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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Video blackjack paybacks are based on skill and rules

6 July 2015

Dear Mark: I like playing blackjack on the video machines at the casino because I can take my time. However, I don’t like losing all the time. Are my odds better at the table? Are the blackjack video machines just a random number generator programmed for say 90% payback or can they alter payout based on how the customer plays? Raylon R.

All video blackjack machines, Raylon, use a random number generator (RNG) software algorithm to determine the game’s outcome. The RNG gives you a random shuffle, whereas your payback percentage is based on your overall play combined with the built-in BJ rules of that particular machine.

Video blackjack is typically a one-deck game, and the deck is "shuffled" after each hand rather than playing to a virtual cut card, finishing the hand, and then reshuffling.

The advantage of a video blackjack machine versus a live table game is the low minimum bankroll requirement needed to play. Plenty of 25¢ video blackjack games exist on the casino floor, some that even pay the full amount for a blackjack.

What could be affecting your “losing all the time,” Raylon, are video blackjack machines that do NOT pay you the true value of a blackjack (3 for 2). Most machines pay even money on natural 21s. 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 quite costly.

Also, some video blackjack machines round down on blackjack payoffs. If you do happen to find a machine that pays the bonus for a blackjack, make wagers in even amounts so you can get the maximum value of a blackjack (a payoff of $3 for every $2 wagered). Otherwise, Raylon, a dollar wagered will get you just a buck for your snapper. Always bet in two-unit increments.

Here are a few final tips, Raylon, which should turn your losing ways around.

Besides lacking the intimidation factor of a live game, video blackjack makes for an excellent practice session partner where you can work on basic strategy. Basic strategy is nothing more than how you play your hand against the dealer "up card." Playing your hand correctly, and on a machine that full pays for a blackjack, you can bring the house advantage down to well under one percent.

It is important to read and know all of the rules along with complementing playing strategies. For instance, I have seen a video blackjack game that stays on all 17s, which, by the way, decreases the house advantage by .22 percent. This same machine allows you to double after the split, split up to three hands, and even allows you to surrender (usually on single deck game) half the bet after your first two cards. These are better playing conditions than most table blackjack games I have seen offered lately.

Finally, for the advanced player, most video blackjack machines operate using just one deck and shuffle after every round. If you happen upon one with multiple decks that shuffles when 50 percent of the cards have been used, it is possible to count cards.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Blackjack--what a game! How simple it looks, yet how complex it truly is." – Victor H. Royer
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.