Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Best of Frank Scoblete
Blackjack is not slots11 January 2009
Blackjack has been the most popular table game since the early 1960s, when it became known that card counting could beat the game. Of the tens of millions of blackjack players since that time period only a few thousand ever got good enough to beat the casinos at blackjack but that didn't stop the casinos from panicking in the first blush of the card counting revolution.
The first step the casinos took was to change the game drastically. Not only were more than one deck instituted but the rules were changed to make the game far less attractive.
So what happened? Players started to reduce their time at the tables and many gave up the game completely. The casinos soon realized that a game that made them a lot of money was about to go down the tubes. So they brought back the good rules and even continued offering excellent single- and double-deck games. The crowds returned and blackjack sailed off into the sunset heavy-laden with players' gold.
Those of you with long memories can recall the wealth of excellent blackjack games in the 1980s in Las Vegas. Just about every casino had them. My first trip to Vegas, after years of playing in Atlantic City, saw my jaw drop open when I saw all those great single- and double-deck games.
True some excellent blackjack players did win money over the years, and a small fraction of those excellent players won a lot of money, but no one player and no one team won even a tiny nano-percentage of the heaping mountains of money the casinos were harvesting daily from the game. Blackjack profits soared, year after year after year . . . and then something happened.
Somewhere, on some desolate shore, a casino executive stumbled over a bottle, rubbed it and released an evil genie. This genie told him in strictest confidence, "Change the nature of the game. Give players only a 6-to-5 payment on their blackjacks; hit all soft 17s; create continuous shuffle machines that make the players play 20% more hands; limit doubling and splitting options and don't penetrate too deeply into the decks. The casinos will win much more money if you do all these things. You will start to make the kind of money you make at the slot machines."
Logically this sounded right. Today's casinos need to always make more and more money each and every year. To do so they either have to get people to play more; or get more people to play; or reduce the returns of their games so they take ever more money from the same people for the same amount of play. The hat trick would be to do all three. That's the way to being crowned casino executive of the year.
Unfortunately, logic and profit don't always work out in the real world. Instead of increasing the profits from blackjack, even the dumbest blackjack players could see they were losing more money and, as they did in the late 1960s, they decreased their play and some of them even quit. Blackjack has flattened out as a moneymaker — you can look it up. Sadly, the casinos have not yet figured out that blackjack is losing its hold on the table-game world since the games have gotten far, far worse. In the past year Atlantic City, in the face of Las Vegas' blackjack blues, decided to do what Vegas did — offer inferior games where the casino hits a soft 17. The casino motto seems to be — "if it doesn't work, just do more of it and then it will work!"
Blackjack is still the most popular table game — it will be some time before it is replaced — but it is not the mega-monster it once was. Making the game hold more for the casino might have seemed like a noble and brilliant idea when discussed in the boardrooms by various MBAs but in truth the new rules/new games are a disaster — for the players and for the casinos.
The true irony of this situation is that the casinos have as many misconceptions about blackjack as the players do. The players think they can win more money at blackjack by becoming either positive or negative progression players; or clumping proponents, or trend-seekers. The casinos think they can make good money by offering bad games.
Perhaps what has blinded the casino thinking are the slot machines. There doesn't seem to be any end to the numbers of players willing to spend their money on those one-armed bandits. All slot machines are bad games — except those rare progressives that get into the positive zone on even rarer occasions and on certain "banking" machines. Slot players face very large house edges ranging from 2% down to a monstrous 17% on some mega-moolah progressives.
Slot players have been trained to accept the fact that they will lose time and time again and once in a while get a "big one" to keep the juices flowing. This "big one" rarely brings them into the black and the losing just continues again into the future.
Blackjack players are not like slot players. They expect to have a close contest with the house — win some, lose slightly more. Yes, the typical traditional blackjack player is a loser but the pattern of his losses is radically different than the pattern of the slot players' losses. To try to make blackjack win the kind of money the slot machines do — in the way the slot machines do it — is to change the nature of the game and make it the type of game that will put off a lot of players.
Slot machines and blackjack are indeed moneymaking animals for the casinos but they are animals from different species. Trying to force one to become like the other will ultimately kill that one.
Blackjack facts are tough to digest — they are tough for the players, who wish to use idiosyncratic methods that don't actually work to beat the game; and they are tough for the casinos, who wish to see blackjack win the kind of money the slots win.
Blackjack players love the game and many play it exclusively. They wish to get the type of game that gives them that "blackjack feel" and they don't want to play a game that is closer to slots in its house edge. That's the nature of blackjack and blackjack players.
Casinos should learn from the lines of that old commercial, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!"
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at email@example.com.
Best of Frank Scoblete