Table Manners for Blackjack: Cards and Touching

Yes, blackjack has table manners. It is played at a table after all. Actually that is a more relaxed term for blackjack etiquette, and the things that make up blackjack etiquette are kind of like the unwritten rules for blackjack.

Fist off we are going to talk about the cards and touching.

In a face up game the cards are obviously dealt face up on the table by the dealer. He will then quickly calculate the totals. Player then make hand signals to show what play they would like to make: a two finger scratch on the felt for a hit; a palm-down wave over the cards to stand; doubling your amount of chips to signal a double down or a split depending on what cards you have. Hand signals are a part of blackjack etiquette and a tradition of the game. Oh, and they also can back you up if there is some discrepancy on what play you wanted to make since there is a camera above the table.

But above all in a face up blackjack game do NOT touch the cards.

Not touching cards in a face up game prevents players from cheating or marking the cards.

The only type of blackjack game in which you can touch the cards is a face down game. The dealer deals the cards face down and the player picks them up with one hand. Signals in a face down game are a bit different: to hit scrap the cards towards you on the felt to hit; to stand scoot your cards under your wagered chips; to double down or split, turn the cards face up and add the appropriate amount of chips to your wager.

Do NOT use more than one hand to handle your cards.

Handling the cards with one hand helps to cut down on switching or adding cards or marking them for cheating purposes.

You have the etiquette for how to handle your cards down now, and are all set to grab your clip-on tie and head to your favorite casino.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Card counting is one of the many skills that blackjack players want. Whether because they saw it in a movie and thought it looked cool is beside the point. Card counting is one of the pieces of blackjack strategy that can increase players’ blackjack odds.

Players who are determined to beat the house are the ones who turn to card counting and who take the time to learn it and practice it so that they can take full advantage of it.

It also pays to practice your card counting skills as you also to not want the casino staff to throw you out of the casino.

Card counting is actually pretty easy to learn. The problem many aspiring counters have is that they actually have to practice this skill and keep practicing it. Those who take the time to learn and practice card counting can get the edge on the house by 0.5% up to 1.5% for those who are truly skilled.

One of the easiest counting systems to start with is the Hi-Lo system. In this system the cards are assigned the following counting values:

+1 = 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
0 = 7, 8 and 9
-1 = 10, Jack, Queen, King and Aces

Starting at 0, players then add the positive or negative values of the cards that are played. When the count has a high positive number it means that a good number of low cards have been played and that the remaining deck is rich in high cards that favor the player. This is when card counting blackjack players begin to raise their wager.

But when the count turns strongly negative it means that a number of high cards have been played and that the remaining cards in the deck are low, which favor the dealer. As I am sure you can figure, this is when player begin lowering their wagers.

To practice card counting, sit down with a deck of cards and silently add the positive and negative values, starting from 0, as you look through the deck. You have to keep practicing this until it becomes easy and you hardly have to think about the math—so that you are at ease with counting silently in your head without any outward appearances that you are counting.

Once you are comfortable with that, turn some music and the TV on to provide some distractions like you would find in a casino. Now keep practicing until you can count through the deck with ease with the distractions around you.

Sure card counting can have a good impact on your blackjack odds when playing in a casino, but those odds are not achievable if you are unwilling to take the time to practice. So take the time, practice and then go try your hand at card counting at a blackjack table in a casino.

Blackjack Worth it in Pennsylvania

Build it and they will come. Or rather, add them and they will come.

There were many people in Pennsylvania that were either skeptical or downright opposed adding blackjack tables to the casinos found in their state. The objections and disbelief ranged from ‘Could that really give the state revenue?’ to ‘Gambling will corrupt our society and communities.’

But the table games were approved this past spring and were installed in nine brick and mortar casinos around Pennsylvania:

Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack, Hollywood Casino Penn National, The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Mount Airy Casino Resort, Parx Casino, Presque Isle Downs, Rivers Casino and Sands Casino Resort.

August was the first whole month in which all nine brick and mortar casinos had their blackjack and other table games open for business. While the table games were all installed in July, they were not all installed at the same time. So August is the first month in which revenue could be compared.

For the month of August those nine casinos brought in from the table games alone $34.6 million. Of that $34.6 million, $4.8 million will go to the state of Pennsylvania in taxes, while another $691,000 will to municipalities.

So that is $4.8 million that did not have to come out of citizens’ pockets in the form of raised taxes, so I would call the installation of blackjack, poker, roulette and craps tables a success.

