rule has been scrapped altogether. Instead, players up against a dangerous dealer card like ace or 10-value can only surrender after the dealer has scanned for blackjack. This alternative is aptly referred to as “late surrender,” and as you might imagine, it significantly devalues the surrender option offered to players.
To wit, the early surrender rule reduces the house edge by 0.63%, offering tremendous value to players over the long run. Conversely, the inferior late surrender option only carves that house edge down by 0.10%.
4 – They Don’t Let You “Re-Split” a Pair of Aces Either
Let’s say you look down to find a pair of aces in the hole to start the hand. At the Texas Hold’em poker tables, these “pocket aces” would be a monster holding, but in blackjack, all you have at the moment is a lowly 2 or 12 total.
Fortunately, blackjack rules allow you to split up a paired starting hand by placing a second bet equal to your first. At this point, you’d essentially be playing two hands at once, both of which have an ace to begin with. The dealer then delivers a second card to each ace, giving you a pair of two-card starting hands to work with against the dealer. But what happens when you land another A-A combo on the second deal?
Well, in Las Vegas, most casinos allow players to exercise the “re-split” option, placing a third bet to break up those pesky aces for a second time. Doing so lends a great advantage to the player, as they now have three different opportunities to land a blackjack by catching any 10-value card.
Once again, in the wake of card counters winning that landmark court case, the casinos are looking to protect their own edge at every turn. That means stripping players of the right to re-split aces and forcing them to do battle with the dealer holding a weak 2 or 12.
5 – The Borgata Is Home to a 24/7 Table Offering 3:2 Payouts With Only a $5 Minimum
Located in the Marina district a short drive from the Boardwalk, the Borgata Hotel, Casino, and Spa has become the crown jewel of Atlantic City’s gambling scene since opening in 2003.
The place is widely known as an East Coast poker hotspot, attracting annual World Poker Tour (WPT) tournaments and paying out seven-figure prizes. But blackjack at the Borgata is nothing to sneeze at either. Here, you’ll find the “Holy Grail” of blackjack for budget-minded players, a continually running table offering 3:2 payouts at the $5 minimum betting level.
The Borgata’s blackjack pit is the exception to that rule, with a prime 3:2/$5 game running around the clock and drawing rave reviews. As you might expect, this table is typically jam-packed with happy players enjoying one of the best blackjack spreads anywhere in America, so you’ll want to arrive early to get your seat.
Blackjack has held its status as casino gambling’s iconic card game for decades running, and for good reason. The perfect blend of skill-based strategy and random chance appeals to both recreational players and advantage play specialists alike.
But like every casino game ever devised, blackjack has evolved differently across the various regions and cultures over the years, a process laid bare when you examine the differences between Las Vegas and Atlantic City rules. For players making the leap from Nevada to New Jersey, understanding how this evolution can affect basic rules and gameplay is crucial to enjoying a successful transition.