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Stay Away from This Blackjack Game

17 February 2006

Don't even bother giving a gun to a casino - it'll manage to shoot itself in the foot regardless. (Of course, the same can be said of newbie poker players, but that's another story.)

Before Hurricane Katrina hit, there was a disturbing trend here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and it seemed to be growing. It actually started in casinos on the Strip in Las Vegas and spread to off-Strip and locals casinos. For some reason, casinos in southern Mississippi thought they should also be allowed to get away with it.

One of the sweetest things about playing blackjack is being dealt a "natural," meaning a face card or 10 and an ace as your first two cards. When that happens and if the dealer doesn't also have a blackjack, you'll be paid 3-to-2; if you have a $10 bet in the circle, you'll be paid $15. It's the one thing that helps a player take back some of the house edge that's built into almost every casino game.

At least, that's the way it's supposed to work, and that's the way blackjack has always been played since the dawn of time. But a few years ago, some casinos started shorting the payout on single-deck games to 6-to-5. So now, on a $10 bet, you'll win only $12, a loss of $3.

One source I read, the Viva Las Vegas Newsletter, says that the house edge on a 6:5 single-deck blackjack game is 1.45 percent instead of the regular 0.16 percent. That's an increase of 800 percent! You guessed it; don't even think about playing this game.

Before Katrina, I did a quick survey of blackjack tables here and found 6:5 blackjack at six casinos: Beau Rivage, Palace, Isle of Capri, Casino Magic Biloxi, Treasure Bay and Casino Magic Bay St. Louis. To add insult to injury, all except Treasure Bay were making the dealer hit a soft 17. That one table rule adds another 0.2 percent to the house edge.

The sad part is that the game was being played. You can almost understand it along the Vegas Strip and at Beau Rivage, where tourists filled the casinos' coffers. Tourists generally don't know any better and basically think that a single-deck blackjack game is always a good one. But the smaller casinos here should have had a decent mix of locals in with the tourists. And locals should know better.

A gal can dream, can't she?

I spoke to a shift manager at the Copa and asked her if the Copa had any plans to switch to that game. She said that that game is known as Biloxi Blackjack and that as far as she knew, the Copa had no plans to contaminate itself with it. Let us hope that when the Copa re-builds, it won't change its mind.

But I discovered that the Grand Gulfport, next to the Copa, had an even worse game. The Grand dealt its single-deck game to the bottom of the deck, which at first sounds good. But, and this is a huge but, it paid only even money for a natural. Not even 6-to-5, but 1-to-1. That's an increase in house edge of 2.32 percent!

Two years ago in Tunica, I asked floor persons at various casinos if they were thinking of importing the 6:5 payout. One supervisor told me that they'd be laughed out of town if they tried such a stunt. Needless to say, they take their blackjack seriously in Tunica. However, the last time I checked, at least one casino in Tunica had imported that ugly single-deck game.

This whole bad-blackjack scenario is meant to thwart card counters, who are too smart to play against such a gargantuan house edge, but it really hurts the poor average joe, who also probably doesn't know anything about basic strategy and is giving up at least another 5 percent to the house. Whenever I start to get upset by the situation, I have to keep telling myself that these people keep the casinos in business, which in turn keeps me in business.

Until next week, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com