Blackjack popularity decreases in Las Vegas casinos

Mar 19, 2013 3:02 AM

Writing a smart gaming column is important to me. Smart, to me, doesn’t always mean playing the best odds.

Rather, smart means I know what I’m getting into. Yes, I tend to play games with a minimal house edge but that’s by chance because those are the games I enjoy – craps, blackjack and video poker.

I don’t always play those games, which is why it’s important to me to know what I’m getting into when I sit down at a casino so I can maximize my fun. I’m OK playing a game with a large house advantage if I know that going into the game. I don’t like learning a game has a large house advantage after I lose my money.

I could go into a bar and hang out with friends while we each rack up a $200 tab but it’s a lot more fun when we sit down at a table in a casino, catch up with one another, have a few drinks and gamble a little. The money is leaving my pocket either way so it’s just a matter of where and how quickly it goes. If I’m lucky, I’ll win but the odds aren’t in my favor.

I sense many people are like this but have no idea and don’t care much about the house advantage. UNLV Center for Gaming Research just released a study that shows the good and bad in casino gaming trends.

Blackjack used to be the most popular game and the biggest money maker for the casinos but that’s no longer the case. While blackjack remains the most played game in Las Vegas casinos, the most money won by casinos comes from baccarat.

Baccarat is a game with a very small house advantage of just over 1% but the limits are much higher than most casino games so casinos win more.

Blackjack in Las Vegas has decreased in popularity over the years, in part, because of the introduction of new table games with a larger house advantage but also because of 6:5 blackjack, which has turned off many players.

Paying 6:5 for blackjack gives the casino a greater house advantage (by about 500%) than the traditional 3:2. On a $10 bet that’s about 50 cents per hand, which may not seem like much, but because about 50% of all table play is blackjack it adds up quickly for the casinos.

Possibly one of the better takeaways from the study by UNLV is the percentage of income craps generates for the casinos in Las Vegas. Since 1985 craps has declined as a revenue generator. Craps was previously responsible for 28% of the win for casinos but in 2011 it only generated 9%.

The decline in win/share is disproportionate to its decline in actual play. While this may indicate a decrease in popularity of craps, I’d like to chalk this up to craps players being smart and avoiding the bets with a large house advantage.

A lot has changed in how we gamble over the years. Not all games on the casino floor are dictated by the casino. Casinos are like all businesses and they just want to make money, so they’re keeping the games people play most often. Since all games have a built-in edge for the casino, the more games we play with a small house advantage the longer they’ll likely stay in the casino.

Marc Meltzer covers Las Vegas, gambling and men’s lifestyle for various outlets. Follow Marc on twitter @eastcoastgamblr. Check out his blog at Contact Marc at [email protected].

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