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Deal Me In: Shopping list for the right blackjack setup

3 February 2012

Dear Mark: Please settle a disagreement between my brother and me. My brother thinks he has better odds against the house at blackjack playing out of a shoe with several decks. I think it is to the gambler's advantage to play at tables with a single deck. Please explain the reason for your answer. Wade J.

There is some mathematical footing, Wade, as to why you want to play on a single deck game. Compared to a single deck game, a two-decker handicaps your play by 0.35 percent, four decks 0.48 percent, six decks 0.54 percent, and eight decks 0.58 percent. Playing 100 hands per hour at \$10 per hand, each handicap jump of 0.1 percent will cost you approximately a buck an hour. Given the choice, Wade, and the rules being “relatively” equal, I would recommend playing on a game with the smallest number of decks possible, because your odds are better.

Likewise, multiple decks and continuous shufflers hurt your play because the dealer shuffles less, or not at all, thus increasing the number of hands dealt per hour. Increasing hands-per-hour generally multiplies the benefits-per-hour for the entity with the built-in edge, and that, Wade, is, yep, you guessed it, the house.

Tell your brother for me, Wade, that he can plan on losing more money per hour against continuous shufflers, followed by non-continuous automatic shufflers, followed by multi-deck hand-shuffled games, than against the single deck – just by hands-per-hour.

Still, stumbling upon a single-deck blackjack game today is a rare occurrence. However, if by happenstance, you find one, make sure to look closely at the table layout, to see whether there’s this lethal notice: "Blackjack Pays 6:5." On these new 6:5 games, a \$5 blackjack gets you only \$6 instead of \$7.50. So although that the game is played with a single deck, the house edge increases dramatically.

As I harped on just a few columns back, play in a casino that offers the following combination of rules: fewest decks possible; surrender, both early and late; double down allowed on any two cards; double down allowed after splitting pairs; multiple pair splitting allowed, plus re-splitting aces; dealer stands on a soft 17; deep deck penetration; and, of course, 3:2 for a blackjack.

Dear Mark: Everywhere you look nowadays, there are penny machines. How can the casino make a profit a penny at a time? Joan T.

Every gaming market in the United States is moving towards low-denomination slot machines at warp speed. The reason being, Joan, is because players keep the Naugahyde stools in front of them fully occupied.

Penny machines and two-centers are laying claim to more and more casino real estate because players love the number of coins and lines they can bet with just the loose change they’ve been saving in their cookie jar above the refrigerator. In fact, Joan, casinos today haul in more cash per machine on penny video slots than they do on quarter or dollar reel-spinning slot machines.

Casinos love them because they are huge moneymakers with relatively low paybacks. Certainly, you can wager just a mere penny per spin, but most players tend to bet far more than one coin per line, and many bet the maximum. This creates bets larger than they seem, putting penny play in the quarter, even dollar league. Low payback machines, and players standing in line to play them. Go figure. The casinos sure have.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Playing poker is sort of like riding a roller coaster: it's up and down, speed up, slow down, first you're scared and then you're bored. And when the ride is over and you get up to leave, you usually feel like throwing up.” -- VP Pappy
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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.