The Evolution of Blackjack
The casino gaming environment is a dynamic environment. Games evolve rapidly. Sometimes they are old games with a new twist and sometimes the games include a new and exciting bonus feature. Most often though these changes are very subtle and presented in such a way that the player doesn’t even know a change has occurred. The evolution of Blackjack is a perfect example of this. Blackjack was very close to a breakeven game in the infancy of the casino gaming boom. But over time the house's edge has increased. Now in the online casino environment, online blackjack is offering another change. Sometimes with varying rules and sometimes with casino bonuses that encourage the player to play more. Here we will discuss some of the big changes in Blackjack over the past several decades and show how online blackjack games is evolving the game once again.
When Las Vegas started to boom in 1946, Blackjack was a solid earning game for the casinos. Mathematically it was approximately a 0.0005 % edge over the player. That means for every $100 wagered the player would lose 5 cents. That’s if the player adhered to a perfect basic strategy over the long-term (30,000 hands or so). The problem was that no one had figured out what perfect strategy was so players were playing their hunches. And this rained down profits for the casinos.
In 1962, Professor Ed Thorp determined what the perfect basic strategy was and published it in his groundbreaking book Beat the Dealer. This sufficiently scared casino owners to the point where they changed the rules of the game to a give the casino almost a 2% edge over the player. The gamblers decided that the casinos were not playing fair and the occupancy rates of the hotels and casinos plummeted. After only a few months the casinos were forced to reinstate the original rules of the game. The interesting fact in this was that Blackjack then became the best earning game in the casino, eclipsing the longtime champion Craps. The strategy existed but no one followed it. Just knowing the game could be beaten was enough for people to want to play it.
Over the next several decades, the game of Blackjack started to change very slowly. First, the game went from one hand-held deck to two hand-held decks, then to a four-deck shoe, on to six and eight-deck shoe games. And finally, there is a continuous shuffle machine where the dealer uses only two (or fewer) of six decks at a time then places them back in the machine to be shuffled again. The reason for this is to decrease the shuffling time; time wasted shuffling is time the casino isn’t making money.
Other rule changes were also introduced such as dealer hitting on a Soft 17 total and players not being able to double after a split, but the main variation of the game was the increase in the number of decks being used. Not only did it increase revenue by decreasing wasted shuffle time, but it also increased the likelihood that the cards would be more randomly dispersed, and decreased the chances that the player would be in a mathematically overly-advantageous situation.
In recent years the casinos have introduced gimmicky side bets to lure players to bet more per hand. Lucky Lady side bets or Three Card Poker hand side-bets give high payouts on rare events. And because these bets won’t be played all the time this increases profitability for the casinos.
Another aspect that we are seeing in the blackjack evolution is the introduction of popular culture into the game. There is a new variation of blackjack that is hoping to capitalize on the Zombie phenomenon. The rules of this game are more complex than traditional blackjack so it is difficult to discern if it will catch on.
In online casinos, online blackjack is popular. This is because the rules are pretty good and the game moves fast. Traditionally online blackjack games were run on random number generators where a computer chip determines the order of the cards. Usually, this was determined by a six-deck shoe and a random order mix of the 312 cards that 6 decks are composed of. The important thing to remember is that the cards are reordered after every round of blackjack so no ability to keep track of cards (like card counting) is possible.
Because no comps are available for online players the online casino has to offer casino bonuses to their online blackjack players to entice them to come back and play more. The casino bonuses offered come in two forms; one, a traditional bonus where the player gets dollars to gamble with or cash out or a sticky bonus where the player has to wager the amount before it is recoverable. For instance, if a player receives a $500 bonus they must wager 100 hands at $5 per hand before the funds can be withdrawn.
There is a current trend in online blackjack and that is the use of real dealers and live streamed games via high-speed internet connections. Some players find this more appealing than the traditional computer programs. Online casinos will hire models to deal to players who want the human interaction. This is an option that is usually reserved for high stakes players. It increases the cost to the online casino but the cost is low when compared to what they will be making from these high stakes gamblers.
Blackjack has undergone some pretty drastic changes over the years. Some of the changes are good for the players while others are better for the casinos. The critical part is finding those changes that both the player and the casinos can live with. But with all the changes that we are seeing in blackjack, the new medium of online casino play seems to be making its way back toward the traditional game with traditional interactions between player and dealer.