CASINO-OLGY: Using Forced Side Bets to Help Increase Blackjack Table Game Return

Lots of serious blackjack players are avoiding the 6/5 games because it skews the house edge too far. But what if you leave the 3/2 payoff in place and force players to make a house-friendly side bet? Table game king Bill Zender says that could work!

CASINO-OLGY: Using Forced Side Bets to Help Increase Blackjack Table Game Return

Post-Covid, I have had several casino executives contact me regarding an alternative strategy for increasing the mathematical house advantage on blackjack lower-limit games. They wish to accomplish this change without using the “limited” blackjack payoff structure of 6 to 5 (6/5). For the most part, the executives have two issues. First, they are getting push-back from regular customers regarding 6/5 blackjack. Print and internet articles, and social media comments over the past several years have framed the use of 6/5 payouts in not so gracious terms for the players. Second, post-pandemic, the executives are interested in spreading more blackjack tables and lowering the limits to attract that stratum of customer but are still wishing to create a profitable game even at $10 and $15 minimum limits. Is there some strategy or game plan that will allow money making lower limit games without involving the negative attitudes derived from using the 6/5 blackjack payoff?

Before this second question can be answered one needs to analyze exactly what theoretical win (T-win) is achieved by using both the 3/2 and the 6/5 blackjack payout. For example, the standard six deck 3/2 blackjack game operates with an approximate mathematical house advantage of 0.5 percent, which is based on the number of decks and game rules played using perfect basic strategy. When one adds in the player basic strategy errors the six-deck 3/2 game advantage more than doubles. The average player errors equal an increase of 0.8 percent, which gives the casino an approximate 1.3 percent edge over the average six-deck 3/2 player.

What effect does the change from 3/2 to 6/5 have on the game? The change in mathematical advantage from “shorting” the blackjack payout when using 6/5 adds an extra 1.4 percent house advantage to the game. The average blackjack player sitting at a six deck 6/5 blackjack table is subject to an approximate house advantage of 2.7 percent (errors included). If this player were to wager $15, he or she would contribute about 41¢ per hand (theoretical win or T-win). What would the customer have to wager on a 3/2 game before the casino would expect to make a similar return per hand? At an average house advantage of 1.3 percent, the 3/2 blackjack player the house would need to increase the bet amount more than double, or just over $30.00 for the house to achieve the same return. Using 41¢ as the baseline, the 6/5 player would be wagering $15 per hand while the 3/2 player will need to wager $30, or “double” that of the wager of the 6/5 blackjack player.

This takes us to the question of any other alternative. One idea is to offer 3/2 but also to incorporate the practice of “forced” side betting. Since side bets are normally optional and provide multiple payout situations at a lower wager denomination, their mathematical advantage must be greater, usually five to six time more than the main blackjack bet. What would happen if the side bet was not optional, and the players were “forced” to wager a portion of their bet on the higher house advantage gamble? Would this increase the T-win?

One idea is to require the player to wager $1 on the side bet for every $5 they wager on the main Blackjack games. The $1 wager will be subject to a much higher house advantage on the side bet and will have a substantially higher T-win than that of the main game alone. As an example, I will use Galaxy Gaming’s 21+3 Extreme side bet. This side bet is subject to a house advantage of approximately 13 percent and a single dollar wager will produce a T-win of 13¢ per decision. Add this to the 3/2 blackjack bet of $5, the total T-win of the $6 combined wager is approximately 20¢. If the table minimum is set at $15 with a “forced” side bet of $3, the T-win would be approximately 60¢ per decision with an average house advantage of 3.3 percent. In comparison, the 6/5 blackjack game wager would have to be increased to a little over $20 before the T-win would be of the same value (see Table 1 – Comparison Chart).

Table 1 – Comparison Chart

Using this idea, the casino could provide (and advertise) a low-limit blackjack game that paid 3 to 2 on blackjacks and sustain a theoretical win at a comparable level as a mid-range limit 6/5 game and a much higher limit 3/2 standard game. Management might consider giving the forced side bet game structure a captivating name such as “Money Blackjack” or “Blackjack Extreme” that identifies and separates it from the other Blackjack games offered.

Casino executive and gaming consultant Bennie Mancino has another suggestion. A few casino operators have kicked around the idea of allowing their blackjack customers to “aggregate” minimum limit totals between the main bet and side bets. Instead of offering a minimum limit of $25 on a standard six-deck 3/2 blackjack game, Bennie suggested that the players be allowed to spread some of that minimum amount onto the side bets. For example, a $25 minimum could be bet on the main bet, or as an option, divided between the main bet and a more productive side bet.

This game structure would still satisfy the casino’s table $25 minimum requirement. As Bennie pointed out, if the player elected to place $20 of the minimum on the main bet and $5 of the minimum on a side bet, there would be no downside. Using this minimum bet aggregate strategy of $20 and $5 would result in a T-win of 56¢ and an adjusted average house advantage of 2.2 percent. Note that wagering the minimum $25 on the main bet alone only produces a T-win of 33¢ on an house advantage of 1.3 percent. Bennie is right! There real isn’t any downside to aggregating the minimum amount requirement.

Articles by Author: Bill Zender

As former Nevada Gaming Control Agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. In the past, Zender has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino and has additional operational experience in card room casinos in California and is considered an expert in Asian gaming. Besides his practical gaming experience, Zender holds a bachelors in hotel administration and a masters in business. As a gaming author Zender has penned seven non-fiction books on gaming including Card Counting for the Casino Executive, and the Casino-ology series. Owner/consultant of Bill Zender and Associates, Zender spent was general manager at a major California cardroom casino from 2018-2019. For more information, visit