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Should You Play Video Blackjack or Live Blackjack?

If you’re a devoted low-roller gambler like me, you might be thinking about switching from live blackjack to video blackjack. After all, the minimum bet per hand on a video blackjack game is often as low as a dollar. Most casinos in Las Vegas have at least a $15 minimum on their blackjack tables, although it isn’t hard to find some smaller casinos offering the game for $5 per hand. (And you can find some low-rent casinos offering $1 or $3 minimums. That’s harder, though.)

But is it worth it to make the switch?

This post looks at the pros and cons of video blackjack as compared to live blackjack. It even includes some observations about online blackjack, which is almost always similar to video blackjack in terms of game-play, but similar to live blackjack in terms of rules.

Lower Minimum Bets per Hand – Video Blackjack

I already pointed out that you can play for as little as a dollar per hand on video blackjack games. That’s hard to find in live games, but it’s not impossible.

The Downtown Grand in Las Vegas sometimes offers $3/hand blackjack, which is still triple the minimum at most video blackjack games. It’s still worth mentioning. Jerry’s Nugget also sometimes has $3 games.

The Lucky Club offers $1 blackjack. It’s the only casino in Las Vegas with games at this low a limit. They’re not conveniently located to much, though—the Lucky Club is located right off I-15.

Since blackjack is a negative expectation game for most people, playing for lower limits should reduce the mathematically expected loss per hour.

But as you’ll see later in this post, it’s not the only factor determining how much you’re expected to lose per hour. Some of these other factors are arguably more important.

In terms of finding the lowest-limit blackjack games, though, video blackjack has a clear advantage over live blackjack.

Better Rules and a Lower House Edge – Live Blackjack

The house edge at blackjack is determined largely by what rules variations are in place. And live blackjack offers one huge advantage over video blackjack in terms of the rules:

A blackjack pays off at 3 to 2 in most live blackjack games.

But video blackjack usually only pays off at even money.

This gives the house an additional edge of 2.29%.

2.29% sounds like a small percentage, but when you apply it on average to every bet you make on average over time, it adds up faster than you can imagine.

Let’s compare the average hourly loss rate at 2 games with only 2 differences:

  1. The video blackjack game has a minimum bet of $1; the live blackjack game has a minimum bet of $5.
  2. The video blackjack game has a house edge of 3.29%; the live blackjack has a house edge of 1%.

Oh, there’s one other difference. I should discuss it in the next section:

Faster Rate of Play – Video Blackjack

One of the biggest factors affecting how much you can expect to lose playing a casino game is how many bets you’re making per hour. You multiply the bets per hour by the size of your bet to get the total amount of money you’re putting into action each hour.

At a live blackjack table, the number of hands you play per hour vary based on how many people are at the table with you. Most of the time, you won’t be playing heads-up versus the dealer.

For purposes of comparisons, I’ll assume that most of the time you’re at a blackjack table with 2 other players. You’ll see 105 hands per hour at such a table.

But when you’re playing video blackjack, it’s just you and the machine. You’ll see at least twice as many hands per hour playing video blackjack. I’ll just call that 200 hands per hour.

So when you’re calculating your expected loss per hour, you’re going to multiply your average bet per hand by the number of hands per hour. You’ll then multiply that by the house edge.

On the video blackjack game, that’s $1 per hand X 200 hands per hour X 3.37%, or $6.74 per hour in expected losses.

In the live blackjack game, that’s $5 per hand X 105 hands per X 1%, or $5.25 per hour in expected losses.

Even though you’re betting 5 times as much per hand playing live blackjack, your expected hourly loss is still lower playing the live blackjack game.

Of course, these numbers assume you’re playing with perfect basic strategy. You can read elsewhere on this site about how to do that, or you can just buy one of the little laminated basic strategy cards in the casino gift shop.

Counting Cards and Other Advantage Techniques – Live Blackjack

One thing you absolutely cannot do when playing video blackjack is use any advantage techniques like counting cards. These only work in live blackjack games. Here’s why:

When you’re counting cards, you’re keeping a rough estimate of how many high cards and low cards have come out of the deck and how many of each are left in the deck. When the deck has a proportionally higher number of 10s and aces in it, you raise the size of your bets. After all, you’re more likely to be dealt a blackjack and get that 3 to 2 payout for it.

Video blackjack eliminates this possibility in 2 ways:

  1. You don’t get an increased payout for a blackjack, which eliminates any advantage you might have gotten from counting.
  2. The game “shuffles” the deck after every hand, which means that any count you’d kept would be irrelevant as soon as the beginning of the next hand.

This isn’t a big deal for the average blackjack player, who isn’t counting cards anyway. But it’s impossible to provide an exhaustive treatment of video blackjack versus live blackjack without examining this aspect of the game, too.

Online Blackjack Is Different Altogether, Usually

Online blackjack games are, for the most part, video blackjack games with more generous rules than video blackjack games in the casino. Most of the time, they offer the same kinds of rules variations you’d find in various land-based casinos.

Most online casinos offer several variations, but usually only one of those variations will have the lowest possible house edge. But these rules will almost always include the 3 to 2 payout for the blackjack, which is the most significant rules difference between video blackjack and live blackjack.

You can plug the rules variations available into various websites’ house edge calculators for blackjack to figure out which variation at the online casino in question offers the lowest house edge. That’s the variation you should stick with whenever you play at that casino.

But not all online blackjack games are video blackjack games. One of the more popular offerings at a lot of online casinos in the current marketplace are live dealer blackjack games where the action is conducted by real dealers, real decks of cards, and webcams.

It doesn’t matter if you’re playing video blackjack or live dealer blackjack online, though. You’ll still need to use perfect basic strategy to get the lowest possible house edge.

You’ll also still be unable to count cards, even in the live dealer games. That’s because they use automated shuffling machines which start the deck over with the start of every new hand—which is exactly what happens in video blackjack, too.

Conclusion

Which game should you play?

I recommend sticking with live blackjack games, even if you’re a committed low roller. You might have to bet $5 per hand instead of $1 per hand, but the lower house edge and slower pace of the game means you’ll lose less money per hour than you’d lose playing video blackjack.

No matter which version you play, you should memorize and use basic strategy. There’s never an advantage to making playing decisions that aren’t mathematically optimal. And basic strategy isn’t that hard to learn anyway.

Also, when it comes to video blackjack and any variation of online blackjack, forget all about trying to count cards. That’s an advantage technique you can use with real live blackjack in brick and mortar casinos, but as far as I know, there’s not a single online casino where that’s a possibility.

Jeff Harris :