Blackjack is a popular casino game, and it’s often listed as one of the best games to play if you’re interested in gambling activities with a low house edge. It’s one of the few games offered in the gambling industry where you can actually get an edge over the house.
These things make it a popular subject for articles and books about gambling. But is blackjack really your best choice?
The sad reality is that blackjack isn’t as good as it used to be. This isn’t an opinion; it’s a fact. I cover seven sad realities of blackjack below.
Does this mean that you shouldn’t play blackjack?
I also answer this question in the section following the seven realities. After reading the doom and gloom of the seven realities of blackjack, you might be surprised at what I recommend.
1 – You Aren’t Going to Win
If you read many articles or books about blackjack, you probably have had dreams of beating the casinos at their own game. Some articles and books make it seem like you can treat the blackjack games like your personal bank account, making a withdrawal whenever you want.
The truth is that even if you figure out how to beat the game, it’s not easy, and you won’t win every time you play. A sadder truth is that most blackjack players lose in the long run. It’s easy to dream about beating the blackjack games, but when it comes time to test your dreams, you might find that they don’t come true.
The reason I’m comfortable with the title of this section is because almost everyone who reads this page isn’t going to be a winning blackjack player. No one knows the exact percentages, but my guess is that less than 5% of the people who play blackjack ever come close to playing a break-even game over time.
I suspect that the percentage of players who actually beat the game in the long run is less than 1%. This means that over 99% of blackjack players lose.
Can you be in the 1%?
The answer is yes, but the odds are heavily against you. The top 1% in anything is an exclusive group. But the rewards for being in the 1% are usually pretty good.
Think of any profession and look at how much money the top 1% makes. It’s usually in the millions. But you also need to consider how the top 1% of any profession got where they are. If you dig deep enough, you usually find that it requires outworking the other 99% and working with an almost insane focus. The sad truth is that most people aren’t willing to do what it takes to be in the top 1%.
This might seem like a pessimistic view, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Do your own research, and you’re going to find out that it’s true. Of course, you might be able to find a few outliers, but these are the exception, not the rule.
You should also look at this from a positive standpoint if you truly want to be a winning blackjack player. The truth is that if you want to do it, you can. You just have to do what the top 1% is doing. This includes learning everything you can and working harder than the other 99%.
2 – It’s Hard to Find Good Games
Casinos are in business to make money. They do this by offering a form of entertainment tied to games that give them an edge. This isn’t good or bad; it’s simply the way casinos operate. The casino has to make a profit, or it goes out of business.
The people who run casinos, at least the smart ones, are always trying to learn more about how they create a profit and how to improve the profits that they have. The casinos understand how each rule variation at the blackjack table changes their profits.
They know that some rules increase their profits and that some rules make their profits lower. If the casinos had their way, all blackjack games would be played with the same rules variations, and you’d be better off playing craps or baccarat.
On the other side of the coin is the fact that casinos need to have players at the tables. If they only offer blackjack games with the worst rules, fewer players gamble. Smart casinos are always trying to find the happy medium between offering games that players want to play and offering these games with the highest profits for the casino.
Casinos seem to be moving more toward blackjack games with poor rules every year. This has been a gradual change, but good games are getting harder to find. More games offering 6 to 5 blackjack payouts are replacing ones that offer 3 to 2.
The casinos are taking advantage of lazy and ignorant gamblers. Some gamblers don’t have any idea how bad the 6 to 5 games is, and if the casino can keep the 6 to 5 tables full, they don’t have any reason to offer a better game.
You also need to be aware of the other possible rules variations and how they change the house edge. The casinos are slowly moving to worse rules, and I don’t see it changing in the future.
The only thing that can make the casinos offer better games is if blackjack players refuse to play games with poor rules. Until this happens, it’s going to continue being hard to find good blackjack games.
3 – Good Bonuses Are Disappearing
Online casinos opened a new opportunity for casual blackjack players when they started to become popular in the 2000s. You could find games with good rules, and many online casinos offered nice sign-up bonuses that could help you improve your odds of winning.
Just like land-based casinos, online casinos learned over time that certain combinations offered weren’t as profitable as others. While land-based casinos don’t offer deposit bonuses like online casinos, everything else is pretty much the same.
