This chapter explains how to play blackjack on online casinos, how it works, how to get started, how to evaluate the blackjack games, the importance of online casino promotions, how live blackjack games work, and much more.
HISTORY OF ONLINE GAMBLING
The very first online gambling site began on the Internet in 1995 (offering poker) and the rest, as they say, is history. Nowadays, most gambling sites offer all types of casino games (including blackjack), with some offering sports wagering and lotteries.
In the U.S., there has been a lot of discussion whether online gambling is legal. The Wire Act of 1971 made it illegal to accept interstate wagers over the telephone; however, there were no specific references to online gambling in the Act since the industry hadn’t even been invented. Then in 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (known as UIGEA) passed Congress. This regulation didn’t make online gambling itself illegal; instead, it made it illegal for banks, financial institutions (including credit card companies), and online payment providers (e.g., PayPal) to process transactions between citizens in the U.S. and online gambling sites. Many offshore gambling sites then decided to stop accepting U.S. players (although some still do). More recently, several states have enacted their own legislation that allows Internet gambling for players located within their state. This includes Delaware (2012), New Jersey (2013), and Nevada (2013, still only poker). In New Jersey, for example, MasterCard and Visa are approving Internet gambling transactions and the top N.J. gambling regulator states that “Internet gambling has proven to be reliable and transparent thanks to technology that keeps most outsiders from gambling illegally.” Other states are contemplating legislation to allow in-state online gambling.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
- Convenience. You don’t have to get dressed up and travel somewhere to place a bet; you can do it in the comfort of your home any time day or night (i.e., your home is your casino).
- Because of fierce competition for players, online gambling sites offer lucrative sign-up bonuses to new players, usually adding 10% up to 70% to their initial bankroll.
- Most online sites usually have better blackjack rules than brick-and-mortar casinos (although it pays to check the blackjack rules before you start playing).
- Usually, there is 24-hour customer service; although here again, this should be confirmed.
- You don’t have to suffer potential annoyances of other players (smokers, complainers, talkers, etc.).
- Unlike brick and mortar casinos where you can exchange your chips for cash rather quickly, when you gamble on an Internet website and want your money, it may take several days for you to get it.
- There are specific playing requirements to obtain whatever bonuses the site is offering.
- Some sites’ customer service is often lacking.
- Operating a gambling web site in the U.S. is illegal; therefore, most are located offshore and there is no local “government agency” to assist players in the event of a dispute with a gambling site.
- You won’t have the camaraderie and ambiance that are present in land-based casinos.
- Playing online blackjack games for real money can be addictive to some players.
ARE THEY SAFE AND FAIR?
Are the blackjack games on the up and up? Many potential players wonder about that since most sites are located offshore with no local oversight. When Internet gambling first started there were some abuses that involved cheating (and hacking) on some sites that offer poker. (Cheating involved collusion among poker players against the site and other players, including the use of special software programs. Hacking involved getting access to the valuable information stored on an Internet web site.) Nowadays, the major Internet gambling sites have protection software to prevent hacking and many are licensed, audited by outside companies, and operate fair games.
HOW INTERNET SITES WORK
The majority of Internet gambling sites use gambling software that is developed by a third party. Some of the industry-leading software companies include Microgaming, Cryptologic, Playtech, Aristocrat, Evolution Gaming, and others. You can search the Internet for reviews, ratings, player feedback, and more for any of these companies.
HOW TO GET STARTED
You’ll need a computer and Internet access to gamble online. First, you need to set up an account with the site. This usually means filling out an application with personal information, and then you need to deposit money into your account. Here it’s important to read the information on the site regarding the options to transfer the money, including the minimum deposit required, what type of new customer bonus/reward you ae entitled to, and how much play is required in order to obtain the bonus. (Note: The deposit level at most gambling sites is relatively low.) It’s also important to know how to withdraw money from your account and how long it will take you to receive it. You will also need to download the gambling software to your computer. The gambling site will have instructions on how to do this. (Note: Some sites also allow you to play using your web browser; again read the instructions on the site if this option is available.) You’ll also need to set up a user name and password to access the gambling software and your account.
ONLINE BLACKJACK GAMES
The gambling software will depict a graphical representation of a blackjack table. There are usually more than one variety of blackjack game (e.g., single-deck; multi-deck, etc.) available, often with different playing rules. It’s important that you know the blackjack rules for any particular blackjack game and what the corresponding house edge is against a basic strategy player (more about this shortly). To make a bet, you have to click on the size of the bet you want to make, and then click the deal button. Once the cards are dealt, there will be playing-option buttons to click (e.g., hit, stand, double, split, etc.).
Tip 1: The blackjack rules are not always the same from one gambling web site to another. My suggestion is to jot the down the rules and then use the House Edge calculator on the blackjack page at wizardofodds.com. After you key in the number of decks and the rules, it will calculate the house edge for you. (Read Chapter 1.5 for details on how to reduce the house edge in blackjack.)
Tip 2: It’s imperative that you use the correct basic playing strategy when you play blackjack online. If you are playing a six-deck game, with s17, das, and surrender, then be sure to use the basic strategy developed for exactly those rules of blackjack. (See Chapter 3 for color-coded strategy charts covering a multitude of playing rules.).
