Critical Factors of the Game of Blackjack

Game pace, shuffle time and side bet utilization are huge influencing factors about how profitable your blackjack tables can be. Here’s how to manage them efficiently.

Critical Factors of the Game of Blackjack

The educated table games manager knows that two of the three most important factors for reaching and maintaining optimal revenue potential is (1) game decisions per hour and (2) table average mathematical advantage (the third is “time” on table). Game decisions dictate the revenue earning potential the casino experiences during a customer’s period of play. The more decisions, the more revenue potential. The table’s average mathematical house advantage (H/A%) determines what percentage of each dollar wagered the casino can expect to generate as revenue (known as theoretical win or T-win). It is extremely important that every table game manager knows both these factors. This will provide the manager with the data to determine if there is opportunity for improving game pace and to better manage factors that will increase the target games average table T-win return.

I was contacted by a surveillance manager who was interested in the correct method for collecting game pace data and determining whether the casino’s side bets were effective. My suggestion was to focus on game pace and the average hourly number of round decisions for various player wagering hands at the table. Since blackjack is the casino’s primary game, I suggested the game pace analysis involve the casino’s different blackjack-style games.

Blackjack Game Pace For Analysis And Player Tracking Purposes

It is advised that you record the number of rounds from video recording. I found that it is much quicker than real-time tracking since you can review the rounds and the number of average player hands in 4x fast forward in a fraction of the time.

  • Record the number of rounds dealt in a specific type of blackjack game (single deck, double deck, etc.) for a 60-minute period. Note: If there are any events that slow the game other than normal deck shuffling and normal table fills, you need to make some notation of the event. If the event slows the game pace more than normal, reject the recorded 60-minute sample. The goal is to determine a “real life” hour average of game pace.
  • Note the average number of player hands wagered per round. This is import when determining rounds dealt on the average. You may consider breaking the observations into categories based on player hands wagered. Example, 1 to 3 hands is a group, 4 or more hands is another group.
  • Compile a sampling of at least 10 hours of rounds per blackjack game type. If you break your observations into categories of wagered hands, conduct at least 10 hours for each category.
  • This needs to be done on the different blackjack game types separately (10 hours of each); i.e., single deck, double deck, six deck shoe, Free Bet Blackjack, etc.
  • Add all recorded rounds dealt together and divide the total by the number of hours of observations.
  • The observation samples need to be taken at least two hours apart and need to encompass different shifts and different times of the week (weekends and weekdays).
Deck Shuffle/Transfer Times

You may wish to record deck shuffle/transfer time. Shuffle/transfer times are recorded in seconds from the time the dealer “breaks” the finished deck or shoe, until the first card off the top of the freshly shuffled deck is burnt into the discard holder. For example: Watch a dealer break the deck to shuffle and you start a time recording. The dealer retrieves the cards from the discard holder, places the deck into the shuffler (or begins the manual card shuffle), removes a fresh deck from the shuffler, has the player cut, transfers the cut, and burns the first card. At that point you stop recording and note the number of seconds the entire process takes.

In situations where the target of the game pace is the individual dealer’s hands per hour, it is suggested that the analysis focus on rounds dealt without any interruptions from larger cash buy-ins, fills or credits, and shuffling/transfer time. The analysis on an individual needs to determine the number of player hands/wagers over a given period. Where the previous example determines rounds dealt, the individual analysis focuses on hands dealt.

Blackjack Side Bet Utilization

The next critical area of evaluation is to determine the utilization of the blackjack game’s side bet. What the observer is looking for is the number of times the player wagering on the main Blackjack also wagers on the side bet. Side bets are offered for two reasons, they give the players a gambling alternative to the main game, and they provide the casino with an additional revenue flow. The higher the side bet utilization, the higher the average mathematical advantage, and in most cases, the greater the average amount of money wagered on the table.

Side bet utilization is an important tool for determining the effectiveness of the side bet. Side bet utilization is the percentage of time a Blackjack customer wagering on the main bet also wagers on the side bet. For example: You observe ten customers making main Blackjack wagers of various amounts and at the same time note that two of those customers also wager on the side bet. Based on that sample, the utilization of the side bet is 20 percent (2 wagered side bets divided by 10 wagered main bets equals 20 percent).

  • Observations can be taken on any regular Blackjack game that offers the same side bet.
  • Record the number of main bet wagers and the side bet wagers.
  • Record information from different shifts and different days of the week to get an accurate utilization percentage.
  • Record at least 100 main wager observations.
  • Once the numbers are recorded, divide the number of side bets wagered by the number of main bets to come up with a utilization percentage.
  • Use this same procedure for every different side bet on the blackjack tables.
  • At the same time, record the amount wagered on every side bet and calculate the average amount wagered each time on the side bet.

Side bet utilizations vary from location to location, but what is considered a “marginal” successful blackjack side bet is a utilization percentage of between 15 percent to 20 percent. Once a utilization percentage is established, management can determine whether the side bet is creating revenue and the player gambling alternative satisfies management’s goal. If not, management can review different strategies for improving this percentage, or may use this evaluation to establish a need to look for a different side bet alternative. This same process for observing and evaluating the effect and success of a side bet can also be carried forward to other table games such as baccarat and alternative games.

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