Blackjack Trends in Las Vegas
Last update: March 2022
6:5 takes over
Until 2003, all blackjack everywhere paid 3-to-2 on naturals (ten + ace). That means for every 2 units you bet, you'd win three units. For example, if you bet $10, you'd win $15.
In 2003, casino executives Bill Bert and Bill Zimmer came up with the idea to change the payout to 6-to-5. (LVA) For every 5 units you bet, you'd win 6. So if you bet $10, you'd win $12. Under the 3:2 rules you would have won $15. That seemingly small difference increased the house edge from about 0.5% to about 1.6%, making it three times worse for the player.
Many players and gambling writers have criticized the casinos for being too greedy with this change. I'm not one of them. A game with a 0.5% edge isn't really profitable for te casino, and a 1.6% game only barely so. Also, 1.6% is about the same as the pass line bet in craps and player/banker in baccarat, and way better than anything else in the casino. So, it's not that bad, and I don't blame them for this one. (I blame them for other stuff.)
Prior to 6:5, many casinos offered a blackjack variant called Super Fun 21 with worse odds than traditional blackjack. But with 6:5, they could offer the same worse odds without having to pay the licensing fees for Super Fun 21.
Anyway, 6:5 caught on like wildfire. It's the dominant form now. 3:2 can often still be found in high limit rooms, but some casinos don't offer 3:2 for any stakes. The last 3:2 single-deck game on the Strip was at Riviera in 2011, (source) and then Riviera closed. (There are still some multi-deck 3:2 games on the strip in 2022, but table limits are higher.)
Blackjack is getting less popular over time.
- Between 2000 and 2007, the strip lost 78 blackjack tables. (Las Vegas Sun)
- Between 2000 and 2018, the number of blackjack tables in Nevada decreased by 31%. (Forbes)
- Between 2011 and 2022, the strip lost 145 blackjack tables, or 15% of them. (Vegas Advantage)
It's not clear what's behind this trend. It could be that as older players pass on, younger players prefer slots. It's also possible that as casinos tighten the rules, knowledgeable players stopped playing.
Disappearance of single deck games
Edward Thorp published the first book on card counting in 1962, and casinos immediately began taking countermeasures.
The first was to increase the number of decks. It's actually not harder to count a six-deck shoe than a single deck of cards, because the card counter is keeping track of only one number in his/her head that goes up and down like a thermometer. However, multiple decks have worse odds for the card-counter, and are therefore harder to beat.
Even so, single-deck games co-existed among multi-deck games for years. In 2002, when I made my living from counting cards, I played single deck almost exclusively, including at every downtown casino. But as of early 2022, only one strip casino (Treasure Island) has single deck, down from over 100 in 2011. Only three downtown casinos (El Cortez, Circa, and Fremont) still have single-deck games. (Vegas Advantage)
The rule at most tables used to be that the dealer would hit on soft 17. Now, at most tables the dealer will hit soft 17, which is slightly worse for the player.
1962. Edward Thorp publishes the first book on card-counting. Games start moving from single-deck to multi-deck.
2002. I started counting for a living this year. I played almost exclusively downtown, where single-deck games were ubiquitous.
2003. 6:5 blackjack debuts at the Flamingo, and starts spreading.
- No more 3:2 single deck games on the strip, and none downtown except at El Cortez and The Western. And then The Western closed.
- The strip lost 78 blackjack tables since 2000. (Las Vegas Sun)
- 6:5 comprises 20% of blackjack tables on the strip.
- Riviera has the last 3:2 single-deck game on the strip. (source)
- 6:5 now at every casino on the strip.
- Most strip blackjack is now 6:5. (Vegas Advantage)
2018. The number of blackjack tables in Nevada decreased 31% since 2000. (Forbes)
2020. Most strip blackjack games now 6:5.
- Slightly more than half of all Vegas blackjack is now 6:5 (69% on the Strip, 38% downtown, 16% locals) (Vegas Advantage)
- Only one 3:2 single-deck game left in Vegas (El Cortez).
- Only one single-deck game left on the strip (Treasure Island), and it's 6:5.
- The strip lost 145 blackjack tables since 2011, or 15% of them.