There was a time when Binion’s and Four Queens were great places to play blackjack. Both offered 3:2 single deck blackjack when I first started collecting data last decade. These days, every blackjack game at both casinos either pays 6:5 or has a string attached.
The payout on a blackjack has a substantial effect on the house edge. A 6:5 blackjack table typically has a house edge that is about triple that of a 3:2 game that otherwise has the same rules.
Collapse of blackjack quality at Binion’s
There are no traditional 3:2 blackjack games at Binion’s. Double Up Blackjack is as close as it gets. There is also Blackjack Switch. Both have difficult strategies.
The other tables are all 6:5 or have a big “Blackjack pays 3:2” sign. However, I would not call this a 3:2 blackjack game. Its catch is worse than 6:5 for players at the minimum bet and beyond. I think the sign needs an asterisk with a footnote explaining its terrible carnival rule.
These tables pay 3:2 on blackjack. However, the player must post a $1 Bonus Spin side bet to get dealt a hand. I determined that this side bet has a house edge of $0.23, and nobody has ever corrected me, so I am going with that. The $10 minimum bet holds about $0.07. An $11 bet including the side bet has a house edge of about 2.7%.
A normal 6:5 blackjack table has a house edge around 2%. The Binion’s 3:2 table requires at least a $20 bet to beat that when increments of $5 chips are used. You’ll need to bet $75 to get the house edge under 1% at these tables. The house edge on a real 3:2 blackjack game is around two-thirds of a percent.
It feels reasonable to believe that these “Blackjack pays 3:2” signs are meant to attract players that think they know better than to play 6:5 games. However, it leads them to slaughter, in my opinion.
Play the 6:5 games instead unless you are betting $20 or more. If you know the games, Double Up Blackjack and Blackjack Switch are also better.
Four Queens blackjack is similar to Binion’s
Four Queens and Binion’s have the same owners. It makes sense that both would have similar blackjack selections. Four Queens has the same 3:2 signs. I recommend walking past those tables and playing Blackjack Switch if you know the strategy, or Double Up Blackjack.
Four Queens also deals 3:2 Lucky Cat Blackjack. At last check, it did not have a forced side bet like the one at Golden Nugget does. There are also standard 6:5 blackjack tables.
What to play instead
All is not terrible at these casinos. Some may prefer the environments and will play these games anyway. If you like table games, craps has five times odds at both of these casinos. There is also a standard selection of mostly $10 poker pit games. If you play roulette, make sure your table only has two zeros.
Four Queens is known for its exceptional players club for video poker players. It also has a wide selection of games. Four Queens is home to the best bar video poker game in Las Vegas, maybe anywhere. That is 10/6 Double Double Bonus at half-dollar and dollar. It slightly short-pays a straight flush to keep it just under 100%. There are full pay jacks and 10/7 Double Bonus games on the floor up to $1.
It is time for Nevada gaming regulators to clear up the blackjack problem at Fremont Street Experience casinos and beyond
Nevada does not have any regulations that affect blackjack rules beyond a minimum player payback. Casinos can make the rules whatever they want them to be. That is not the case in some other jurisdictions.
Pennsylvania casinos must deal blackjack games that stand on soft 17. Double down before and after splitting must be permitted. The player can surrender at all Pennsylvania blackjack tables that use more than two decks, which these days, is all of them.
Deadwood and Maryland casinos also regulate blackjack. It took years for Maryland gaming regulators to permit 6:5 blackjack, but with required clear disclosures that the game differs from traditional blackjack. Deadwood went more than 20 years without a 6:5 blackjack table. The South Dakota Commission on Gaming finally started allowing them, but only at single deck tables.
Nevada regulators can do the same. If a so-called game has a mandatory side bet, like the three worst blackjack games in Las Vegas that are all found at Fremont Street Experience casinos, it needs a new name. A 6:5 blackjack table should be clearly marked on the felt or a large sign, not in small font on the digital sign that players have a hard time seeing if they do not sit at third base.
A change in Nevada gaming regulations as they pertain to blackjack would help protect tourists and locals alike. It would create an improvement in state gaming policy.