Sunday, 28 March 2010

The house edge on blackjack worsens

Well, the inevitable has begun to happen. When the recession first hit and credit dried up, everyone predicted the casinos would lose out. If the banks squeeze credit, people cannot maintain their levels of discretionary spending and, sadly, gambling is always going to be one of the choices made less often. The prediction then ran on: if fewer people go into casinos and those that do go spend less, the casinos will find their profits under pressure. At this point, the forecasters would take a deep breath. This will not be a problem so long as the casinos hold their nerve. The economy will slowly pick up. Confidence will return as consumers save less and spend more. In three to five years time, casino revenues will be back to their normal levels. But, and this is where the forecasters would look grim, if the casinos try to suck extra dollars of profit out of fewer players, they risk killing the golden goose. So which way have casinos played their hands?

In most states, blackjack has always been the biggest table game. But in 2009, casinos across the US lost an average 20% of their annual revenue from the tables. When you lose such a big slice of your revenue from just one game, this puts pressure on the casino operators. Unfortunately, they have tended to move in the wrong direction. Most states regulate on the basis of a 3:2 payout on blackjack (i.e. if you bet $10 and win, the casino pays $15). In Colorado, operators have
applied for an increase in table odds to 6:5 (i.e. a winning $10 bet pays out only $12). For those of you who like the math, this lifts the house edge from 1.5% to 2.9%. In Nevada, the table odds moved to 6:5 months ago, closely followed by a general raise in the table minimums. This drove away the casual players and, not surprisingly, the high rollers followed. The casinos shot themselves in the foot by both tightening the rules and reducing the payouts.

Where has the business gone? Well, the hard core gamblers have decided they don't like the deck being so obviously stacked against them. There's no reason why should they tolerate low payouts when online casinos have kept their table odds at a fair level and not changed their table minimums. Online, you can still play at $1 or $5 tables if that's all you want to risk. The higher table minimums are there if you want them but there's no pressure. In the real world, slightly stressed staff are trying to encourage you to spend more. Sitting in the peace of your own home, you can pull a beer out of the fridge and take life easy. There are so many good online casinos where you can play blackjack with many different styles of online blackjack to choose from. If the mood takes you, there are tournaments to play. If the money runs out, you can always play for free. This is one time when the greed of the real world operators has worked against them. In the good old days before the internet, it was a real world casino or nothing. Now that the internet has come of age and the quality of the casino software has improved, the real world casinos have a real fight on their hands if they want to remain relevant.

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