If You Want A Nearly Beatable Blackjack Game, Look In PA Casinos

Martin Derbyshire November 3, 2018
neon blackjack lights

Blackjack is by far the most popular game at any casino. However, players might find the blackjack tables at PA casinos are even busier than most.

That’s because the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) has set rules for Blackjack at PA casinos that make the game even more player-friendly.

There’s no doubt Blackjack can be fun. However, the number-one reason for its popularity is the fact it often offers casino players the best chance to beat the house.

The game has a low house edge to begin with. The rules for Blackjack put forth by the PGCB lower that house edge even further.

In fact, the house edge for PA casino blackjack under PGCB rules is only about .40 percent. That means the game has a theoretical return to player rate (RTP) of 96.6 percent. In other words, over the long haul, $96.60 of every $100 bet on Blackjack at a PA casino will be returned to players.

That’s about as player-friendly as a casino game gets.

Basic PA Blackjack rules

Every PA casino employs the same Blackjack rules. The basic PGCB rules that give Blackjack in PA its low house edge are as follows:

  • Blackjack pays 3:2
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Players can double down on any two cards
  • Players can split up to three hands (except aces) and double down after splits
  • Late surrender is allowed, allowing players who don’t like their hand to give up half the bet when the dealer doesn’t have blackjack

The payout on Blackjack (3:2) is certainly better than many casinos across the country where it pays 6:5. The difference on a $10 bet is $3 in winnings and that can certainly add up over time.

Having dealers stand rather than hit on soft 17 (17 with an ace) has a major impact on the house edge. Players may not see this scenario play out too often during the average Blackjack session, but they’ll certainly be happy when they do.

Allowing players to double down on any two cards and double after splitting up to three hands is like giving them an invitation to increase profits when things are going well at the table. Blackjack can be a streaky game and these PA Blackjack rules let you take full advantage of that fact.

The late surrender secret

Casinos may not come right out and tell you about the late surrender rule employed in PA. Plus, even the savviest gamblers don’t invoke the late surrender option too often. However, the ability to give up half a bet rather than hit or stand with terrible cards facing almost insurmountable odds most definitely reduces the house edge.

Learn basic strategy

PA casinos are not just giving away money to Blackjack players just for walking in the door. The PGCB Blackjack rules are player-friendly, but they are not a license to print money. Players need to learn and employ a good, solid, basic Blackjack strategy, taking into account the player-friendly PGCB Blackjack rules, to take advantage.

Cheat sheets are available online that can help players perfect a basic Blackjack strategy. It’s all about making the best odds play, hitting when the timing is right and standing when it isn’t.

Cheat sheets can provide all the information a player will ever need regarding every holding and dealer up card. Players that study and use this information ensure the true house edge for PA Blackjack can be realized. Any mistakes or deviations from basic strategy and players are essentially giving the house its edge back.

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PGCB rules here to stay

Back in 2016, the PGCB Executive Director told Trib Live Player’s Advantage columnist Mark Gruetze PA’s Blackjack rules are player-friendly and here to stay:

“I don’t foresee any changes. Our board has consistently recognized their responsibility to protect the gaming public in all aspects of legalized gaming. Part of that is to have rules of the game that provide an appropriate house advantage to the casino but something that still meets a standard of reasonableness and a standard of fairness. We’re pleased with how we have accomplished that in games (like Blackjack) that have been on the books since 2010.”

PA Blackjack side bets

Not all PGCB Blackjack rules are as player-friendly as those described above. In fact, the PGCB allows PA casinos to make some money back on side bets that often come with a huge house edge.

There are nine Blackjack side bets the PGCB allows casinos to offer. Here’s a list with odds:

Hit And Run Progressive and Bad Beat Progressive

Both these bets pay out progressive jackpots when near impossible situations play out. The Hit And Run Progressive hits when the dealer makes an eight-card hand.

Bad Beat Progressives hit when the dealer makes 21 with seven cards or more. Both also pay out small when the dealer either makes Blackjack or beats a 20 with 21.

The house edge is upwards of 45 percent, but when the jackpots get big enough, even savvy Blackjack players might deem it worth taking a shot at either of these side bets.

Lucky Ladies and King’s Bounty

Players that take the Lucky Ladies or King’s Bounty side bet option get paid 4:1 when they draw 20 in the first two cards. The big payday comes when they draw two Queens of Hearts playing Lucky Ladies and two Kings of Spades playing King’s Bounty. It pays 1,000:1, but unfortunately, that’s not the true odds of accomplishing such a feat, keeping the house edge on both games around a whopping.

In Between

In Between bets pay when the dealer’s up card falls in between the player’s first two cards. Payouts vary depending on the size of the gap but max out at 30:1 when all three cards match. At 13 percent, In Between has a sizable house edge.

Bet The Set

Bet The Set pays players for drawing pairs and suited pairs. The House edge is around 10 percent but the most it ever pays is 15:1.

Royal Match

Royal Match side bets pay off at 2:1 when a player’s first two cards are suited. A big 1,000:1 payday comes when both player and dealer draw King-Queen suited. However, the true odds of that are astronomical and Royal Match has a house edge of close to six percent.

Match The Dealer

Bet Match The Dealer and get paid up to 11:1 or 14:1, depending on how many decks are in play when either of your first two cards matches the dealers up card. It’s a better bet than Lucky Ladies or King’s Bounty but the house edge is still upwards of four percent.

21+3

21+3 side bets pay off at 9:1 on flushes, straights, trips, and straight flushes. The house edge is lower here than most, standing at 2.8 percent.