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Over the past few weeks, I received some email from a reader who had questions about a relatively new Scientific Games electronic blackjack game called Stadium Blackjack.

This game uses a relatively novel approach where each player starts with the same two cards (i.e. a common hand), but each can play out the hand however he would like from a real shoe of cards. The resulting Dealer Hand will be potentially different for each player because it will take into account the cards each player uses.

It can be difficult to explain, but is fairly easy once you see it in action. And the mechanism it uses to accomplish this really isn’t the point of this column.

In researching the game for my reader, we found out there is a somewhat unique “feature” of this blackjack game. If the player doubles or splits and busts a hand and the dealer winds up with a Blackjack, he will lose this entire additional wager.

Here in America, even before the dealer used to check for blackjack ahead of time, only the initial wager was ever at risk if the dealer wound up having a blackjack. So, if you’re dealt a Pair of 8’s, split them, get a 3 on each and double on each one of them only to lose both hands to a blackjack, you’ll only drop your initial wager!

Stadium Blackjack originated in Australia, where they don’t use a hole card and more than your initial wager can be at risk. For now, this is the rule being used here in the USA. This rule did not sit well with my reader. But, after doing some research, I found that the impact to payback of this rule is less than 0.02%.

We have to keep in mind that Blackjack Strategy doesn’t have us busting all that often under the conditions it takes for this to impact you. Obviously, proper strategy doesn’t ever have us busting on a Double Down. So, this means we are only talking about split situations.

How often should we split against a 10 or Ace under “normal” rules? The answer is not often. Only 8’s and Aces are split against these dealer upcards. You can’t bust when you split aces as you only get one card per ace. So, that leaves the situation where you get a Pair of 8’s, split them and subsequently bust the hand, only to find out the dealer had a blackjack.

I didn’t have a chance to verify the results, but was told the strategy changes with this rule so the player doesn’t even split 8’s vs. an Ace anymore. So, the impact to the payback is not just from losing the extra wager if you bust, but from losing the opportunity to split in certain cases.

Now, I’m not discounting the value of 0.02% of payback. Well, maybe I am. If you had a choice to play Stadium Blackjack No. 1 or Stadium Blackjack 2 on the other side of the aisle where one used this rule and one didn’t, I’d say for the one without the rule.

But, this isn’t the case.

This is the only way the game is offered. You might be able to go play at a traditional table, but frequently at a higher minimum bet. How much will 0.02% cost you? Well, if you’re a $100 player, you’ll wager about $3,400 an hour (assuming 30 hands per hour and an average number of splits/double downs). This rule will cost you about 68 cents per hour.

Playing a blackjack game that pays 6 to 5 instead of 3 to 2 on blackjack will cost you about 1.2% in payback or more than 60 times as much. So, if you’re going to complain about this rule, you better never play 6 to 5 blackjack. Similarly, don’t even think about playing a game where the dealer hits a soft 17 as this will cost about 0.21% of payback or more than 10 times the amount of this rule.

In video poker, if you are willing to play a game that pays one unit less on a Straight, Flush or Full House, you’re giving up about 1% in payback. The Royal Flush, which pays 800 for 1 (with max-coin), contributes about 2% to our payback. This means each 100 is about 0.25%.

Ten units in payback would cost us about 0.025% in payback. A mere five units would be 0.0125%, which puts it pretty close to the impact of this rule. So, would you refuse to play a video poker machine that paid back only 3,975 units instead of 4,000 for a max-coin Royal?

I’m really not trying to dismiss the 0.02% of payback. What I am saying is that it just doesn’t seem like the item to make a huge fuss over. Every day people play short-pay video poker machines. The Strip is full of blackjack tables paying only 6 to 5 for blackjack and where the dealer hits on soft 17.

We need to pick our battles and I’m not sure this one is worth waging.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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