The casino gambler has almost unlimited options at their disposal. Given that, why is blackjack the most popular game?
When most of us think of casinos, we think of the classic European table game of blackjack. Sure, there are other popular options like baccarat (think James Bond or Macau), slots (Vegas) and poker that are big these days, but blackjack remains the one and only.
Given that 21 is the featured option at casinos everywhere from Monte Carlo to Mohegan Sun, from Las Vegas to Mississippi. Why does a relatively simple card game evolved from the medieval Spanish game of 31 remain the world’s most popular casino table game?
There are a few answers to that question. A few are obvious, once you think about them. A few may surprise you. Here are the top four reasons blackjack still rules the casino:
It’s a game of skill
Unlike slots, baccarat and roulette, blackjack is a game of skill in which the player has the potential to gain an advantage over the house by using smart strategies. Basic blackjack is relatively simple; beat the dealer by getting closer to 21 without going over. Hit, stand, split or double down.
But once you peel away the surface and dig deeper into this casino game, you’ll find that the possibilities for tweaking your strategy to tip the scales in your favor are endless. You can use time-honored advantage play techniques like card counting, shuffle tracking and reading the dealer’s upcard.
None of these things are considered cheating, but they’re things that no casino would knowingly allow you to do. And that’s a big part of the fun of blackjack; there are endless ways of manipulating the game to increase your chance of winning, none of which are cheating but all of which require some sneakiness on your part!
The house edge is very low
Some casino games like slots (4-20 percent depending on location) and roulette (usually 17-19 percent) have very high house edges, meaning that if you play for long enough all you are doing is burning a hole in your pocket.
Blackjack is a different story; one of the things that attracts players. The standard house edge at a blackjack table is .5 percent. Consider the following scenario. You spend an entire night playing at a $10 minimum table with a .5 percent edge.
Throughout a couple hours you play 100 hands, wagering $1000 total. If the outcome follows its logical conclusion, you will leave the casino with $995. You gambled all night and only lost $5! And that’s by using basic strategy, not using any of the advantage techniques which could have helped you win.
And that’s just why so many casual gamblers love to play blackjack. They can enjoy an evening playing their favorite table game. At the end of the night, they’ve only left a few dollars on the table.
Gameplay is rapid
Given the low house edge and ample opportunities for winning at blackjack, why do casinos fill their limited floor space with blackjack tables? The fact that hands can be dealt at a rapid pace. Even though the house is only taking a small cut out of each players bankroll, a croupier can deal hundreds of hands in an hour.
Given that a casino will have dozens of blackjack tables going at once, there are thousands (or tens of thousands) of hands dealt at once. That adds up to colossal sums of money for the casino. Gambling scholar Bill Zender summed up the importance of rapid gameplay:
“Your defenses can be weak, your dealers sullen, and your staff inexperienced, but nothing amplifies your game strengths and weaknesses as much as the increase or decrease in the amount of hands
your casino achieves during its period of operation.”
While that isn’t exactly positive news for the player, it helps explain why casinos are full of blackjack tables. Customers love to play blackjack, and casinos love to offer it. In that way, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement for both parties.
The culture surrounding it is rich
Due to its long-standing popularity blackjack has become a cultural institution in Europe and North America. That’s what more than 500 years of history will do. There are movies and songs written about it. 21, the Hollywood dramatization of the MIT blackjack team, made $24 million on its opening weekend in the US. Rain Man with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman was another hugely popular film concerning blackjack.
There are also thousands of blackjack books written by experts like Arnold Snyder and Stanford Wong. If you want to improve your game by reading the best blackjack card counting books, there are thousands of options out there. That isn’t something that can be said for baccarat, roulette or even poker.
Pop culture images and media representations of the classic casino game are everywhere. Even people who don’t know what gambling is know what blackjack is. Given that people are social animals, the strong cultural presence has an effect on the game’s popularity.
All of these factors add up. Blackjack is a great game which has advantages for the both the player and casino. The supply and demand mean that any casino is packed wall-to-wall with blackjack tables.
And that positive trend is reinforcing. Blackjack tables are everywhere. When someone walks into a casino, it’s the first thing that can be seen. First time casino visitors will probably try it, and because it’s a great game, they’ll probably enjoy it and want to keep playing. That’s how a tradition is born.