I recently returned from a nine-day stay on the Las Vegas Strip. During that time, I played blackjack in eleven casinos and observed the conditions in several others. On the whole, playing conditions are better than in my Midwest home turf. The following descriptions primarily typify what you'll find at the green and black chip tables on the strip, though some red chip conditions are mentioned.
Mandalay Bay: Great rules and lots of tables. Mostly six deck shoes, but the high limit room also has double deck. In the shoe games the dealer stands on soft 17, you can double after split, re-split Aces and surrender. Penetration is about 4.25 decks. Basic strategy expected value is -0.28%. The double deck games hit on soft 17, but you can still surrender. And remember, with H17 (hit soft 17) you should surrender five hands in the two-deck game. They are 15 or 16 vs. 10 and Ace or 17 vs. Ace. Penetration varies, but averages about 1.25 decks. Basic strategy EV is -0.29%. If you're a counter, be very careful in any double deck game if you are betting green action or higher. It's like playing in a fish bowl. Overall rating: B.
Monte Carlo: A very "average" place. Nearly all tables are six decks, stand on soft 17, DAS (double after split) and surrender. Penetration is about 4.25 decks. Basic strategy EV is -0.36%. There are a couple of double deck tables, but they're H17 and no surrender. Penetration is a strict three rounds and shuffle, even if it's heads up. Basic strategy EV is -0.41%. Overall rating: C-.
Aladdin: A big beautiful place with not many people in it. Blackjack in the main casino is all eight decks (except for some $5 and $10 single 6-to-5 games). Stand 17, you can DAS, re-split Aces and surrender. Penetration is 6.0 to 6.25 decks. The "quarter & up" tables have signs posted that read, "Mid-Shoe-Entry Allowed; $100 Maximum", which can seriously hamper back counting depending upon your betting levels. Basic strategy EV is -0.31%. The real hidden luxury of the Aladdin though, lies in its upstairs high limit salon; the London Club. It's ultra-spacious, ultra-posh and has very little action. All B/J games are six decks with the same rules and 4.25 to 4.5 decks of penetration. Basic strategy EV is -0.28%. Overall Aladdin rating: B-.
The Palms: Here can be found perhaps the best percentage blackjack game in Vegas. Their tiny high limit room (four tables total) has a couple of double deck games that start at $50 minimum with stand 17, DAS and surrender. Penetration varies, but averages 1.25 to 1.5 decks. Basic strategy EV is -0.15%. A dream game, but terrifying! If you count, leave at the shuffle as soon as you've reached a five-unit bet -- even if it's only been fifteen minutes. Overall rating: C.
The Venetian: There are two kinds of games here; eight deck and double deck. Both are H17 and DAS, but you can surrender in the shoe game only. Penetration is about 6.0 decks for the shoe and just a hair over one deck at hand held. Notice that with H17, you should surrender seven hands in any shoe game. They are 15 vs. 10 and Ace, 16 vs. 9, 10 or Ace and 17 or 8/8 vs. Ace. Basic strategy EV is -0.57% for the shoe and
-0.41% in double deck play. Overall rating: D.
Paris: Eight deck and double deck games are played here. Both are H17 and DAS, but you can surrender and re-split Aces in the shoe game. Eight deck EV is -0.52%. At Paris, the double deck game is dealt face-up. You may think that's good, but I think it's a death trap. You might get to see an extra card or two before you have to play your hand, but the pit and surveillance have a full panoramic view of exactly what you're doing. There was an "advantage player" at a table I was watching and a neon sign on his forehead kept flashing; "Counter -- Counter". Basic strategy EV for this game is
-0.41%. Overall rating: D+.
Bally's: Another 8 deck/2 deck joint. Two differences from Paris next door are; A) the eight deck shoes are stand 17 for a basic strategy EV of -0.31% and B) the double deck games are dealt face-down. Basic strategy EV is -0.41%. Penetration is 6.0 decks for the shoe and about 1.25 decks for hand held. Bally's also has some low stakes single deck 6-to-5 games. Overall rating: C+.
Bellagio: Three blackjack variants are offered here. Most of the lower stakes tables are the dreaded CSM's (continuous shuffling machines). I'm told the machine uses five decks. You do have all the best rules however; stand 17, DAS, re-split Aces and surrender. So if you're just a vanilla basic strategy player, your EV is a mere -0.22%.
Next come the six deck shoes. Same rules as the CSM's with about a 4.25 deck penetration. EV is -0.28%. Then there are entire pits of double deck games, usually starting at $50 & up. Rules are excellent; stand 17 and DAS. EV is -0.20%, but watch out! The cards are dealt face-up and a counter's betting spreads can be correlated with the count at a glance -- since it only takes one round of predominantly low cards to create a positive player situation. Overall rating: B.
Flamingo: Still another 8-deck/2 deck casino. For the life of me, I can't remember whether they hit or stand on soft 17 in the shoe games, but you can definitely DAS, re-split Aces and surrender. (Editors note: They H17). Penetration is 6.0 to 6.25 decks. EV is -0.52% if they H17, and I think they do. The double deck games are definitely H17 and DAS for an EV of -0.41%. They're dealt face-down and the penetration is good -- about 1.33 decks. There's lots of poor play at these tables and the pit seems to tolerate a 1-to-6 spread. Overall rating: C+.
Caesar's Palace: Other than some low stakes single deck 6-to-5 games in the back casino, the whole place is six deck shoes. You've got all the best rules here; stand 17, DAS, re-split Aces and surrender for an EV of -0.28%. Penetration is among the better around with a consistent 4.5 decks dealt out. They don't blink at black action here and tolerate aggressive betting styles. Overall rating: B+.
Harrah's: Mostly six deck shoes with a few double deck games mixed in. Shoe games are stand 17, DAS and re-split Aces for an EV of -0.35%. Double deckers are H17 and DAS with an EV of -0.41%. Penetration is 4.25 to 4.5 decks for the shoe and about 1.2 decks in hand held games. Overall rating: C.