Video blackjack games come in all shapes and sizes. There are single-player games, usually part of the package on multigame machines such as IGT’s Game King; there are multiplier consoles; and some games pay 3-2 on blackjacks, while others pay only even money.
Seth, a regular reader who sometimes plays table blackjack and sometimes plays video poker, spotted a video blackjack game with the 3-2 payoffs. That left him wondering if he might be just as well off playing video blackjack, rather than the table version.
We’ll get to that is just a minute, but first, a little history. When casino operators and gamemakers started their move toward video gaming in the late 1970s, the near-unanimous opinion was that video blackjack would be the breakthrough game. Instead, it became a niche game behind video poker and video keno.
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A problem with early machines was that they paid only even money on blackjacks. That was disguised in the rules displayed on the machine glass. They said: “blackjacks pay 2-for-1,” which is another way of saying “even money.” The “2” consisted of getting your bet back plus an equal amount of winnings. If you bet $1, you’d get back a total of $2, the same as on any other winning hand.
The 3-2 payoff then offered on nearly all blackjack tables, and still the most common payoff today, brings an extra 50 cents per $1 wagered — the $1 bettor wins $1.50 and keeps the bet for a total of $2.50.
The 2-for-1 payoff survives on some games because many players who want to play at low denominations instead of making bigger bets at the tables are willing to settle for lesser payoffs.
Seth is not one of those players. He says his average bet is around $15 a hand, and he’s willing to bet that much on a video game if he’s convinced he’s getting a decent run for his money.
“I found a game that pays 3-2 on blackjacks,” he says. “I can double down only on 9, 10 or 11, and I can’t double after splits. I can split pairs only once. The dealer hits soft 17. It looks like the game is dealt from a single virtual deck, so it seems like a decent game. Is that any worse than a live game, six decks, double after splits, split pairs three times, dealer hits soft 17?”
I’ve not seen video blackjack rules that good recently, but let’s check out what Seth described. Strictly by house edge against a basic strategy player, a single-deck machine game with those rules is a pretty good deal. The house edge is .31 percent, compared with 0.62 percent on the six-deck table game Seth described.
However, there are additional considerations.
Single-deck video blackjack games are shuffled after every hand, so there is no advantage to be gained by counting cards. It’s possible for a card counter to gain an advantage over Seth’s table game, but not on the machine game.
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Video blackjack moves much faster than table blackjack. At a full seven-player table, you’ll play between 50 and 60 hands per hour, and playing head-to-head with the dealer, you’ll play more than 200 hands per hour. On a video game, we’re talking more like 800 hands per hour, so size your bets accordingly.
Some machines will make 3-2 payoffs only if you bet in even numbers. If you bet $4, it will pay $6 on a blackjack, but if you bet $5 it will pay only $5. If you find yourself at such a machine, always bet in even numbers.
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