Las Vegas Strip Blackjack ‐ Not the game it once was
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In the early days of Las Vegas and up until the 1950's Las Vegas casinos offered the best blackjack games around, thanks to the "Las Vegas Strip rules" that governed these games. In this blackjack variant players enjoyed single deck games where they could double down on any hand, dealers stood on soft 17 and natural blackjack paid out at 3:2. All in all, the casino's house edge was less than 0.1%.
These days however the rules have changed and even though there are still "Las Vegas Strip" games, the rules look quite different to what they did back then. Here we'll take a look at just what has changed and what you can expect when you play blackjack at Las Vegas Strip casinos.
More card decks
While blackjack games of old used a single deck, modern games use anywhere between six and eight playing card decks. The reason for the change is largely attributed to Edward Thorpe's card counting techniques that spread like wildfire upon the publishing of his book, Beat the Dealer, which taught card counters the optimal techniques to use in order to consistently win and earn a profit from casinos.
By adding six to eight decks to the game, casinos were able to throw lesser card counters off and also increase the house advantage by 0.58% to 0.61% depending on the number of decks used. This practice remains to this day.
Rule changes and Restrictions on game play
Casinos also realized that the rules of the original Vegas Strip Blackjack games were not as heavily in their favour as they would have liked. So with the additional decks came some alterations to the rules that restricted players to a certain degree and of course, increased the house edge. These included:
- Instead of being able to double down on any card, players were restricted to doubling down on 10 and 11 only. This led to a 0.25% increase in the house advantage.
- Rather than being forced to stand on soft 17, dealers were permitted to hit. Again increasing the house advantage by .022%.
- Prohibiting doubling down after splitting, giving the house a 0.13% advantage.
- Prohibiting the re-splitting of Aces, raising the house edge by 0.08%.
- Prohibiting late surrender, giving the casino an added 0.07% edge.
Altered Payout Rates
These days most casinos pay 6:5 on natural blackjack instead of the offering 3:2. That means that for every $10 you wager, if you hit natural blackjack you will be paid $12 whereas games that pay 3:2, for every $10 you bet you will receive $15 if you draw natural blackjack. That difference adds up over time and the newer versions obviously give the house a larger edge at 1.4% for this one difference.
Players have caught onto this over time and so many casinos will pay offer single deck games paying 6:5 or party pit blackjack tables in order to try and attract players and keep them playing, but don't fall for these tricks thinking that the house edge isn't higher than what it once was.
Getting around the unfavourable rules
While you probably won't find Las Vegas Strip games that include all of these unfavourable rules and restrictions in one game when vising Las Vegas, it's not uncommon to find the less favourable payouts combined with one or two restrictions or rule variants. This generally means that you will be facing a 1.5% to 2% house advantage which means that you will probably have a better chance to make money by playing French Roulette, Baccarat or Video Poker.
Alternatively you can play a variety of blackjack games at online casinos where Las Vegas Strip variants generally have lower house edges (as low as 0.3% on certain games). If you're going to Las Vegas anyway, then try vising lesser known casinos off the strip like the Alamo Casino which has a blackjack game with a 0.14% house edge.
In summary, don't just assume that all casinos that advertise Las Vegas Strip rules are giving you a good deal. Those days have come on gone. Always ask about the full rules before sitting down and throwing your hard earned money away.