Have Blackjack Rules Changes Hurt the Game’s Popularity?

Blackjack Revenus Las Vegas - Blackjack Popularity Declines Nevada

Las Vegas casinos have changed blackjack rules at many tables in the past 15 years, which many blame for the decline in popularity.

Blackjack revenues have declined by nearly 50% in Nevada since 2000, if you take into account inflation. Las Vegas Strip casinos have fewer blackjack tables, even though the revenues not accounting for inflation remain the same. The relative decline of blackjack has caused several local and national publications to speculate on the changes which have caused that decline.

Some gambling writers have speculated that the inclusion of 6:5 tables in Las Vegas have hurt the game’s popularity. It is common to offer single-deck blackjack with 6:5 payouts on a natural blackjack, instead of the traditional 3:2. The difference in the house edge is nearly 1.5%.

That is one explanation for blackjack’s decline. Nevada’s blackjack tables have dwindled down over 31% since 2000, yet the amount casinos win remains the same. Though that may not sound like a bad thing, once inflation is factored in, the amount the state’s casinos have won at blackjack has dropped by nearly 46 percent.

The downfall might be due to the growth of options in casinos, maybe because of the game itself has become less of an attraction, or maybe it is due to the changes made. It is possible demographics have changed, as more play baccarat or go to the electronic roulette studio.

More players in the 21st century might prefer big jackpots, so they’ll play anything but blackjack.

Beat the Dealer by Edward Thorp

Once it was realized that your winnings could rise with some math, blackjack quickly became the game to play. In 1956, the Baldwin group published an article in the Journal of the American Statistical Association. In the article the quartet of U.S. Army mathematician described a mathematically correct set of rules for the game for the first time. This basic strategy dictates to the player how to proceed with any hand they might be dealt. When perfectly executed, basic strategy cut the house edge to nearly zero.

In 1962, UCLA math Ph.D. Ed Thorp published Beat the Dealer, a book that explained to your regular Joe how to count cards. By keeping track of how many high-value cards remained in play the players could in turn have a statistical advantage over the house.

This new discovery put casino owners in a state of panic. However, they quickly learned that this strategy takes a level of smarts that most think they have but few actually do. They became less panicked and more aware of those smart and disciplined strategic players.

Blackjack’s Rise: 1960s to 1990s

Into the 1960s blackjack became the most popular game in casinos. Nothing had changed about the game itself, however the way players approached it did. Casino owners, on the other had wished for the game to die down and fade in the background again.

For decades following its rise, blackjack stayed on top of the popularity charts. However as more and more gaming opportunities came out, blackjack has seemed to take the back burner again. Baccarat being one of the main game its fallen behind to. The card game is preferred by Asian ultra-high rollers.

Casino’s Change the Rules

New competition is not the only reason behind blackjack’s descent. Many casino managers, who want to increase profit margins, carved off a little of the player’s edge here and there in hopes of putting more control on the house again. Tables might advertise a single-deck blackjack, but only pay 6:5 for a natural blackjack.

Rules are everything in a blackjack. Every single subtle rules variation changes the house edge. The first change might not seem that drastic, but several can have a big difference. Some casinos changed how the dealer acted when dealt a soft 17. This is an ace which can count as wither an 11 or one, and a six. Before the dealer stood on soft 17 though now the modified rules mandate the dealer take another card. Changing this single rule adds about a 0.2 percent edge for the house.

Among other small adjustments were multi-deck shoes, restricting pair-splitting options, and automatic shufflers. The first rule made it harder for card counters. The second rule cut down on instances of advantage play for the players. The third made the game quicker, adding to the effective house edge. Automatic shufflers also hurt card counters. These small tweaks were made in hopes of benefiting the house. In the end, they might have ran off customers.

Why Blackjack Has Declined in Popularity

The biggest change, the one that truly drove customers away from the blackjack table was 6:5 blackjack. This “slight adjustmentā€¯ ends up making a big difference to customers and their winnings. This variation is common in Las Vegas casinos and cuts the payout on blackjacks from 3:2 to 6:5.

To illustrate, that ends up being a difference between a $150 win to a $130 win. As the numbers get higher, so does that cut. For serious blackjack players that adjustment is a poison pill. This bumped the house edge to nearly 2%, though most online blackjack articles discuss a house edge in the range of 0.5%. The different is huge and it was noticed.

New visitors to Vegas who are there for fun might not notice the difference and will still spend time at the 6:5 tables without ever realizing a difference. The players who know the game do notice, so they avoid the game. Some become jaded of the whole system and avoid blackjack altogether.

Whatever the reason, people know when they are getting cheated and they will make changes them self even if that is staying away from their once preferred games.

Blackjack History

Blackjack is at least 500 years old, as Miguel de Cervantes mentioned that game ventiuno in one of his books in 1503. Then as now, blackjack also is known as twenty-one. The game is simple to learn but hard to master. The goal is to beat the dealer’s total without going over 21, or busting. The player is dealt two cards, as well as the dealer, one card being visible to the table. The player then determines whether to hit (get another card), stand, split (this is if the player is dealt two identical cards), or double down (double the bet and receive a limit of one new card).

With the traditional rules, a natural blackjack pays three to two. This happens when the player draws an ace and a ten-value card. All other bets pay even money. If the player busts before the dealer, the player loses. It the player and dealer tie, it is a push in which neither side wins.

Into the early 1950s, the hottest casino game in Las Vegas was craps, a social game which has most bettors backing the shooter. When the dice were hot, players partied together; when they weren’t, players suffered together.

Blackjack was a different style of game completely. It is a game that pits each player individually against the dealer and each other. An unseasoned player who strays from the games basic strategy and when standing is advised hits instead might be scolded for “taking the dealer’s ten.” Where on the other had crapping out can only be blamed on luck.