Blackjack may be the quintessential Las Vegas table game and the epitome of American imagination, thanks to the potential for skilled players to get an advantage over the house, but the origins of this 300+ year old game go back to France. Around 1700 the game of ‘vingt et un’, or twenty and one, began to spread throughout several layers of French society, presumably due to the simple rules and that players need only be able to count up to 21. At the same time Frenchmen were traveling to the Americas in great numbers to take advantage of opportunities in the new world. And what better way to kill the time on a long boat ride or at a remote base than with a popular game of chance?
The game was quickly Americanized with a new name “Blackjack” thanks to a special exception that if a player got a natural blackjack composed of a jack of spades and an ace of spades the payout was an incredible 10:1. That’s enough to make anyone take notice. Unfortunately so did the government. Blackjack, along with other card games connected with gambling, was associated with crime and was forbidden by law in a wave of prosecution that began on the east coast. Gambling professionals and their games all moved west, but then so did the legal restrictions…
The Rise of Las Vegas and Blackjack’s 4 Horsemen
Fabulous Las Vegas
It was only in 1931 when the state of Nevada legalized gambling that things began to really take off. Now players had a place to enjoy and explore the game and new waves of innovation began to take place. While the early history of blackjack may have been made by French explorers and American outlaws, the next and even more exciting chapter would be the work of genius (and some would say crazy) mathematicians. Major breakthroughs can be directly traced to the publishing of a handful of key texts often referred to as “Blackjack Bibles.”
First came the revelation that probabilities and statistics could alter the outcome of the game. This was in 1956 when Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott, (otherwise known as “the four horsemen”) published an article that outlined what is now called blackjack strategy. It wasn’t long before other math specialists developed a fascination for the game. Names like Ed Thorp, Ken Uston and Peter Griffin are held in reverence for both their creative insight and willingness to publish their findings. The blackjack Hall of Fame is a great place to read more about the individuals and discoveries that ultimately lead to card counting, advanced player techniques and outrageous blackjack teams that have taken modern casinos for millions of dollars and made world history in grand style.
Technology Takes Over
The next blackjack revolution started in the 1990’s with the internet and blackjack casino online gaming. Blackjack evolved again in the computer era with advances in software and design, but like the dusty saloons of the old west, the government soon stepped in to clear away any potential wrong-doers. Since online gambling often involves large unsupervised transactions, the United States government redefined the 1961 wire act to include online gambling sites. Then in 2006 companies facilitating the transfer of funds to gaming sites became criminally liable and arrests were made (only related to sportsbetting). Suddenly the game was once again semi-legal in the United States. While the outcome of the current legislation appears positive for now, players must find USA blackjack casinos to enjoy the game that continues to grow in popularity through television specials and high stakes tournaments.