These days, trying to play blackjack at a live casino can be an intimidating experience. Outside of a few Las Vegas casinos, it seems like most places have high minimum bets that make it difficult to jump into a blackjack game unless you’re willing to risk a lot of money.
Retro Blackjack is an attempt to get back to blackjack’s roots as an affordable game that anyone can take part in. Offered by Atlantic City casinos starting in early 2010, Retro Blackjack allows players to play blackjack for as little as $2 a hand, far less than the casinos offer as a minimum in regular blackjack games.
How to Play Retro Blackjack
Retro Blackjack is, in all important ways during play, the same as standard blackjack. The player has all the normal options, such as hitting, standing, doubling down and splitting, as well as taking insurance. Blackjacks normally pay full 3-2 odds; avoid any standard or Retro Blackjack table that offers less, such as the increasingly common 6-5 blackjack payout.
Because Retro Blackjack is more of a concept rather than a specific form of the game, you might see variations between different Retro Blackjack tables. If you want to play a game with the best rules, look for games that give the player favorable conditions, such as the following:
- Fewer Decks: A blackjack game with fewer decks will carry a low house edge. Single and double deck games are especially good for the player.
- Surrender: In particular, look for games that offer late surrender, which is a great boon to a player’s chances.
- Dealer Stands on All 17s: This is the best dealer rule for the player. If the dealer hits on soft 17s, that makes the house edge slightly larger.
- Split Options: All options offered after splitting are good for the player; doubling after splitting and hitting split aces are two that are especially favorable.
The Problem with Retro Blackjack
If you’re familiar with regular blackjack, and you’ve read this article, you may be wondering why we even mention Retro Blackjack. Isn’t it just the same old game, only with lower betting limits that you’d usually see in a live casino?
If that were the case, you’d be right – there’s nothing worth writing about there. But Retro Blackjack also has a subtle difference that casual gamblers might not think is a big deal, but which experienced players will immediately realize is absolutely awful for the player.
In Retro Blackjack, players may bet anywhere from $2 to $5 in dollar increments. If the player wants to bet more than $5, they must bet in $5 increments (i.e., $10, $15, and so on). However, if the player wants to make a bet of between $2 and $5, they must pay a 25 cent fee before each hand.
Such a fee makes the house edge on blackjack enormous! For instance, take a typical blackjack game that has a house edge of around 0.5%. On a $2 hand of blackjack, that’s the equivalent of losing one cent every hand. But with a non-refundable 25 cent fee, that house edge goes from one cent to 26 cents, or from 0.5% to 13%! The news is almost as bad for $5 players. Instead of losing 2.5 cents per hand on average, the player will now lose about 27.5 cents – or about a 5.5% house edge.
These types of house edges are incredibly large when playing blackjack, which means that these games should be avoided at all costs. While casinos claim they must add this fee to make the cheapest blackjack games profitable for them, that’s more of a reason not to have the games at all rather than force players to pay a fee to play in them.