As a blackjack fanatic and occasional visitor the Jersey Shore, I’ve found myself in my fair share of Atlantic City casinos hunting down blackjack games.
I guess I’m a minor-league expert on blackjack in AC.
Even after the tumultuous past few years of casino closings and projects that failed to launch, Atlantic City is a little Mecca of blackjack. When you compare the setting of my favorite AC casinos to Las Vegas, there’s really no comparison. In South Jersey, you’ve got miles of beaches, the beautiful boardwalk, and a countryside so pastoral that the area was once covered in health spas. In Vegas, you’ve got acres of desert and miserable weather pretty much year-round.
Well I’ve finally done it. I’ve played at or at least gathered details on every blackjack game in the city. In this post, I cut right to the chase and discuss the best blackjack games in AC.
The Best Blackjack Odds
When most people hear the phrase “the best blackjack,” they think of the game that gives the house the smallest advantage. That’s a totally reasonable assumption, but I don’t think it tells the whole story. I’ll start there, since that’s what most people want to know right off the bat.
The best blackjack game in Atlantic City (in terms of odds) is at the Golden Nugget. It’s a game played with a six-deck shoe, which gives the house a smaller edge than the standard eight-deck shoe. The other rules that make it favorable to players – dealers stand on soft seventeen, and players are allowed to make a late surrender. A late surrender is a common rule available in AC which gives the player the right to forfeit and retain half his wager after the dealer checks for blackjack.
Taken all together, these rules give the casino a 0.34% advantage over players following basic strategy. The late surrender rule is worth 0.8% all by itself. What’s the catch? You have to be willing to wager at least $50 per hand. It’s a high-roller game, though $50 per bet is not exactly out-of-this-world expensive. Tables requiring $1,000 wagers per hand are common in VIP rooms in Vegas. But I imagine it’s out of the reach of most casual blackjack players.
Every other casino in the city (besides Bally’s) has a six-deck game with similar rules, available for minimum bets of $25. The reason for the cheaper bets? They don’t allow late surrender. You can even find $10 minimum six-deck shoe games during the daytime at Borgata, but no late surrender is allowed in that game, either. The house edge for these games (without the benefit of the late surrender rule) is 0.42%.
The Best Budget Game
Part of the problem people have with blackjack in Atlantic City is that they think all the games follow the same rules. I’ll admit that the majority of blackjack games in the city’s casinos are identical. They look like this: played with an eight-deck shoe, allowing double down on any first two cards, dealer hits on soft 17, you can split up to three times, and doubling after splitting is allowed. That game gives the casino an edge of about 0.67% against basic strategy.
Here’s the thing – I don’t think this is such a bad game. Look, you knew going in that blackjack in AC isn’t nearly as good as blackjack in Las Vegas, right? So when you talk about a “budget” blackjack game, you have to know that you’re not going to get great odds.
The fact that every casino in Atlantic City (except for the Borgata) offers a blackjack game as described above makes it my favorite choice for bettors on a budget. The game at the Borgata is identical, except that dealers STAND on a soft total of 17, so the house edge against basic strategy is 0.44%, slightly better than at the other casinos up and down the boardwalk.
I’ve decided that the Borgata’s basic blackjack table, with minimum bets of $10 (or even $5 during the day off-peak season) and a decent house edge of 0.44%, it’s the type of game I’ll sit at and play for an hour without paying much attention. At $25 an hour, it’s cheaper than a night at the movies, and you meet the most interesting people. Don’t forget that AC casinos are on fire for customer service right now, with their profits in the toilet. I got good free drinks all night on my last game in the cheap seats at the Borgata even though I ended up losing about $10 an hour all told.
Try and avoid any extremely low-limit games you find in Atlantic City. In the year 2011 I started seeing games that allowed wagers of just $1. Of course, there’s a catch – you have to pay a $0.25 commission fee for each hand you join. This makes every hand a sucker bet, since the player starts out an extra quarter-point in the hole to the casino.
The Worst Game in Atlantic City
The only tables I’ll never go near are now available in every single open property in the city. The dreaded single-deck blackjack game.
You should always be suspicious when a casino deals a single deck game. More than likely, the rules are such that the game can’t be profitable for even a low-level card counter. That’s definitely the case in Atlantic City. There is not one single-deck game that pays 3-to-2 for a natural blackjack. I’ve looked and I can confirm that every single-deck game (even at my beloved Borgata) pays 6-to-5. That one rule gives the house a monstrous boost in its edge – 1.58% against basic strategy.
Any single-deck game you come across (that’s not in the high-roller or VIP section) is the worst game in the city.
Las Vegas tables tend to have the most liberal rules in the world of blackjack. In Atlantic City, the addition of features like late surrender or stand-on-soft-17 looks nice, but you have to pay for those privileges with an increased advantage to the casino. If you find yourself in South Jersey itching for a blackjack game, make sure you know the games available at the casino you’re headed to before you leave. Most of the casinos in AC aren’t great for blackjack players – unless you have a fat bankroll.