Blackjack was once the most popular casino game in the world. There was a time when some casinos offered hardly anything but blackjack tables—that’s how dedicated players were to this simple game of 21.
Whether you were in America, mainland Europe or South East Asia, the biggest casinos in the world all catered for blackjack players. It was a game that was big business for both professional gamblers and casinos–many of which benefitted from the rise in popularity of the game to draw amateur bettors to their lobbies.
In recent years blackjack has endured a slump in popularity, only to bounce back again in the digital realm. This is due to a number of issues which cover technological advancements, the rise in fame of rival games, and a change in gambler tastes. Part of the decline is also blamed on casinos themselves, and how they changed the rules of blackjack to suit them better.
Here, we take you through the history of blackjack and why this once world-beating game fell so dramatically in popularity.
History of Blackjack
To understand blackjack’s rise and fall we need to look back at its history. The game originated from aristocratic gambling halls and seedy public houses in France during the 1700s. Known as ‘vingt-et-un’ in France, the idea has always been to make a hand totalling, but no exceeding, 21 in order to win a bet against the house.
It was seen as a relatively simple game to play and because of this its popularity spread across Europe and into the Americas and Asia. However, when casinos as we know them started to emerge in Europe and North America around 200 years ago, blackjack was considered a secondary game to roulette and craps. Indeed, it was craps that truly dominated the casino halls of America into the 1900s and was where you would find the biggest, loudest crowds gathered around a table.
Craps was always the big draw; blackjack a quite side table for those who didn’t want to party.
As this Forbes article details, blackjack didn’t seem to be going anywhere too fast by the middle of the 20th century, when casinos were all about dice. Yet the game soon began to gain recognition among mathematicians as one that could be exploited. In blackjack there is a house edge – like all casino games – but some bright sparks figured out that playing to a specific strategy could greatly reduce that edge. In fact, once the experts realized the mathematical advantage of card counting it was possible to gain a statistical edge over the casino.
This led to a golden era of blackjack during which time the game became the No 1 choice in American and European casinos. What followed were some mind-blowing wins, thousands of in-depth strategy guides and movies based about the game. Blackjack was in vogue. In 1995 Kerry Packer won $40m playing blackjack in a casino in just 40 minutes.
Why Did Blackjack Drop In Popularity?
Blackjack was hugely popular in the ‘90s when online gambling first began—and it wasn’t long before online blackjack software was developed and players started competing at home. But this is also where its popularity reached a peak.
So what happened to blackjack? At the turn of the millennium players were more interested in online gambling compared to the real life casino experience. More players moved to digital casino sites and played extensive games from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
What else did they discover? Choice. Rather than entering a blackjack-dominated casino, suddenly there were opportunities to play video poker, Texas Hold’em, baccarat, slots and roulette all within the click of a button. Some even tried craps for the first time! Gamblers who weren’t dedicated blackjack players started shopping around and found the other online casino games to be much more fun.
Poker had also become the game dujour as tournaments like the World Series of Poker were shown live on TV and online. Phil Hellmuth and Erik Seidel became household names. The slick production values of Texas Hold’em, the remake of the Casino Royale James Bond movie and a spike in poker software providers meant millions of players shifted to the game.
Meanwhile, ‘real life’ casinos were locking down on card counting and changed their rules to gain a greater advantage over players. For instance, the requirement for dealers to hit on a soft 17 was removed, which earned the house an extra 0.2% advantage. Some casinos have also cut blackjack winnings from 3:2 to 6:5. This means a $300 payout 10 years ago is now $240. Forbes estimates Nevada blackjack tables alone have fallen 41% in two decades.
Blackjack’s Online Comeback
These days, blackjack competes with many other online casino games for the attention of players—and rightly so. If the expansion of internet betting has taught us anything it’s that choice is king of the online casino.
Thankfully for blackjack fans, the game has experienced a second revival. This isn’t akin to the blackjack boom of the 1960s to 1990s but more players are discovering the enjoyment of online blackjack, particularly as a means of playing the house rather than competing against others in online poker.
According to recent data around 31% of play on online table games are on blackjack. That’s a strong figure considering poker, roulette, craps and baccarat all have their own merits. Players seem to have never fully backed away from blackjack – partially because the game is a solitary act between you and the dealer. It’s one that mixes skill and luck to produce the best results.
Of course, that isn’t to say blackjack is the king of the casino yet. That accolade goes to online slots. If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas or Monte Carlo you’ll recognise the sound of slot machine arms being pulled, reels spinning and coins flooding out of the bottom. These slot machines were once the lifeblood of casinos and now they are just as important to the online casino offering.
Online slots are popular in the UK and are expected to grow even more in the US as states open up to online betting. In fact, online slots accounted for around $3bn in gambling revenue in the UK in 2020 – a population one-fifth the size of America.
Where to Find the Best Blackjack Games
One of the reasons for blackjack’s online rejuvenation comes back to choice again. Game developers have literally created hundreds of different versions of blackjack, from Lucky 13s and Multi-Hand blackjack to Side Bet blackjack and Spanish 21. And what’s great is that online casinos usually offer multiple types of blackjack.
This means you can shop around from within a single casino and find the right game for you. And finding the right casino couldn’t be easier. Our experts have curated a list of online casino reviews for US players so you can choose the right site for you. What’s more, our Where and How to Play Blackjack guide is the perfect place to fully understand the rules and strategy of this amazing game.
Of course, different players have difference preferences when it comes to choosing a blackjack game. But whether you love a simple game, multi-hands, the live casino experience or tournament blackjack, our reviews as the best place to get started on making your choice.
Quick Blackjack Tactics
If you’re looking to master online blackjack and want to get ahead fast then there are some smart tactics you can deploy to get started. Remember, while blackjack is at its heart a game of luck there is genuine skill involved in calculating if you have a winning hand against the dealer.
Many first-time blackjack players get overexcited with the game and try and win a fortune in an instant. This isn’t smart at all. Remember, in blackjack you’re only going to double your bets in a single hand, so be prepared to play the long game and strategize your bet levels.
Some of our best blackjack tips for new players are:
- Start betting small and slowly increase your wagers
- Split your balance between funds and winnings, and never re-bet your winnings
- Always split Aces and 8s
- Hit when your hand is 12 to 16 and the dealer’s is between 7 and A
- Stand when your hand is 12 to 16 and the dealer’s is between 2 and 6
- Ignore the insurance bet, it’s not worth your time
Now that you know more about blackjack, read through some of our top casino reviews to figure out which is right for you—You never know, you could be the next big winner in online blackjack.