Shawn McCloud, an analyst for Spectrum Gaming Group, agreed:

“It is an impressive start for Pennsylvania…Obviously, Pennsylvania is going to be a formidable competitor in the table games market.”

Here is the breakdown in revenue generated by the new blackjack and other table games:

Parx Casino: $6,338,617
Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack: $5,918,137
Sands Casino Resort: $4,297,070
Rivers Casino: $4,162,280
Mohegan Sun: $3,533,765
Mount Airy Casino Resort: $3,360,361
Hollywood Casino Penn National: $2,658,762
The Meadows Racetrack and Casino: $2,395,124
Presque Isle Downs: $1,891,056

Blackjack on North Carolina Gambling Boats

Remember when Pennsylvania and Florida and other states wanted to add casinos or add table games like blackjack to casinos already in existence? Well, it is now trickling down to a city level.

Similar to several states, now cities are eyeing gambling as a source to alleviate the strain on their budgets. North Charleston is one of the most recent.

Mayor Keith Summey’s desire to authorize casino cruises will take a step forward when his proposal goes to the city’s Planning Commission next week. And it appears that the City Council will support Summey’s proposal. Seems they see the need for more revenue and do not mind it coming from blackjack, slots and other casino games.

If the proposal is approved these casino cruise boats will offer patrons blackjack, slots and other casino games. And of course there will be dining available—you do not want to put people on a boat without food.

To help earn the proposal’s approval, Summey has stated in his proposal that these casino cruise boats will dock only in industrial areas and away from areas that are “in close proximity to educational or religious uses.”

For those not familiar with the North Charleston area, this puts the casino cruise boats near the area south of Riverfront Park on the Cooper River.

As for the desired revenue, Summey’s proposal offers two options.

The first is to have owners of the cruise boats pay the equivalent of 10% of the face amount of each ticket sold to patrons along with 5% of the proceeds of each trip.

The other option proposed is to just charge a $7 surcharge to the patrons.

Either way the revenue is coming from the money that patrons put into the boats through tickets and wagers made on blackjack, slots and other casino games.

But before blackjack sees itself sailing on the Cooper River a few amendments need to be made the city’s business licensing. Mainly there needs to be coverage for gambling boats in the licensing. There also has to be a repeal of the 1999 ordinance that bans gambling devices.

But with the favor already shown by the City Council it looks likely that Summey will see the reality of his gambling cruise proposal, and blackjack will be floating the waters around North Charleston.

Blackjack in the Gulf

Are you a blackjack player near coastal Louisiana or coastal Mississippi? If so you might just find your blackjack games at brick and mortar casinos beginning to show the effects of the two month old BP oil spill.

I am in no way saying that blackjack or gambling is more important than the animals or ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico that are being affected by the continuous flow of oil. Those animals and those ecosystems are way more important.

But as the summer tourism season gets underway coastal areas who rely on tourism will find that they are feeling the pinch of the oil spill in another way. It is likely that tourists will be choosing other destinations for their summer plans, which will hit areas hard. This will be an especially hard hit to areas that are still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

So what does this mean to blackjack fans in coastal Louisiana and costal Mississippi?

As tourism in those states and in those areas begins to show the affects of the BP oil spill in the form of a reduced number of tourists, one of two things could happen in casinos in regards to their blackjack tables.

One thing that could possibly happen is that casinos implement more 6-5 payouts at blackjack tables to help boost their profits. Or they could start using rules that increase the house’s edge, such as allowing the dealer to hit on a soft 17. Such steps to try to wring as much money out of blackjack players could increase their profits somewhat, but in the end, I think, it will drive blackjack players away.

On the other hand, casinos in coastal Louisiana and Mississippi could put forth blackjack games with player favorable blackjack rules, such as Charlies and doubling on any two cards. Blackjack players would flock to take advantage of such rules, and the casinos can bring in a profit from their accommodations and the breaks they take playing slot machines.

As the summer rolls in we will all see how tourism is affected by the oil spill, and blackjack players will see if they should in fact plan a trip to those coastal area casinos or to casinos in other areas. But if you do visit coastal Louisiana or Mississippi do not visit the beaches—I have heard it smells like burnt melted crayons.

Basic Card Counting

Card counting isn’t the hard complicated skill that it’s made out to be. Yes, there are more complex systems out there for card counting, but not every single system in existence is difficult.

