For decades, blackjack has been the most prolific activity on casino floors worldwide. It generally takes up more tables in the pit area, employs more dealers, attracts more players and generates more revenue than any other table game. Although it has been around for centuries, blackjack saw its popularity zoom to new heights in the 1960s when books like Edward O. Thorpe’s “Beat the Dealer” revealed strategies that anyone could use to win consistently. The game has spread to every continent and become a mainstay of casinos online.
Against all odds, the live dealer game has survived the onslaught of technological innovations on the slot floor, competition from poker rooms and the explosive growth of high stakes baccarat in recent years. Following is a brief overview of where blackjack is currently most popular, who is playing and how the economics of “21” are trending in the 21st century.
Blackjack in North America
Las Vegas, Nevada, has long been the epicenter of the blackjack world. Even though the game’s share of overall pit space has declined from a high of 77.8% in 1986 to the current level of 50.5% (based in 2012 statistics), it is still the dominant force on casino floors, with 1,346 tables—that’s five times more than baccarat (267) or roulette (266), seven times more than craps (194) and more than double all other table games combined. Statewide in Nevada, blackjack is played at 2,810 tables in 151 casinos and pulls in a little more than US$1 billion annually.
In Atlantic City, New Jersey, the second largest casino market in the United States, there are 594 blackjack tables installed, taking up 36.5% of all space available, with poker’s 338 tables a distant second. Other U.S. states where casino blackjack is big include Mississippi, Louisiana, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
Meanwhile, Ontario is the top province in Canada for gaming action with 27 casinos and a 35.8% share of the country’s total C$15 billion gaming industry. It leads the nation in interest in blackjack, followed by Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.
Blackjack in Australasia
Ever since the former Portuguese colony of Macau reverted to Chinese rule in 1999, casino gaming has flourished there. In fact, by the end of 2006, Macau’s gaming revenues had eclipsed those of the iconic Las Vegas Strip, and although interest in table games has been dominated by baccarat and sic bo, blackjack revenues have grown from 589 billion patacas in 2002 to over 2.9 trillion patacas in 2012, making up about 10% of all gaming revenue in the territory if baccarat is excluded.
Elsewhere in the Asian-Pacific region, Singapore, the Philippines, South Korea and Malaysia all have thriving casino industries, with blackjack playing a leading role among table games. Play is conducted in local currencies—Singapore dollars, Philippine pesos, Korean won and Malaysian ringgit—and some casinos allow only foreign visitors to wager, thus creating a source of hard currency income. In Australia, casino gaming is an industry worth some A$3.5 billion, and blackjack is a key contributor among table games. Similarly, blackjack is popular in New Zealand, where casino gaming expenditures topped NZ$509 million in 2012.
Blackjack in Europe and Beyond
In the European Union, casino gaming has consistently trailed lotteries, machine gaming and sports betting in popularity, amounting to about €7.5 billion or just 14.5% of total gambling revenues per year. For blackjack, the most established markets are Monte Carlo and London, with play denominated in Euros and British Pounds, respectively. Germany and France are also major markets, although the popularity of blackjack in former Eastern bloc countries such as Lithuania and the Czech Republic has grown exponentially in the past two decades.
On the African continent, the hub of blackjack activity is South Africa, including the famous Sun City Resort complex, where wagering takes place in Rand at stakes ranging from ZAR25 to ZAR5,000 per hand. The islands of the Caribbean are also excellent destinations for blackjack players, including the Dominican Republic, the former islands of the Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Aruba, to name a few. Many of the cruise ships that make port in the region also offer blackjack onboard.