Blackjack for a Buck

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One of the biggest complaints I hear about price-gouging in Las Vegas is the escalating level of table-game minimums. Whereas games with $3 and $5 minimums used to be easy to come by, now it’s $10 and $15, and often higher on the Strip. Yep, it’s getting more expensive to sit down and play a few hands. But look around a little and you’ll find $5, $3, $2 and even $1 tables! One-dollar blackjack these days? Yessir, and at more than one casino!

The first is North Las Vegas’ Lucky Club, where they’ve been dealing a dollar game for quite a while now. The second, at Hooters, is brand new. Lucky Club is a ways out and hours are limited, but the game is pretty good. Hooters is across the street from MGM Grand and dealt 24/7, but the game is not so good. Here are the particulars on each.

The Lucky Club game is played seven days a week, but not 24/7. It’s offered on only one table, from 4 p.m. till the bosses decide to close it. It’s a standard blackjack game dealt from six decks; the dealer hits soft 17, double down is allowed after splitting and blackjack pays the traditional 3-2. This combination of number of decks and rules gives the casino an edge against basic strategy players (the best way to play every hand off the top of the shoe) of .63 percent.

Hooters is dealing a single table around the clock. The game is mostly the same as the Lucky Club game, with one big difference: Naturals on $1 bets pay even money. Not the already bad 6-5, just 1-1. That gives the casino a big 3 percent advantage against basic strategy players, which is about as high as you’ll find on a live blackjack game.

So the deal is in the Lucky Club game, right? Let’s see…

These dollar tables are typically full at both casinos, so you figure you’ll be playing about 40 hands per hour at either. At Lucky Club, the expected loss equation is 40 (hands) x -.0063 (edge) x $1 = -$.252, or a loss of about 25 cents per hour. (Now you see why casinos don’t deal $1 games.) At Hooters, the equation is 40 x -.03 x $1 = -$1.20 per hour.

Yes, the Lucky Club game is a better gambling value. But only if you’re just gambling. That’s because it considers its $1 game a “promotional table” and doesn’t provide cocktail service. Translation: no free drinks. Do you like to have a beer or two while you play? Then the deal flip-flops and Hooters, where they do deliver comped drinks to the dollar players, becomes the play. Last time I checked, a beer was only $1 at Lucky Club. But that still means an hour of play and a beer sets you back $1.25, which is almost twice the cost of the Hooters tab. I know which one I’d play.