You don’t have to have a photographic memory or be a math genius to learn how to count cards. If you hear that, ignore it. Does it take effort to learn? Yes, like any skill it will take time and dedication to learn. But that doesn’t mean that it’s a hard thing to do.

Many blackjack players at least start out with the most widely and simplest to use: Hi-Lo.

What makes Hi-Lo so simple is that the math involved is easy. If you can add and subtract 1 you can use the Hi-Lo system. It works like this:

Cards 2 through 6 are classified as low cards and are counted as +1. Cards 7 through 9 are classified as neutral and are counted as 0. And finally 10’s, face cards and Aces are counted as -1.

When you’re playing a round of blackjack you add the +1’s and the -1’s of all the cards played during that round. For example. If you have a 10/9 and the dealer has 7/10 it translates as such in the Hi-Lo system: -1 + -1 + 0 + -1 = -3.

Then with each new round you add the card values of the cards played to get a running total.

If the total goes into the negative by at least -3 it means that a high number of high cards have been played and that the remaining deck is rich in low cards—and low cards favor the dealer. This is when you would reduce your wage a bit. But not too much, you don’t want to attract too much attention from the casino staff and risk getting kicked out of the casino.

Likewise if the running total goes positive by at least +3 it means that a high number of low cards have been played, and that the remaining deck is rich in high cards—cards that favor you. This is when you would increase your wager a bit.

As you can see, the math involved with card counting it not all that complex. You can always take a deck of cards and practice on your own.

Just How Bad are 6-5 Blackjack Games?

It’s been awhile since I’ve discussed this topic. But it’s still relevant.

The casino industry is still not pulling in the revenue like it normally is. But then the economy is down and, therefore, so is tourism. And that means less people are coming to places like Vegas and Atlantic City, and they are gambling less and spending less.

However, the downturn in the economy hasn’t impacted the online casinos too much. But then players have no travel or accommodation expenses to worry about. They can sit there in their bunny slippers and play blackjack to their hearts content.

But in Vegas, thanks to the tough economy, blackjack players are seeing more and more games that are offering a 6-5 payout. It seems Vegas is trying to hang on to as much of its money as it can.

Some blackjack players may be wondering just how bad 6-5 games are. Well, let’s take a look.

First we’ll look at some of the things that casinos do to improve their edge over a player: hitting on a soft 17 increases the house edge by 0.002%; having players play a six deck game rather than a single deck increases the house edge by 0.05%.

We know that perfect basic strategy can lower the house edge to about 0.05%.

Got a grasp on those numbers? Good.

Playing in a 6-5 blackjack game increases the house’s edge by 1.39%. Huge by comparison. That’s more than triple what basic strategy brings the house edge down to.

Now for the numbers and the money. Pretend that you’re playing at a $10 table, making $10 bets.

On average you will play 441 rounds of blackjack, just you and the dealer. Of those 441 rounds you’ll receive, on average, 20 blackjacks that you win and don’t push on. In a 6-5 game you’ll be paid $12 for blackjack rather than $15. So in a 6-5 blackjack game you will have lost $60, and that $60 could have been put towards six more rounds of blackjack rather than line the casino’s pocket.

The thing with 6-5 blackjack games is that they skim a little at a time off of players. And a little can add up fast. Let’s say that you’re at a full table of 6-5 blackjack. In 441 hands those seven players have just given the casino $420. And that’s just one table!

It’s best to avoid 6-5 blackjack games for the sake of your own money and for the sake of the odds—don’t give them extra money or that extra edge.

You, Blackjack, and the IRS

Ah, the euphoria of winning! You’ve been having the time of your life. The blackjack tables have been most kind to you in 2009. You have money and bragging rights. And if the IRS says you’ve won too much money you might only be left with bragging rights.

Winning at blackjack only up to a certain point can go unreported. Once you’ve won too much you have to report your winnings when you file your income tax return. What’s a good indicator that you have to report it? If the casino gives you a W-2G form that’s a pretty good sign.

Casinos will give out W-2G forms on taxable winnings because they have to report such winnings to the government. So if you know they’re filing, you had better be too.

And this applies to online blackjack and regular blackjack alike.

No, winning something like $100 doesn’t need to be reported. Winning $1,000 might be another story.

Yes, reporting your winnings and having to give up some of your blackjack winnings is a downer. But it’s better than paying fees that could cost you all of what you won. Also on the upside is that you can claim your loses at the blackjack table.

