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Traditional Blackjack Under Siege in Las Vegas

18 March 2009

If you enjoy playing blackjack the good old-fashioned way, here's a letter from a reader who sounds a word of warning:

I was chagrined over Super Bowl weekend in Vegas to see how many blackjack tables in town now either have those awful continuous-shuffling machines, or only pay 6 to 5 for a blackjack. Worse, the 6 to 5 tables were as full as the few that still play real blackjack! The public obviously doesn't know the difference, which just empowers the casinos to rip us off! What gives? Is real blackjack (where you have a chance if you count cards) a dying pastime?

– Bill C.

The 6-to-5 blackjack revolution began at properties on the Las Vegas Strip in 2002 and incredibly enough rages on to this day. There was much hoopla over the return of the legendary single-deck game, which many years ago was the standard by which the game was played.

When Edward O. Thorp in 1962 came out with his best-selling book, "Beat the Dealer", casino blackjack was forever changed. Thorp popularized methods by which players could detect a mathematical advantage by keeping track of the dealt cards.

It had the casino operators shivering in their boots, casting a doubt on the future of the game. They fought back by replacing single-deck games with "shoes" that hold multiple decks. Then along came continuous multi-deck shufflers, making for non-stop games and completely eliminating the card-tracking factor.

When single-deck games made a comeback on The Strip, I vividly recall the marquee in front of the Paris Hotel & Casino that proclaimed in giant letters: "SINGLE DECK BLACKJACK! A WHOPPING 6-5 FOR BLACKJACKS!".

The word "whopping" was meant to catch the eyes of inexperienced gamblers, many of whom were not aware of the fact that a player blackjack (a two-card hand consisting of an ace and 10-value card) pays 3 to 2.

Once players sat down at the game, hit a blackjack on a five-dollar bet, and watched the dealer pay them $6 instead of the standard $7.50, stark reality set in. It really was and still is a whopping shame.

If that wasn't bad enough, players were only allowed to double-down on two-card totals of 10 or 11. The ability to double-down on any 2-card hand in the appropriate situation is one of the advantages of a good blackjack game.

Finally, to add insult to injury, when I walked inside the Paris to speak to a supervisor about the game, he explained to me that if gamblers wanted single-deck blackjack to return, they had to be willing to concede something to the casinos in order to make it economically feasible.

The supervisor went on to rationalize further that players can expect to be dealt a blackjack relatively infrequently, statistically speaking, so it really didn't add up to that much of a loss.

It was from such thinking that the "new age" 6-to-5 single-deck game was born, and seven years later continues on in various forms. The only reason it has stood the test of time is because of tourists who know little about what constitutes a good game of blackjack.

The game the way it was meant to be played can still be found in casinos along The Strip if you can see past the 6-to-5 tables, but the best places to seek out a good blackjack game in Las Vegas are the "locals" establishments.

Even though the phony version of the game has reared its ugly head in some of them, you can still find solid double-deck "pitch" games with $5 and $10 minimum bets and 3-to-2 blackjack payouts at properties owned by Boyd Gaming and Station Casinos, among others.

So, in answer to Bill's question, "real" blackjack isn't on the way out in Las Vegas. But as long as tourists and uninformed gamblers continue to flock to the 6-to-5 games, there'll just be fewer tables at which to sit where the game is worth playing.

John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp

John G. Brokopp
John G. Brokopp's gaming column appears in Chicago Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois), The Times (Northwest Indiana), The Quad City Times (Davenport, Iowa), The Courier News (Elgin, Illinois), The Gazette (Southwest Suburban Chicago) and Senior Wire (Denver, CO). He's also a regular contributor to The Colorado Gambler, Midwest Gaming & Travel, Casino Player and Strictly Slots. John possesses 28 years of experience as a professional handicapper, publicist, freelance writer, and casino gaming correspondent. He is also the author of two very popular books, The Insider’s Guide to Internet Gambling and Thrifty Gambling.

Books by John G. Brokopp:

> More Books By John G. Brokopp