Is Blackjack Rigged at Casinos?

Playing blackjack
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some of the most frequently asked questions about blackjack have to do with whether the game is rigged. The answer is, "Yes, of course." At least as far as the assumption that just like every casino game, the house has the edge!

An honest casino isn't like a carnival where the darts have dull tips so you can't pop the balloons - unless you find that you have trouble popping the balloons at blackjack because you are the one that's dull!

If you don't take advantage of things like Basic Strategy at blackjack, you are giving away too much of an edge to the house, and that's just what they want!

The Built-in House Edge at Blackjack

By and large, casinos offer games that are "as described," which means it's up to the player to learn the game and then play their best. Blackjack is a learned skill (nobody woke up one morning and said, "gee, I should always split aces and eights"), and the rules of basic strategy are derived from computer simulations as well as mathematical formulas, but some players simply assume they play well enough and should win quite often. That's basic human nature.

As human beings, we make worse decisions when we are tired, irritable, or have been drinking. Surprisingly, casinos are likely to have slots and table games where there are no clocks and scantily-clad women serving booze. That's a bad combination for playing games of chance where you don't have the edge.

So, be smart. Learn the games and play well, and forget about the old days where many of the games were actually rigged. 

Instead, understand that even a game like a blackjack, with a small house edge of under 2-percent (and under 1-percent if you play perfect basic strategy,) ​will appear to be unfairly tilted towards the house most of the time.

That's because there are streaks of wins and losses. And, because of some often-forgotten aspects of the game.

Blackjack Anomalies

One thing players forget while struggling through a bad session of cards is that the player must act first. You get the first chance to bust, and on bad nights, you'll do that a lot.

Two other issues inherent to blackjack are the disproportionately heavy emphasis on just a few hands. You probably know that getting a blackjack happens about once every 21 hands, but not getting one for 50 or even 100 hands isn't statistically that uncommon. Unfortunately, since the payoff for a blackjack is 3-2, you really need those to keep in the black. When they don't come regularly, you'll notice. And, you'll notice if you lose a couple double-downs or splits.

This is heightened because the house has an unlimited bankroll, you do not. If you have a bankroll of 50-units and bet 5 units per hand (yes, that's too aggressive) and get two double downs and lose, you'll be out 20 units with just 30 units left, which is now very easy to lose. Especially compared to the 70-units you would have if you had won both.

You'll win about 58-percent of the time when doubling down with 6-5 against a dealer upcard of 2.

That's a good edge, but pretty easy to see why you might lose even several times when doubling down. It's the best bet, but not a guaranteed win!

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Your Citation
Moe, Al. "Is Blackjack Rigged at Casinos?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 13, 2017, Moe, Al. (2017, February 13). Is Blackjack Rigged at Casinos? Retrieved from Moe, Al. "Is Blackjack Rigged at Casinos?" ThoughtCo. (accessed November 23, 2017).