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by Mark Gruetze

Mark Gruetze of suburban Pittsburgh, Pa., writes the Player's Advantage gambling column for the Tribune-Review, available at www.triblive/aande/gambling. He has been a skilled recreational player for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker, and poker. E-Mail questions or comments to

Pennsylvania will continue to be home to the country's best blackjack game for all bettor levels. The state's player-friendly rules will remain in force, the top regulator says.

"I don't foresee any changes," Gaming Control Board Executive Director Kevin O'Toole told me in an end-of-the-year interview.

"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," O'Toole said. "We're pleased with how we have accomplished that in games that have been on the books since 2010."

Unlike many other jurisdictions, Pennsylvania's Gaming Control Board establishes game rules that apply to casinos throughout the state and at all betting levels. Those include:

  • All player blackjacks must be paid 3-to-2. (BJI editor Henry Tamburin noted that a recent survey in Current Blackjack News found that most tables on the Las Vegas Strip pay the outrageous 6-to-5 on naturals).
  • Dealer must stand on Soft 17.
  • Casinos must offer late surrender, although few advertise that it's available.
  • Player may double-down on any two cards and may double after splitting a pair.

In a six- or eight-deck game with these rules, a basic-strategy player faces a house edge of less than 0.4 percent, according to the calculator at The house edge drops to 0.2 percent in a double-deck game, which Meadows casino south of Pittsburgh plans to start dealing in 2017.

"A lot of people have told me they'd really like to see a double-deck offering," says General Manager Rod Centers, who joined Meadows in October after Pinnacle Entertainment of Las Vegas took over operation of the casino/racetrack. "We're going to do everything we can to make that happen."

Centers said he wants Meadows "to implement as many player-friendly attributes as we can." He mentioned expanding the use of discretionary comps and adding stadium games, in which a roulette or baccarat dealer handles a game with multiple wagering terminals. Sands Bethlehem, which offers more table games than any other casino in the state, has a stadium area with 150 seats.

Pennsylvania blackjack tables typically use...

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