DOES CARD COUNTING WORK ON GAMBLING SITES?
For the most part, no. The reason is that the majority of online web sites shuffle the cards after each hand, making card counting impossible. However, there are some online gambling sites that offer multi-deck games with a cut card. The issue here is that most deal only about 50% of the cards then reshuffle. You need to check the site’s instructions/rules for information on when the cards are reshuffled (or call the site’s customer service department and ask them). If the site reshuffles after 50% (or more) of the cards are dealt, then card counting is viable. (But don’t hold your breath on this, because it’s rare that a site will deal more than 50% of the cards. But even with a 50% cut, you’ll have a slight edge with card counting assuming the playing rules are fair. For more details on the effect of penetration (i.e., how many cards are dealt) on your edge, see Chapter 10.10).
Tip 3: Use Composition-Dependent Basic Playing Strategy
I covered composition-dependent playing strategy in Chapter 5.1, which is a playing strategy based on not just the total of your hand but also on the composition of the cards in your hand. You’ll find a detailed composition-based, color-coded strategy table in the appendix of the blackjack page on wizardodds. You can refer to the strategy table when you are playing blackjack online to reduce the house edge to the lowest possible percentage. (Note: The strategy table is much more complicated than the traditional (total-dependent) basic strategy table. However, when you play blackjack online, you’ll have plenty of time to check the strategy table to determine how best to play your hand based on the composition of the cards.
LIVE BLACKJACK GAMES
Real-time streaming online blackjack games with human dealers has become very popular because it is more like playing in a brick-and-mortar casino yet you are playing in the comfort of your home. The technology has advanced to the point that a player at home will see a live dealer in real time shuffling and dealing cards in a real casino while interacting with the players. Just as in a land-based casino, the dealer will wait until players make their bets, and then deal the cards. Players will see on their computer screen an interactive control panel where they can make their bets and input their playing decision for each hand. Bottom line: Live online blackjack games are as close as it gets to playing in a land-based casino. Gambling sites that offer live dealer blackjack games use third-party providers to video and stream the live games. For example, 888casino, which happens to be one of the largest online casinos in the world, uses Evolution Gaming to stream live blackjack games from their studios (i.e., you don’t have to download any software).
They have native-language dealers, you can chat with your dealer, and you can play the streamed blackjack game on your PC, iPad, or iPhone. One major advantage of live blackjack games is that you don’t have to wait for an open spot on a table as you sometimes do in a land-based casino. With live blackjack games, there is always an open spot 24/7. The same precautions should be taken if you decide to play blackjack with a live dealer; that is, search the Internet for information about the site, know the playing rules of blackjack, house edge, deck penetration, any bonuses, etc.
If you want to play blackjack online (including live blackjack games), you should do the following:
- Do some research on the Internet to find only reputable online gambling sites with a good reputation and track record.
- Make sure the site is licensed and audited by a third-party company or recognized blackjack expert.
- Find out who the owners of the online gambling site are, and do some research about them on the Internet.
- Be sure you understand how to deposit and withdraw money from your account.
- Be sure there are no transfer fees from the site for depositing or withdrawing money from your account.
- Be sure the site has 24 hour/7 days per week toll-free telephone customer support. (Try calling the number before you sign up at any site; if you constantly get a busy signal, I’d try a different site.)
- Check out the new-customer bonuses that a site is offering, what the play requirements are, and when the bonus will be transferred into your account.
- Check what type of Player Reward program the site offers.
- Check out the playing rules for the different blackjack games and know what that house edge is for whatever game you decide to play.
- Always use the basic playing strategy; consider using the composition-dependent basic playing strategy to get the lowest possible house edge.
- If the site offers multi-deck blackjack games, find out when the cards are shuffled (to determine if card counting is viable).
- Know what happens if you have a complaint or issue and how the site will attempt to resolve it.
- Blackjack can be played for fun or for real money on Internet gambling sites.
- The major advantages of playing blackjack online are convenience, often better rules, and lucrative sign-up bonuses.
- The major disadvantages are the rather long wait to redeem money from your account, and not having a local agency to ensure fairness and dispute resolution.
- You should always research an online gambling site on the Internet to be sure it is licensed and audited.
- The online site should have 24-hour, toll-free customer support staffed by knowledgeable personnel that is easy for a customer to understand.
- Check out the different ways that a specific gambling site will allow you to deposit money into your account.
- Check out how to withdraw money from your account and how long it will take.
- Compare sign-up bonuses from different online sites and the play requirements to obtain the bonus.
- Know the playing rules and the house advantage before you play any online blackjack game.
- Always use the basic playing strategy for playing blackjack on an online site. Consider using the composition-based basic playing strategy to decrease the house edge to as low as possible.
- Most online casinos shuffle after every hand making card counting useless. Some online casinos employ six and eight decks of cards and use a cut card; determine what the penetration is and whether card counting is viable.
- Live dealer blackjack games are as close to playing blackjack as you would in a land-based casino.
Written by Henry Tamburin Ph.D.