Online casinos still offer sign-up and deposit bonuses, but most of them aren’t for blackjack play. Most online casino bonuses restrict your play to slot machines and other games where the casino has a high house edge.
When you find an online casino that offers a bonus for blackjack play, the terms and conditions are written in a way that make it almost impossible to make a profit. Instead of requiring a 30 or 40 times playthrough to clear the bonus, you might need to complete a 300x or 400x or higher playthrough if you want to play blackjack.
I’ve stopped playing blackjack online unless I just want to brush up on using basic strategy or counting. I use the free games for practice, but looking for a decent bonus is a waste of time now.
4 – Card Counting Countermeasures
Casinos have learned that only a few things hurt their profits at the blackjack table. Dealer mistakes can hurt their profits, but they quickly replace bad dealers and audit them on a constant basis. The main way they can lose profits is when advantage players target their games.
One way to discourage card counters is to offer games with bad rules. I covered this in an earlier section, and it’s the best way to keep advantage players out. Smart blackjack players simply refuse to play games with bad rules because they understand that even if they count cards, the house edge is so high that it’s almost impossible to overcome.
But this isn’t the only way that casinos have learned to combat card counters and advantage players.
Casinos can use computers and surveillance to track how blackjack players are playing. This helps them by identifying players that make bigger bets when the count is in their favor. Many casinos also have people in the pit who can count cards and who are trained to spot things that advantage players do that most players don’t do.
In most countries, casinos are privately operated. This means that they can legally stop players from playing their games. All they have to do is tell you that you can’t play, and if you continue playing, they can have you arrested.
As casinos get smarter and learn how to identify advantage players, they stop card counters faster. You can do certain things to lower your chances of being caught, but eventually, you’re going to be asked to stop playing if you’re playing with an advantage. This is why many card counters move from casino to casino and don’t play at one table long.
It’s also the reason that teams of blackjack card counters have the best chance to operate with an advantage over the long run. Blackjack counting teams are harder for the casinos to identify, but it’s also hard for advantage players to find enough trustworthy team members to have a profitable long-term relationship.
5 – Fewer Players and Fewer Tables
While it’s not a scientific study, it seems like fewer and fewer young people are playing blackjack. If they come to the casino at all, they’re playing slots or can be found in the poker room. Every time I go to the casino to play blackjack, I’m surrounded by older players.
Younger generations do more than ever on their phones and tablets, and gambling is no different. Instead of going to the local casino to gamble, they simply get out their smartphone and play wherever they are.
When casinos start seeing lower profits from a game or square foot on their casino floor, they look for ways to improve their profit for every square foot. When fewer people play blackjack, it drives the profit for the casino down. When this happens, they eventually replace the table with something that has a chance to make more profit.
This becomes a bad cycle because fewer blackjack tables reduces the number of seats, which can further reduce profits. While I don’t believe that blackjack tables are going away entirely anytime soon, it seems like fewer and fewer of them are available every year.
6 – The Grind Is Boring
It’s fun to play blackjack sometimes. But when you have to play hour after hour and day after day to grind out a living, it quickly becomes a chore. If you count cards, the only way to make enough money to make a living is to play as much as possible.
This means that even though you probably can’t play at the same table for long, you still have to play as much as possible. You might have to spend 80 hours looking for games and moving around to get 30 or 40 hours of actual play in.
Once you learn the best strategy and master your card counting system, the actual play becomes mostly mechanical. You end up doing the same thing over and over, and this can become worse than a job. In fact, most card counters would make more money per hour if they worked a regular job instead of counting.
I’ve never found anything that makes the grind better. The only thing that keeps me going is the challenge of not getting caught and of finding new ways to play with an advantage. Blackjack isn’t the only advantage play method that quickly becomes a grind. Poker is also a grind if you’re trying to make a living.
7 – Lower Comps
Many gamblers make the mistake of thinking that casinos offer comps through the slot’s club or player’s club as a way of rewarding players. Casinos actually offer comps as a way to get people to gamble more. If the casino didn’t think their comps program was profitable, they would stop offering it.
