Published on July 15, 2016
, also known as twenty-one, is the most widely played casino banking game in the world. Blackjack is a comparing card game between a player and dealer, meaning players compete against the dealer but not against other players. It is played with one or more decks of 52 cards. The objective of the game is to beat the dealer in one of the following ways:
Get 21 points on the player’s first two cards (called a “blackjack” or “natural”), without a dealer blackjack;
Reach a final score higher than the dealer without exceeding 21; or
Let the dealer draw additional cards until his or her hand exceeds 21.
The player or players are dealt a two-card hand and add together the value of their cards. Face cards (kings, queens, and jacks) are counted as ten points. A player and the dealer can count an ace as 1 point or 11 points. All other cards are counted as the numeric value shown on the card. After receiving their first two cards, players have the option of getting a “hit”, or taking an additional card. In a given round, the player or the dealer wins by having a score of 21 or by having the higher score that is less than 21. Scoring higher than 21 (called “busting” or “going bust”) results in a loss. A player may win by having any final score equal to or less than 21 if the dealer busts. If a player holds an ace valued as 11, the hand is called “soft”, meaning that the player cannot go bust by taking an additional card; 11 plus the value of any other card will always be less than or equal to 21. Otherwise, the hand is “hard”.
The dealer must hit until the cards total 17 or more points. (At many tables the dealer also hits on a “soft” 17, i.e. a hand containing an ace and one or more other cards totaling six.) Players win by not busting and having a total higher than the dealer’s. The dealer loses by busting or having a lesser hand than the player who has not busted. If the player and dealer have the same total, this is called a “push”, and the player typically does not win or lose money on that hand. If all available players bust, the hand ends automatically without the dealer having to play his or her hand.
Blackjack has many rule variations. Since the 1960s, blackjack has been a high-profile target of advantage players, particularly card counters, who track the profile of cards that have been dealt and adapt their wagers and playing strategies accordingly.
Blackjack has inspired other casino games, including Spanish 21 and pontoon. The recreational British card game of black jack is a shedding-type game and unrelated to the subject of this article.
, also referred to as a whale, is a gambler who wagers large amounts of money. High rollers often receive lavish “comps” from casinos to lure them onto the gambling floors, such as free private jet transfers, limousine use and use of the casinos’ best suites. Casinos may also extend credit to a player to continue betting, offer rebates on betting turnover or losses, and salaries of employees may also contain incentive arrangements to bring in high rollers.
The definition of a high roller varies. At Crown Casino in Australia, for example, it involves bringing between A$50,000 and $75,000 to the table. High roller players often have very high table limits allowing the high roller exclusive use. Casinos compete on bet limits. In Australia limits of A$300,000 are common, in Las Vegas they are between US$150,000 and $300,000, and in Macau they are up to US$500,000. Only casinos with “substantial financial firepower” can accommodate high-stakes gambling due to the “volatility” of results.
High rollers may also be subject to exceptions from various rules and regulations; for example the high roller rooms at Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia are the only licensed venue in the state not subject to a ban on smoking.
High rollers are said to provide only a small fraction of casino “action.” John Eidsmoe, in his book Legalized Gambling: America’s Bad Bet, claims that it is actually gamblers from the lower and lower-middle classes in the United States that provide much of the gambling money. “The occasional wealthy ‘high roller’ does indeed exist, but he is the exception, not the standard. The fact that more than 50% of Nevada’s gambling income comes from slot machines as opposed to the card tables should be an indication high rollers are not the main source of revenue.”
One example of a high roller is an Australian man who turned over more than A$1.5 billion in a 14-month period from 2005, becoming “one of Crown’s largest Australian players but not in the same league as [its] top international players”. There have been many cases around the world where high rollers have committed fraud to provide funds for gambling beyond their means, after becoming seduced by the lifestyle. This was the case with famed gambler Terrance Watanabe who reputedly lost over $220M in Las Vegas over a 5 year period, and was ultimately sued by Caesars Entertainment for failing to pay up on markers he took out during the binge totaling $14.75M.
While high rollers may not provide a significant portion of the revenues in the casino industry as a whole, they can have a major effect on the net income of casinos that cater to them. There are significant costs associated with attracting the highest stakes gamblers, so if a casino takes this chance and the patron wins, its expenses can be extraordinarily large. But if the casino’s investment pays off and the high roller loses, the casino’s gain can far exceed its expenses for the high roller’s visit.