Not many things rile up a recreational gambler more than for “the house” to chisel into a player’s winnings.
There have been cries far and wide on social media, blog posts and player forums about the perceived escalating of nickel-and-diming of casino patrons. That ties in directly to Monday’s celebration of National Blackjack Day.
It’s no accident that Monday was chosen for the unofficial observance. It’s March 2 — or 3-2, as in how much a “natural” blackjack hand is usually paid to a player who beats the dealer. A natural occurs when a dealer delivers a player an ace and a 10-card to score 21. At tables offering 3-2 odds, players win $3 for every $2 bet. That means if you put $10 in chips on the table and hit a blackjack, the dealer would give you $25 — a $15 profit and your original $10 bet.
But more and more casinos are changing the odds on their blackjack tables, paying 6-5 odds. On those tables, a blackjack with $10 in chips would pay $22 — a $12 profit and your original $10 bet.
State Gaming Control Board statistics indicate blackjack is the most popular table game in Nevada. No regulation prevents casinos from paying winners at a 6-5 rate as long as the casino clearly explains it.
A number of gamblers believe the house is eroding value from the casino, citing paid parking lots, fewer free drinks, tighter slot machines (increasing the percentage of house win in the software), triple-zero roulette — where there are three green slots instead of two or one — and 6-5 blackjack.
John Mahaffey, an Atlanta transplant who moved to Las Vegas in 2011, decided to study the proliferation of 6-5 blackjack and shared his findings on his Vegas Advantage website.
In recent Twitter posts, Mahaffey said he counted 199 6-5 blackjack tables on the Strip out of 984 total (20.2 percent) in 2011. In December, he found 568 such tables of 925 total (61.4 percent). In downtown Las Vegas, there were 26 6-5 tables of 181 total (14.4 percent) in 2011 and 46 of 172 total (26.7 percent) in December.
In some places, the 3-2 blackjack tables are high-minimum tables — in other words, the minimum bet per hand could be $25 or $50. The entry-level tables, generally $10 to $15 a hand, are all 6-5 tables.
One reason for the smaller percentage of 6-5 tables downtown is that one of the champions of 3-2 blackjack is Derek Stevens, owner of the D Las Vegas, the Golden Gate and Circa, which is set to open in December.
There are other pockets of 3-2 tables around town, but sometimes it takes a little time to find them.
Besides Stevens’ downtown properties, the Rampart Casino at the Resort at Summerlin is observing National Blackjack Day for the third straight year. Vice President and General Manager Michelle Bacigalupi said the casino is boosting 3-2 play and is offering a free bonus $20 bet to Rampart Rewards cardholders who hit a suited blackjack on bets of $10 or more.
As far as anyone can tell, another Atlanta-to-Las Vegas transplant can take credit for deeming March 2 National Blackjack Day.
“I’m no pro at it, but I really enjoy playing and have been playing dozens of years now,” said Derek Van Nostran, who recently took a job with VSiN Sports Betting Network. “In the last few years, I got into it on social media talking about it, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
Van Nostran said National Blackjack Day came as a result of an offhand comment he made online.
“It was a fun little thing tweeting back and forth with some people, and everyone was complaining about (6-5 blackjack payouts) and I just made an offhand statement that we need to start National Blackjack Day and if we do it, it has to be March 2 because that’s 3-2.”
What can consumers do about 3-2 vs. 6-5? Van Nostran suggests going out and playing — but not at 6-5 tables.
He encourages celebrating National Blackjack Day on Monday, playing the game at your local casino, playing only at 3-2 tables, sharing your love of the game on social media and calling on casinos to rid their floors of 6-5 payouts.
“It’s all about the wallet,” Van Nostran said. “If you express yourself with your wallet and only play at tables that pay 3-2, that’s the absolute best thing you can do. Avoid the tables that pay 6-5 as much as possible.”
I asked Van Nostran if he expected some casinos to counter with a blackjack celebration on June 5. You know, 6-5.
“Maybe they will,” he said. “6-5 will be MGM Day forever now.”
MGM Resorts International, of course, isn’t the only casino company that offers 6-5 tables. But its introduction of paid parking on the Strip painted the company, fairly or unfairly, as the symbol for nickel-and-diming customers.