In a casino, you can feel confident that if the house is offering you a game to play, they have some sort of edge. But that advantage isn’t the same in every game: blackjack, for instance, is well-known to have a very low house edge, and players who learn basic strategy can expect to face the casino on nearly equal terms.
That’s assuming that you’re playing under standard blackjack rules, though, and increasingly, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get such a good deal. Some Las Vegas casinos have recently been introducing new rules that casual players may not even notice, but which significantly tilt the odds in the favor of the house.
Payouts Key for Players
The rule in question is the payout on blackjacks. For those unfamiliar with the game, most wins in blackjack pay out at even money: if you bet $10, you win $10 if you can beat the dealer. But blackjacks, or hands in which the player starts with an ace and a ten-point card (either a ten or a face card), are a special case. These hands pay out at 3-2 odds, or $15 on that same $10 bet.
Blackjacks are relatively rare: a player expects to see one about once every 21 hands or so. But they still go a long way towards removing the house edge, as players actually win fewer hands than the dealer. With the standard rules and an eight-deck shoe, a player using basic strategy will only be up against a house edge of about 0.5 percent, give or take a few tenths. That means that after $1,000 worth of bets, the casino can expect to be up about $5 on average.
Short Pays Shortchange Gamblers
That’s not exactly a massive edge, especially compared to slots and many other table games. Naturally, casinos have looked for ways to push their edge in this game, and while even casual players will notice changes to the way blackjack is played, payout changes are a little more subtle. That’s why more than a few casinos now offer 6-5 payouts on blackjacks: paying just $12 on that same $10 bet.
These 6-5 blackjack games aren’t new. They’ve been becoming more and more common in low-limit games on the Las Vegas Strip as a way to make cheap games more profitable for casinos. This one small change increases the house edge by about 1.4 percent, more than tripling the amount the casinos expect to win against perfect play.
6-5 Payouts Spreading
But earlier this year, the Las Vegas Sands (LVS) took this a step further. At the Venetian and Palazzo, two casinos owned by LVS, blackjacks now regularly pay 6-5 at standard tables. And according to author and gambler Henry Tamburin, this is becoming more common across Las Vegas.
“Up until about a year ago, most of the six-to-five games were low-limit and single-deck games,” Tamburin told Pacific Standard in a recent interview. “Now these casino bosses have boldly implemented [six-to-five] on two-deck and six-deck games, and they’re even doing it on higher-minimum tables.”
According to experts, these changes are likely geared at extracting more money from players who are more interested in the excitement of gambling in Las Vegas, rather than seriously understanding the games they play. While this is a likely motive, the Las Vegas Sands isn’t saying exactly why they’ve made the change at their venues.
“As a general rule, we do not discuss the behind-the-scenes strategies of our gaming operations,” Sands Public Relations Manager Elaine Chaivarlis said.