8 Bad Blackjack Rules to Avoid

Carolina Panthers blackjack table at Harrah's Cherokee Valley River in North Carolina

As the years pass, blackjack gets worse in many casino markets. This is especially true in Las Vegas, where Strip casinos deal more games with a 6:5 payout than a 3:2 one. However, that is not the only bad blackjack game that you will find out there. Here is a list of the worst blackjack rules that should be avoided, if possible.

Mandatory antes can be the worst blackjack rule

Mandatory antes are the worst blackjack rule that we have found at lower limits. There is a $2 blackjack game at Mystic Lake in Minnesota that requires players to post a $0.25 ante. This is not a side bet. It goes directly to the house. At the minimum bet, the player theoretically loses $0.26 a hand on a $2.25 wager with perfect play. That is a house edge of 11.6%. 

There are other casinos that require an ante for action, including most Oklahoma ones. The ante there is often $0.50. This raises the house edge by 5% on a $10 bet. 

Lucky Cat Blackjack rules at Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, Nevada
Lucky Cat Blackjack rules at Golden Nugget in Las Vegas Nevada

Mandatory side bet

There are four Las Vegas casinos that have a mandatory side bet at some blackjack tables. They are Binion’s, Four Queens, Fremont and Golden Nugget. The side bet is $1 at some tables, and $2 at others. Some tables at Golden Nugget use the Lucky Cat variant as its base game. The rest are traditional blackjack tables.

The side bet used is Bonus Spin. While this is better than an ante that goes directly to the house, the Bonus Spin side bet is a ripoff. Unlike tables that offer this side bet as an option, mandatory side bet tables do not push when the player is dealt an ace. Players only win the side bet on a blackjack at these tables. We estimate the house edge to be 23% on the required Bonus Spin side bet. 

The house edge when betting the minimum at these tables can be as high as 8.95%, by these calculations. That is worse than triple zero roulette

Even money and 6:5 payouts

There are some blackjack games that only pay even money. These tend to be at lower limits or on Game King machines. In some cases, you are better off playing a higher limit game to lower your expected loss. Even money blackjack tables add about 2.3% to the house edge when compared to a 3:2 payout. 

Blackjack games with a 6:5 payout have taken over the Las Vegas Strip, as well as some other markets. These tables have a house edge that is about 1.4% worse than one with a standard 3:2 payout. 

Blackjack rules at Alamo Truck Stop in Las Vegas, Nevada
Alamo Truck Stop blackjack rules

Bad blackjack variants

There are many blackjack variants that have a worse payout than a standard 3:2 game. The worst offender we found is Lucky Cat Blackjack. With a 3:2 payout, the game already has a house edge of nearly 2%. Super Fun 21 and Most Liberal 21 are other blackjack variants that have a house edge that is double that of a standard game.

If a blackjack variant pays 6:5, it is usually a terrible choice. For example, Free Bet Blackjack with a 3:2 payout holds about 1% with perfect play. That goes to 2.4% when it pays 6:5. Every Free Bet Blackjack table on the Las Vegas Strip has a 6:5 payout. 

Another problem with blackjack variants is some have a difficult strategy. While Blackjack Switch, Spanish 21 and Double Up can be better than a standard 3:2 game, it is much worse if you do not learn the proper strategy, which can differ greatly from a traditional game. 

No double down after splitting

This rule is normally found at the few 3:2 single deck tables left, as well as many double-deck games in Las Vegas tourist areas. It may also be in effect if there is a double down restriction, like when it is only allowed on 10 or 11. 

This rule allows players to double down on two cards before splitting but not after. It adds about 0.2-0.25% to the house edge.

Dealer hits soft 17

The dealer hitting soft 17 raises the house edge by 0.2-0.25%, depending on the game and number of decks. While the dealer may bust a little more often, it helps the house make a better hand than 17 more.

Common places to find blackjack games that stand on soft 17 are casinos in Pennsylvania, where it is mandated by law, as well as most high limit rooms in Las Vegas. We also found many blackjack tables that stand on all 17s in West Virginia and Atlantic City

Double down only on certain hands

This rule is usually found only in 3:2 single deck games, though some double-deck games in the Midwest also have it, as well as some legal online casinos

If in effect, the player may only double down on hard 9, 10 and 11, or just 10 and 11. The house edge increases by about 0.1% if it is 9, 10 and 11, and around 0.2% if players may only double down on 10 and 11. Most of these tables do not permit double down after splitting.

No surrender or re-split aces

If a blackjack game does not allow surrender or re-split aces, its house edge is about 0.15% worse than a game that offers both. Subtract about half that amount if the game offers one or the other. 

Surrender is when a player may fold and give up half of their bet. This is typically only available in six or eight-deck games. Re-split aces is when the house allows the player to split again on aces when they receive another ace. Many houses require the player to be stuck with a pair of aces as this hand can’t be hit at traditional blackjack tables.