Over the years when talking to friends, I have flippantly remarked how I could sit at a $5 blackjack table with $100 and have it last for a week.
The point I’m trying to make is, by using the right strategy, the choice to play in a casino as a form of entertainment does not have to be a costly one. I remember when my parents told us they were going to retire to Las Vegas. Ironically, they told us about the same time a movie called “Lost in America” came out. The movie was about a 30-something-year-old couple that quit their jobs to travel the country in an RV – only to lose all their money in Las Vegas.
We were a tad concerned. My parents told us they had created a “gambling” budget that was well within their financial plan. Three years after they moved here, they had gone through roughly two months of their budget.
Back then, my parents played mostly blackjack as video poker hadn’t really been invented yet. Or at least, my father didn’t have the opportunity yet to make it as popular as it would become. In the mid-1980’s you could still find $2 and $3 blackjack tables around the Strip and finding a $5 table was pretty easy, except maybe on the weekends.
I know my dad knew blackjack strategy inside and out. He had me program my high school computer with blackjack simulations to prove all the strategies. Hence, I get to “brag” that I’ve been analyzing casino games for more than 35 years despite being only in my (very) early 50’s!
Blackjack played with a six-deck shoe and paying 3-to-2 on blackjack can pay about 99.5%. This assumes most of the rest of the rules are the relatively normal ones regarding splitting and doubling. You can go hunting for single- and double-deck games that pay even higher, but the six-deck shoe variety is still among the most common. So, I’ll use that for my illustration purposes.
While I was thinking of topics for this column, I thought about my comment about how long $100 could last. Could it really last me weeks? In my head, I began to do some rough math and started to realize my expected loss for a week would be about $100 – if I were to play nonstop! When I got to my computer, I refined my results a bit. At a 0.5% house edge, I would have to wager a total of $20,000 to lose $100 (on average). On a $5 table, the average wager is roughly $5.65 when taking into account splits and double downs.
To wager $20,000, I’d have to play 3,540 hands of blackjack! At 30 hands per hour, that is 118 hours of blackjack! So, that works out to be about 17 hours per day for a week. If I allow myself a few breaks and some sleep per night, I really could play for a week on $100. Not even on my first trip to Las Vegas (when I was 19) did we sit and play for that many hours per day!
If I were to keep it to four hours per day, I could play for roughly a month on $100. Throw in some cashback points and maybe some free buffets and one can quickly realize how a gambling budget doesn’t need to be all that big.
Now, this doesn’t mean you can bring a $100 bankroll to Las Vegas and have it last all week while playing 17 hours per week. This is the expected loss over that week. The actual results will vary a bit. Blackjack is a game with relatively low volatility, but there are also peaks and valleys while you are playing.
If you bring $100 as your bankroll and you’re down that much after 2,000 hands, there is no coming back if you are out of money. If you like to play more than $5 per hand, the math is all linear. If you want to be a $25 per hand player then you can expect to lose $500 over this number of hands.
As a general guide, I would suggest you be prepared with a bankroll two to three times these figures. This also assumes you play a relatively fixed amount per hand. The math will fall apart if you sit at a $25 table and then start betting $50 or $100 per hand. It doesn’t matter if you do this during a hot streak or a cold streak.
The bottom line is, as the total amount you wager goes up, so will your expected loss. The other way the math falls apart is if you’re not utilizing the right strategy. The 0.5% house edge assumes you are playing correctly. If you are counting, you might reduce this edge, but that applies to very few people.
The majority play the wrong strategy and increase that house edge two- to five-fold. Again, the math is linear. If the strategy you utilize results in a 2% house edge, you better bring 4x as much as the person playing correctly. Similar results will be noticed if you decide to play a blackjack game that pays only 6-to-5 on blackjack.
Anyone who gambles professionally knows a significant part of success is discipline. The recreational player can make use of this by bringing the right bankroll, learning which games to play and learning the right strategy. In other words, become an Expert Player.