You might wonder how giving things away can be profitable, but think about what you actually earn in comps in comparison to how much you need to play. In addition, most of the things that you earn in comps cost the casino much less than the face value.
Here’s an example.
You play so much blackjack that the casino offers a free stay in their hotel. If you research the hotel industry, you’ll find that one of the biggest problems hotels have is unsold rooms. If a room isn’t sold, they don’t make anything from that night, and they can’t recover it.
Casinos figured out that if they can give these unsold rooms to gamblers, they have a good chance to make some money off the rooms. If you’re going to go play blackjack, are you more likely to play where they give you a room or somewhere else?
Another common comp is a free buffet. The casino might regularly charge $10 or $20 for the buffet, so when you earn a free meal, that’s the value in your mind. But the casino’s true cost is much lower.
The casinos also don’t usually tell their players exactly how much they earn in comps for every wager made. This makes it easy to lower the payouts for comps. This is exactly what’s been happening for the last several years in the casino industry.
Casinos are paying lower comps, so it means that you have to play longer and gamble more to earn the same as in the past. Industry averages are impossible to find, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that blackjack comps are around .1%. That’s one tenth of one percent, not one percent.
Why You Should Play Blackjack Anyway
I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture of blackjack today and in the future. All of the things listed above are true, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play blackjack.
Blackjack is still one of the few games offered by casinos that allows you to use your mind to play a break-even game. You can even learn to play with a small edge over time if you’re willing to work hard and be selective about when and where you play.
It’s getting tougher to beat blackjack every year, but there are still players and teams that are making money playing. The base game of blackjack hasn’t changed in decades, and the rules variations are the same as they’ve always been.
As I mentioned earlier, the main changes concerning advantage blackjack play are fewer good games and increased surveillance. These things make profitable blackjack play harder, but they don’t make it impossible.
When someone asks me the best way to gamble and show a profit, I still recommend blackjack as one of the possibilities. Honestly, it wouldn’t be my first choice if I was starting over today, but it’s still a choice.
In case you’re wondering, poker is the best game to play if you want to gamble with an advantage.
Blackjack is the easiest game to play with a low house edge, even if you never learn how to count cards. You simply have to use a basic blackjack strategy card and only play in games with good rules.
The hard part is finding good games; it’s not hard to use perfect strategy. You can use a strategy card while playing, and the only time you shouldn’t use a strategy card for every playing decision is when you have the proper strategy memorized.
I rarely see players using a strategy card, and I don’t understand why more players don’t use them. Is it because they think other players and the dealer will think less of them?
I want the dealer and casino personnel to think I’m an amateur blackjack player. When the dealer thinks you’re new, they might help you in small ways, and when the casino personnel thinks you don’t know what you’re doing, they don’t pay as much attention to you.
When you use perfect basic blackjack strategy, find games with good rules, and sign up for the comp program and earn comps every time you play, blackjack offers a lower house edge than any game in the casino. You can still play many places with an edge of less than a half percent without counting cards.
It’s also much easier to learn how to count cards than most people believe. If you’re one of the many players who thinks card counting is impossible or too hard, take a few minutes right now and learn more about it. It’s not hard to get started, and even if you never get great at counting cards, you can quickly learn how to count well enough to play a break-even game.
The large majority of gamblers loses in the long run. If they didn’t, the casinos would go out of business. But this doesn’t mean you have to join the masses. Change the way you think about gambling and decide to use the odds and strategies available to turn the tables on the casinos.
In less than a month of consistent effort, you can be playing a break-even or better blackjack game against the casino. It just takes a little bit of work.
Sadly, blackjack simply isn’t as good as it used to be. The base game is the same as it’s been for decades, but casinos are smarter than ever, and younger generations don’t seem to be as interested in the game. This means that fewer games are available, and the games that are still available aren’t as good as they used to be.
You can still learn how to play blackjack at a break-even pace or with a small edge, but it’s getting harder every day. I still recommend learning how to play with an advantage, but you might be better off playing something else. I don’t think that blackjack is going to get better in the future.
Instead, I predict even fewer good games and opportunities in the coming years.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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