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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: 6 for 5 blackjack tweaks the casino advantage tenfold

27 December 2013

Dear Mark: It truly amazes me how many players I saw this past weekend playing on a single-deck blackjack game that offered 6:5 for a blackjack instead of the customary 3:2. The $10 6:5 games were packed, while the standard 3:2 multi-deck games were half empty. Don’t they read your column? If they did, they would surely know better. Bill W.

When I began penning this column 17 years ago, I specifically advised players to play, by preference, on a single-deck blackjack game. Why so? Because as you well know, Bill, perfect basic strategy on a single-deck game shrinks the house edge to a meager 0.15 percent. Most casinos back then had plenty of single deck 3:2 games. I pitched it almost exclusively in my dealing career. The only time that I dealt from a shoe was when dealing baccarat. Today, though, they are scarce, and almost all have been replaced by the single-deck game that is 10 times inferior to its counterpart a decade ago.

The pretext is that some casinos are advertising the return of Single-Deck Blackjack, yet only offering 6:5 for a blackjack. In this new single-deck version, a player's blackjack is paid only 6:5 rather than the usual 3:2. This means that if you bet $10 and get a blackjack, you receive only $12 instead of $15. The house keeps your extra three bucks, and with a wink and a nod, thanks you for it. As a result, where the house edge against the perfect basic strategy player was once a paltry 0.15 percent, the house edge on this game has spiraled to 1.45 percent.

Ground zero for this significant rule change was the Flamingo Las Vegas. When I first caught a glimpse of it, my immediate reaction was; “What the ....?!” “This game’s got a snowball’s chance in hell. Not even the Average Joe in a drunken stupor is going to stand for a reduced payoff on a blackjack.”

Talk about being wrong. The opposite is happening, and I may be partially to blame. The uneducated are flocking to the 6:5 single-deck game because the likes of me have long touted that the "single-deck blackjack game offers the best odds.” Consequently, the uninformed player has inadvertently accepted the reduced blackjack payout.

The knowledgeable player like yourself, Bill, who can virtually eliminate the house edge on a traditional single-deck game where blackjacks pay 3:2, has shunned the 6:5 game. What I am afraid of is that if the gullible public fails to notice the Machiavellian marketing of these "new" 6:5 single-deck games, you will see plenty more of them.

The bottom line here, Bill, is that casinos that advertise Single-Deck Blackjack, or any blackjack game that pays only 6 for 5 for a blackjack are simply trading a promotional gimmick for your hard-earned dough. Only the casino operator is the grand winner of this sizable differential payoff.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: At the card game, one of the boys looked across the table and said, "Now Reuben, play the cards fair. I know what I dealt you." – Lyndon B. Johnson quoted in Mike Caro's Book of Tells (1984)
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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.