Last week it was reported that in 2009 the game of blackjack slipped in popularity (and revenue) to Las Vegas casinos.
"blackjack’s share of the casino revenue pie was just 9.7 percent of all revenue, the first time its slice ever dropped below 10 percent. And the win or "hold" percentage last year was just 11.3 percent, the lowest level ever recorded in Nevada." says the article.
It is no shock that revenue would have went down with the economy, but why is blackjack less popular as compared to some other games? Why has their hold percentage gone down?
It appears it is due to changes in the game which has made it more difficult for both professionals and casual players to leave with more money than they came with.
"Casinos in recent years have tightened the rules on blackjack – the payoff for a natural blackjack has been reduced from 3-2 to 6-5 at many tables, dealers often have the option of hitting a soft 17 and the rules governing splits and doubling down are less liberal than in the past – all of which should result in a higher hold percentage for the house."
So, the game was made harder and the "takeout" was increased. The result of that has been the opposite of what was expected.
"In a sense, the casino’s desire to squeeze more money out of the blackjack tables has actually backfired, with the result having an opposite effect," said a floor supervisor at a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. "In addition, many casinos have raised the table minimums, which have driven away the casual players, and the tighter rules have pushed high-end players to other games, such as baccarat."
According to the floor supervisor, these changes hit smaller players hard. They did not make a conscious decision to quit, they just quit; and they were important.
"Those players were crucial to the casino’s bottom line," he said. "When you have every seat filled at a table– even if they’re only $5 players – you have a steady income stream subject to the 12 percent hold."
We don't hear much about that in racing, even though we directly parallel the blackjack experience. We know, because mathematics and the laws of economics says so, that the increases in take the past 40 years in racing has slowly driven players away. In addition, we have made the game more difficult to win with subtle changes, as well. Exotics have been pushed hard and those are harder to hit than in the 1970's where win betting was more prevalent, as an example.
Horseplayers did not draw a line in the sand loudly proclaiming they were leaving; they simply had no more money to play. It's the affect to the cause.
While we in racing, with literally hundreds of horsemen groups, governments and tracks, are unable or unwilling to respond to this problem, it will be interesting if the large casino's lead the way and change their blackjack rules to the way they were. After all, one thing we know about casino's: they like money. And right now they are not seeing that from blackjack.