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Blackjack Secrets That Casinos Don’t Want You to Know

Henry Tamburin, Ph.D. 10/10/2016 Blog 1,477 views

Not too surprisingly, there are secrets that casino bosses would rather that you not know.

Here are them.

“The House Edge on Spanish 21 is the Same as It Is for Blackjack.”

This is another piece of advice I overheard a casino supervisor tell a player, who was contemplating playing Spanish 21. What the supervisor was saying was almost right. Here’s the secret that he forgot to mention. The Spanish 21 playing rules are much different from the traditional blackjack playing rules; therefore, the basic playing strategy is different. If you sit down and play Spanish 21 using the traditional basic blackjack strategy for standard blackjack, you will get hammered. If you want to play Spanish 21, you should learn the basic playing strategy for this particular game. Online casino pioneer 888casino has the most complete guide to blackjack strategy  that explains in depth strategies and house edges for different blackjack variations.

“$50,000 First Place Blackjack Tournament Prize.”

That’s what it stated on a postcard I received from a local land-based casino that was hosting a blackjack tournament. However, when you read the fine print, it stated that the $50,000 top prize “will be distributed in $25,000 cash and $25,000 in promotional chips.”

What’s the secret? The promotional chips (also known as “promo chips”) that the casinos give to the winners can’t be cashed out. They must be wagered, usually on any bet that pays even money (e.g., blackjack, pass line in craps, bank or player bet in baccarat, etc.). The vast majority of promo chips can be used only once, meaning that, when you bet it, win or lose, the casino keeps the promotional chip. Therefore, the promo chips have an expected value of roughly half their face value, or, in this case, $12,500.  Why do casinos split tournament prizes into half cash and half promo chips? The reason should be obvious … they get to promote their tournaments with large prizes when, in fact, they give away less than the advertised amount in cash.

“I’m Sorry Sir, But You Can’t Play Blackjack.”

The card counter makes a big score in a casino, without any heat. He comes back to the same casino a few months later, and after playing only a few hands, he’s told he can’t play blackjack anymore. What’s going on here?

The secret is that if a casino suspects a player is a card counter, it will replay the tape of his playing session after he leaves to determine his skill level. If the analysis of his play confirms he was card counting, the next time he shows up to play, they nail him. That’s why card counters nowadays have to be very cognizant not only of the floor supervisors who are watching the game, but also of the personnel in the casino’s surveillance department that are taping the game. (There is an interesting book about how to beat casino surveillance by a former casino surveillance supervisor and card counter, Vinny DeCarlo.)

“These Shufflers Don’t Change the Odds.”

That’s what I overheard a pit boss telling a high roller when he inquired about a new automatic shuffler that the casino was using (the dealer was placing the discards after each round into the shuffler, rather than into a discard tray). The shuffler was a continuous shuffling machine (known as a CSM). What the pit boss was saying was almost correct. It’s true that CSMs don’t increase the house edge. (Actually, the house edge decreases slightly with a CSM due to the absence of the “cut card effect” … but that’s a story for another time.) However, what the pit boss didn’t tell the high roller is that the casino can deal about 20% more hands per hour using a CSM compared to a conventional auto shuffler). Unless you are card counting, the casino will have the edge on every hand, and when they deal more hands per hour, your theoretical hourly loss will also increase by 20%. Therefore, CSMs negatively impact all players and should be avoided.

“We Offer Single-Deck Blackjack Games”

You’ll see billboards, marquees, and newsprint advertisements screaming about a casino’s newly implemented single-deck blackjack games. The reason that casinos like to promote single-deck games is that, historically, they offer players better odds than multiple-deck games, and therefore, management hopes that the single-deck games will attract more players. So, what’s the secret? On most single-deck games nowadays, a winning blackjack hand is paid at 6-5 or 7-5 payoff odds rather than the traditional 3-2. A 6-5 payoff increases the house edge in a single-deck game by 1.39%, and a 7-5 payoff increases it by 0.46%. Some casinos are also brazenly paying 6-5 on double- and six-deck games, and even money in so-called “party pits.” (Yikes!) Before you sit down and buy in at any single-deck blackjack game, ask the dealer what a blackjack hand pays, and if she says “6-5,” say thank you and walk away from the table.

“You Can’t Lose When You Take the Even Money.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard blackjack dealers and floor supervisors tell that to players. Even though what they say is correct, here’s the secret they don’t reveal.

When you get a blackjack and the dealer shows an ace, the casino will gladly pay you even money on your wager before the dealer checks her hole card to see if she has a blackjack. But here’s the catch. Over time, you will win roughly 4% more money if you decline the even-money proposition when it’s offered to you. The reason? More often than not, the dealer will not have a blackjack and you will get paid 3-2 for your natural rather than even money. Sure, sometimes she’ll have the ten and you’ll wish you had taken even money. But in the long run, this is a sucker bet that will cost you money and make the casino more money (which is why they go out of their way to offer players even money).

“Double-Deck Game”

You glance at the blackjack table and see a dealer with two decks of cards in her hand, pitching them to players. So, you take a seat at what appears to be a double-deck game. Right? Not always.

In their paranoia over card counters, some casinos implement a fake double-deck game. Here’s how this secret works. The game is actually a six- or eight-deck game. After the cards are shuffled, the dealer picks off two decks and deals the cards with them. What appears to be a double-deck game is actually not a double-deck game. If you see this scam, voice your complaint to the floor supervisor (loudly so other players will here you), and then walk away.

“Single-Player Video Blackjack Game.”

You’ll often find a video blackjack game as one of the options on video poker or slot machines. The betting limits are often much lower than the regular table game, which makes video blackjack games attractive to low-rollers. How can the casino afford to offer the game? If you check the playing rules, you’ll see that that a blackjack often pays 2 for 1. So what’s the big deal, you ask? A 2 for 1 payoff means that, when you win, you get back a total of $2 for every $1 you wager.   In other words, a 2 for 1 payoff is the same as a 1 to 1 payoff. Paying only even money on a blackjack boosts the house edge by over 2.3%. Thanks, but no thanks.

Now that you know some of the casino secrets that you are not supposed to know, you’ll be a much smarter casino player!

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