Blackjack is derived from the ancient game of ‘twenty-one’, which is believed to have existed in Spain, as ‘veintiuna’, in the seventeenth century and subsequently spread to France, as ‘vingt-un’, or ‘vingt-et-un’, the surrounding countries, including Britain, and eventually to America from the early eighteenth century onwards. Vingt-un, albeit occasionally pronounced, and written, as ‘Van John’, was played under its French name in Britain and America throughout the nineteenth century.
However, until 1931, when gambling was legalised in Nevada and the first gaming licence was awarded to the Northern Club on Fremont Street, Las Vegas, vingt-un was played in illicit casinos and speakeasies. In fact, blackjack wasn’t called actually ‘blackjack’ until the twentieth century; in the early days of legitimate gambling in Las Vegas, casinos offered a series of promotional bonus payments, one of which was 10/1 against a hand consisting of the ace of spades and the jack of spades or the jack of clubs or, in other words, a ‘black jack’. Of course, that bonus payment for ‘blackjack’ no longer exists – the best modern patrons can hope for is odds of 3/2 and, even then, only in a standard, six-deck game – but the name stuck.
Following the publication of basic blackjack strategy – a mathematically correct set of rules for playing any hand – in the Fifties, blackjack quickly rose to become the most popular casino game in Las Vegas. Subsequently, in the face of multi-deck shoes and apparently minor rule changes, not least cutting the payout on blackjack to 6/5 in all bar single-deck games, the popularity of blackjack has waned slightly. Even so, blackjack remains the second most popular card game on the Las Vegas Strip, after baccarat.
Traditionally, the American version of roulette featured 38 numbers, including a single and a double zero. The ‘double zero’ roulette table already increased the house edge to 5.26%, compared with 2.7% for the European version, which features 37 numbers, including just a single zero. However, in recent times, numerous casinos in Las Vegas have introduced ‘triple zero’ roulette which, as the name suggests, features 39 numbers, including a single, a double and a triple zero. The addition of the triple zero – effectively another pocket that is not considered red or black, high or low or odd or even – increases the house edge to 7.69%.
Originally introduced, as ‘Sands Roulette’, at The Venetian in 2016, a triple zero roulette typically offers a lower table limit than double, or single, zero roulette as a ploy to entice recreational gamblers – who may be gambling for enjoyment, rather than to make money – to play at disadvantageous odds. It can be argued that a player making the minimum bet on a triple zero roulette table will lose less, in a given period of time, than a player making the minimum bet on a double zero roulette table, but – akin to blackjack paying odds of 6/5, rather than 3/2, on single-deck tables – the lower table minimum costs 2.43% in terms of the house edge, with no increase in payouts.
It can be argued that poker, in its modern sense, was first played on riverboats on the Mississippi River in the early nineteenth century, but the origins of the game are believed to be much older. The sixteenth-century card game known as ‘primiera’in Italy and ‘primera’ in Spain has many similarities to modern day poker and, in turn, provided the basis for the seventeenth-century games known as ‘poque’ or ‘pochen’, which were played in France and Germany, respectively.
Poque was subsequently transported across the Atlantic Ocean by French colonists to territories in North America, which was acquired by the United States in the early years of the nineteenth century. The name ‘poque’ was anglicised to ‘poker’ by English-speaking settlers and, thereafter, the game evolved to resemble the modern version, with a 52-card deck and five-card hands for each player.
The evolution of Las Vegas from a cultural backwater to a major tourist destination in the early twentieth century may have done plenty for the local economy, but casino operators were not keen on poker from a money-making perspective. Nevertheless, as the only casino game where gamblers could play against each other, rather than the house, poker was popular with patrons, so most gambling houses ran a poker room.
Down the years, different versions of poker, including five-card draw, seven-card stud and the current favourite, Texas hold ‘em, have fallen into or out of fashion at various times. Nevertheless, while the ‘boom’ period in the early years of the twenty-first century may have subsided, poker remains the most popular card game on the planet, with an estimated hundred million players worldwide.
Return to Player (RTP) is the term used to describe the proportion, or percentage, of the money staked on a slot machine that is returned to players in prizes over time. In the United Kingdom, by law, a slot machine must clearly display the percentage RTP figure but, even so, RTP is frequently misunderstood. It is also worth noting that there is no statutory minimum RTP figure for slot machines.
Winning on a slot machine is based purely on chance, as determined by the machine itself. Correctly interpreted, an average RTP of 90% means that a slot machine will, on average, pay out 90% of takings over an unspecified period of time. What is definitely does not mean is that a player will win on 90 spins out of every 100, or win £90 for every £100 staked, because each spin is a completely independent, random event. RTP is an average calculated over a significant number of spins – typically 10,000 or even 100,000, or more, depending on the type of slot machine – so, in a single session, the actual RTP could be significantly lower or, indeed, significantly higher than the advertised figure.
So-called ‘compensated’ slot machines are the only type in which the results of previous spins have any bearing on future play. If such a machine is operating below, or above, its advertised RTP, it may be designed to become more, or less, generous for a period of time to compensate. However, once again, the result of each spin is determined purely by chance, so pumping money into a machine that has not paid out for a while may still not result in a jackpot payout.