The ten worst blackjack games–and the casinos that (have the nerve to) offer them
By Henry Tamburin
In the May issue of Casino Player I revealed the ten best blackjack games in the country, and gave kudos to the casinos that offer them. This month, I’ll turn the tables and tell you the ten worst blackjack games, and which casinos offer them.
As I did last month, to compile this information I used the database of blackjack games in Stanford Wong’s Current Blackjack News (with the editor’s permission, of course). CBJN uses paid reporters to visit casinos throughout the country and record the rules for blackjack games. This information is tabulated by region and summarized monthly, and the electronic newsletter is emailed to subscribers around the globe.
The primary factor that determines whether a blackjack game is “bad” is the house edge. The latter represents the percentage of the initial amount wagered that a player should theoretically lose.
Generally, blackjack games that have a house edge of half a percent or less for basic strategy players are good games. A blackjack game with a house edge greater than half a percent is considered a bad game. Surprisingly, ten blackjack games in this country have a downright terrible house edge of 1.90% to 2.90%. You are about to learn what the rules are for these games, which make them so awful–and which casinos have the gall to offer them.
It shouldn’t surprise you that these horrible games have one common rule: they all pay 6-5 for a blackjack, instead of the normal 3-2. Many times I’ve written and preached about how bad 6-5 blackjack games are for players, and I encourage you to never play this rip-off game. However, if you insist on throwing your money away, I’ve got a list of nearly 30 casinos in the table below that will gladly take your money on their 6-5 games.
It’s bad enough that many casinos in this country are ruining the game of blackjack with their 6-5 single-deck games, but it really takes cojones to offer 6-5 payouts in a six- or eight-deck game. Oh, and how about this for even bigger cojones: two casinos have the audacity to pay only even money for a blackjack (no, I’m not kidding).
Here’s a summary of the worst blackjack games and the casinos that offer them, from the tenth worst to the #1 worst game. As you will see, the list includes a variety of single-, double-, five-, six-, and eight-deck games.
- I abbreviated the rules … see the Table of Abbreviation for details.
- The house edge is as reported in CBJN.
- Some games have slightly different rules but the same house edge (e.g., the eight-deck and six-deck games in #9).
- This study did not include blackjack games that charge a fee per hand.
TEN WORST BLACKJACK GAMES
|Number||House Edge||Decks||Rules||Casinos Offering Game|
h17, 6-5, ds, rsa, csm
|Fitzgeralds, Downtown LVTropicana, LV
Western, Downtown LV
Buffalo Bill’s, Primm, NV
Primm Valley, Primm, NV
Whiskey Pete’s, Primm, NV
Roadhouse, Tunica, MS
|h17, 6-5, ds, ls
h17, 6-5, ds, rsa
|Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, LVFour Queens, Downtown LV
|8||1.94%||8||h17, 6-5, ds, rsa||Harrah’s, Reno, NVMontbleu, S. Lake Tahoe, NV
MGM Grand, Detroit, MI
|h17, 6-5, ds
h17, 6-5, ds, csm
|Fitzgeralds, Downtown LVFlamingo, LV
Hard Rock, LV
Hard Rock, LV
Imperial Palace, LV
|h17, 6-5, ds
h17, 6-5, ds, csm
|Bally’s, LVBinion’s, Downtown LV
Fitzgeralds, Downtown, LV
Golden Nugget, Downtown, LV
New York New York, LV
Harvey’s, S. Lake Tahoe, NV
Binion’s, Downtown, LV
|5||2.12%||6||h17, 6-5||Western, Downtown LV|
|4||2.15%||6||h17, 6-5, nrs||Hooters, LV|
|3||2.39%||1||h17, 6-5, d11, nrs||Prairie Band, Topeka, KS|
|2||2.50%||1||h17, 21e||Poker Palace, N. LV|
|1||2.90%||6||h17, 21e, ds||Grand Sierra, Reno, NV|
In defense of the casinos on the above list, let me add that they may also offer a good blackjack game alongside the bad ones (e.g., Roadhouse in Tunica has a very good single-deck game with a measly 0.18% house edge, and a very ugly 5-deck, csm game with a 1.90% house edge). This is why it’s important to scout the blackjack tables in a casino, and play only games that have the best rules with the lowest house edge.
If, by chance, you happen to be in one of the casinos that offer terrible blackjack games (not to play them, I hope), I encourage you to get the attention of the pit boss and tell him about his atrocious game. Tell him that you and your friends will be playing blackjack elsewhere, where they offer a fair game to players. (Say it loudly so that the poor suckers who happen to be playing these games will overhear you.)
As for why a casino would offer such a terrible blackjack game, a casino manager at a gaming conference in Las Vegas once smugly told me: “If the public is going to play these games, why wouldn’t we offer them?” (This same casino boss encouraged his peers at the conference to “push the envelope and offer 6-5 payouts on six- and eight-deck games.”)
Blackjack players have only themselves to blame for these horrible games. Trust me, if players “walk the walk” and stop playing these horrific so-called blackjack games, they would disappear from the casino floor. Unfortunately, as long as players keep playing them, casinos will continue to offer them.
Until next month, play (only) good games, and I wish you good cards.
I want to acknowledge my son Kevin who painstakingly ranked all the casinos in the different regions by their house edge from the database in Current Blackjack News.
|h17||Dealer hits soft 17|
|6-5||Untied blackjacks pay 6-5|
|ds||Player may double down after pair splitting|
|rsa||Player may resplit Aces (usually to a maximum of four hands)|
|ls||Player may surrender his initial two-card hand provided the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack; known as late surrender|
|csm||Cards dealt from a continuous shuffling machine|
|nrs||Respilts not allowed|
|d11||Double down allowed only on two-card 11.|
|21e||Untied blackjacks pay even money|
Tamburin’s Tip of the Month
One of the most frustrating hands in blackjack is a 12 against a dealer’s 2 upcard. If your 12 happens to be a pair of 6s, you should always split against a dealer’s 2 with this exception: in a multi-deck game, hit if the rules specify “no das.” If your 12 consists of 10-2, 9-3, 8-4, or 7-5, your best play is to hit against a dealer 2. However, many players balk at hitting because they are afraid to bust.
Here are some percentages that will reassure you that hitting is the better play. (I’ll use a six-deck game with s17 as an example.) Your average expectation over all two-card 12s (except the pair of 6s) for standing against a dealer 2 is –29%, and for hitting, it’s –25%. The expectation for hitting is 4% less negative than for standing; therefore, you will lose less money in the long run when you hit 12 against a 2 rather than stand.
Surely, you’ll bust some of the time when you hit a 12, but at the end of the day, you’ll wind up losing less than if you chickened out and always stood on 12 against the dealer’s 2.
Henry Tamburin is the editor of Blackjack Insider Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com), Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack Course (www.goldentouchblackjack.com), and host of www.smartgaming.com. For a free three-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter, go to www.bjinsider.com/freetrial.com.
The Blackjack Hall Of Shame.