Yes, you can claim your loses when gambling at a blackjack table.

It’s not as simple as saying that you played blackjack during the past year and the government has to pay you back.

One thing to keep in mind, is your standard deduction versus your blackjack losses. Say your standard deduction is $5,000 and your blackjack losses are only $3,000—stick with the standard deduction.

The other thing to keep in mind is tracking your gambling. It’s possible the IRS will want to see documentation of your blackjack playing throughout the year to prove your losses.

The easiest way to do this is to keep a blackjack journal. In such a book you will want to record the date you played and that you were playing blackjack. You will want to write down the name and address of where you played. Take down the names of anyone else you were playing with. And of course you will want to write down how much you won and how much you lost.

Also to be kept if you’re serious about deducting your blackjack losses are W-2G forms, records of bank withdrawals in which the money was for gambling and credit card statements from cards that were used for the same reason.

In other words you need to be able to prove to the IRS that you lost that much in blackjack should they choose to audit you. And, no, the cost of hotel rooms, travel and other gambling ‘expenses’ don’t fall under your gambling loss deduction.

The point to claiming losses from blackjack is that you need proof. And having your proof ahead of time will make life easier for you should an audit be coming your way.

Florida Government Still Bickering Over Blackjack

I’m a little astounded by Florida’s Legislature. And I can say they defiantly must be on the side of all the pari-mutuels. Look at them: they are against allowing the Seminole tribe to expand their gambling offerings with blackjack tables, yet they are just fine looking at legalizing online gambling for Florida residents. But then the pari-mutuels would be able to host online gambling operations for the state. Not surprised at all.

And normally, other than wondering whether Florida will ever have blackjack tables at the tribal casinos, I wouldn’t really pay all the much attention to Governor Crist bickering with the Legislature. But there is an aspect to allowing blackjack tables that genuinely interests me: the money the Seminoles would be paying to have blackjack and a percentage of the proceeds would go into the state’s education budget—you know, to educate children.

So really what the Legislature, and Crist as well since it takes two to bicker, are really missing is that Florida has a chance to improve the education of Florida’s children. It’s not just the blackjack players in Florida that would miss out if the tribe and the Legislature can’t agree—it will be the children.

As a push, Crist is proposing a $535 million increase to the state’s education budget. And that money can easily come from the Seminoles paying for blackjack. But the Legislature, who seems to be favoring the pari-mutuels, are bulking at that increase, and saying that the increase would be nice, but are unwilling still to allow the Seminoles to have their blackjack.

It makes me want to ask the Legislature if they’re really okay letting the education of Florida’s children suffer for whatever incentive there is in fighting Crist and the Seminoles. Thoughts anyone?

Delaware Joins Quest to Gamble

Joining the list of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and Kentucky (maybe on that one) is Delaware. They not only have one bill, but two. One is aimed at legalizing table games like blackjack and poker in their casinos that already have slots, lotteries and horse betting. Oh and dice, the bill would also legalize dice games in these casinos. But Delaware blackjack fans can begin to hope for blackjack tables of their very own.

The first bill, the one to legalize table games, comes from the House Gaming and Pari-mutuels Committee. The other is from the Delaware Senate.

The Delaware Senate is putting forth a bill that is aimed at preventing cheating in these new table games. Very conscientious of them really. Other states are trying to legalize table games or online gambling, and here is Delaware not only trying to get their table and dice games, but they are trying to make them fair games. Very conscientious.

Like other states that are looking at trying to legalize table games and online gambling, Delaware’s motives are similar: revenue.

With the United States sunk in a recession, many states are looking at alternatives they probably wouldn’t consider to fill in the holes in their budgets. State programs need funding—our children’s schools among them.

If the House Gaming and Pari-mutuels Committee’s bill is passed then Delaware casinos will have to pay $13.5 million to have table games such as blackjack. And here’s the breakdown of where the casinos’ revenues would be going if they install table games: 66% to would be kept by the casinos, 29% to the state and 4.5% to horse racing.

There is some concern that the state won’t be receiving the funds that they deserve. But I’m sure that will be discussed—at length—in future legislature sessions. Although the State’s percentage is the second highest rate of return of any state who is legalizing blackjack, poker, etc.

And so Delaware joins the ranks of states looking at games—online or not—such as blackjack, poker, etc for revenue.

Who will be next?