Rarely does anyone go to Las Vegas with the idea that they’re going to leave with a fatter wallet than when they arrived. Yes, there are a few professional gamblers like poker pros and blackjack aficionados among the masses who might do better than the average Joe, but for the majority of us, we may dream of hitting a huge jackpot, but realistically we know it’s a trip to an exotic land far from the idealistic setting of home; a vacation spot just like any other, where you expect to spend money to have a good time. That’s what the casinos have relied on for decades, but apparently it’s not enough anymore.
Two major casinos along the Las Vegas Strip have elected to change the long-standing rules at their blackjack tables to further decrease a player’s chance of walking away with a profit. The Palazzo and the Venetian, both of which are venerable fixtures of the Strip owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS), have altered the payout for a natural blackjack from the standard 3:2 to a lesser 6:5. It may seem like a trifling difference to a single, casual player, but for the casinos, it’s potentially millions of dollars a year in their pockets.
Think about it. If a player were to wager $10 on a hand of blackjack, and they beat the dealer by having a total closer to 21, they would expect to be paid an even money deliverance of $10. This is what most players strive for, and achieve almost half of the time, in Vegas. When a player hits blackjack, however – something that has a probability rate of occurring once every 21 hands – they are typically paid 3:2, thus a $15 win for a $10 bet. Thanks to the rule change that seemed so negligible before, the payout drops to just $12.
Let’s look at that same scenario in the eyes of Las Vegas casino magnates like Sheldon Adelson, CEO of the LVS Corp who surely stamped his approval on the proposition to alter the blackjack payouts back in March of this year. If a single blackjack table averages 80 hands an hour, that’s approximately 4 blackjacks per player, per hour. If each player bet $10 per hand, and there’s 4 players at the table, that’s $48 extra dollars going to the house bank each hour. Now multiply that across 50 blackjack tables, and you get $2,400 per hour; $57,600 per day; $2,995,200 million per year. Does a 3:2 to 6:5 modification still seem trifling now?
Looking at it from another perspective, the house edge increases nearly 300% by simply adjusting the payout from 3:2 to 6:5. With a basic blackjack strategy on a 3:2 game at typical Strip casinos like Caesars, the house edge is about 0.78%. But when taking the exact same rules of the game (6 decks, dealer hits soft 17, double on 10-11 only, etc.), then adding in the 6:5 payout for a blackjack, the house edge increases to a whopping 2.14%.
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack coach, owner of SmartGaming.com and author of multiple game theory publications, including his most famous work, Blackjack: Take the Money and Run (1994). According to Tamburin, the decrease in payouts at The Venetian and Palazzo casinos is “like a hidden tax”. Using the above example of $10 per hand, players are essentially being charged $12 an hour to play at these Strip casinos.