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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Video blackjack machines thwart counters

24 June 2016

Dear Mark: In last week’s column, you mentioned that it was impossible to count cards on a continuous shuffle machine. Can you instead count cards on a video blackjack machine since, one) single-deck games are a preferred choice to count cards on, and two) there is no one standing over you to bother your play or ask you to leave the game? Jim G.

You are on to something, Jim: that of controlling your game environment without the hassle of some pit bull running you off the game; but it’s still not going to work.

You biggest obstacle, Jim, is that the rules of the video blackjack machine in the casino where you most likely play have one little deviation that will turn a winning session into a losing one: what you get paid for a blackjack.

Those one-player video blackjack games, which have been around forever, typically pay even money instead of 3:2 on blackjacks. Then, they are usually dealt from a single electronic deck, which also works against you because that single deck is shuffled after every hand rather than playing to a virtual cut card, and then reshuffling.

So how much is being paid even-money for a blackjack going to cost you? Because you can expect a blackjack every 21 hands in live play, the loss of that bonus will cost you an additional 2.3 percent. Considering that a live blackjack game has a house advantage of less than .5 percent to the knowledgeable player, this one rule change alone is far too costly, even for the best-of-the-best card counter.

Beware, Jim, some video blackjack machines round down on payoffs — any theoretical payoff that totals some number of dollars and cents is rounded down to just the dollar amount by dropping the cents in the win — thereby reducing your return. If you do happen to locate a machine that does pay the bonus for a blackjack, make sure your bets are in even amounts so that you can get the maximum value of a blackjack (a payoff of $3 for every $2 wagered). With a $1 bet and rounding down, the theoretical payout of $1.50 for a blackjack would be reduced to just $1! Here, you should always bet in two-unit increments. And, Jim, and even though this game may allow you to pocket the BJ bonus, it still won’t help you with counting cards because the deck is shuffled after every hand.

When playing under these conditions, what video blackjack will do for the Average Joe, Jim, is make for an excellent, low cost, practice session partner where you can work on basic strategy.

Although I haven’t seen this game in years, make that a decade, there once were machines that operated using multiple decks, shuffled when 50 percent of the cards have been played through, had very favorable rules, and paid a full-pay blackjack if played with correct coin increments. Unfortunately, yesteryear doesn’t make you money today.

Now if such a machine still existed, I might give up my leisure pursuit of sitting on one stool behind a drum set and swap it out for another playing video snapper. My wife would sure appreciate it. She’d have those drums on Craigslist by sundown.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Almost all life depends on probabilities.” – Francois Voltaire, Essays: Probabilities (1756)
Recent Articles
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.