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An in Depth Look at California Blackjack Games

by Basil Nestor

Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit and drop him a line.

Last month I wrote about the long steady slide in popularity that "traditional" house-banked blackjack has experienced over the past ten years, mostly due to aggressive casino countermeasures and greedy casino policies, like paying only 6:5 for naturals rather than 3:2. I also mentioned that player-banked pot-style games are possibly the future for blackjack. Nobody sent me any nasty e-mails defending the current state of the game, but perhaps some readers were thinking, "Interesting, but please tell me about a good contest I can play today."

Okay. Check out blackjack in California card rooms. Naturals pay 6:5, six decks, DA2, DAS, no surrender, H17. The house edge is slightly more than 2%. That doesnít sound too good, right? But what if youíre the dealer?

California has an interesting law that requires all card games to be banked by players (excluding games on Indian reservations). Every player at a table has the option of banking the game as dealer for two consecutive hands on a rotating basis. Of course, there is a vig. Itís $2 for the first $100 of action, but only $1 for each $100 above that (the vig. varies somewhat by table limit). In other words, itís potentially a positive contest for the banker, and that doesnít even take into account that most players donít follow perfect strategy.

And keep in mind that I mentioned all players have the option to bank. But, in fact, most players donít. The casino provides a designated banker/dealer to take the action when nobody is willing so that the property can comply with the law.

How does the casino earn money? Besides the bankerís vig, the house also collects a per-hand fee from players, typically $1 for the first $100, $2 for $200, capped at $2 or sometimes $3. So the casino is earning a ton oí money with absolutely no exposure.

Itís the Law, not Largess

The significant thing about this situation is that the casino isnít offering this contest because itís so kind-hearted. Rather, this setup is a result of complying with the California law prohibiting casino-banked games. Itís ironic, but the casino is probably earning more per hand with this game arrangement than they would by offering typical blackjack.

So, is this a good game for an average player who doesnít bank?...

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