Online Blackjack for Money: Pros and Cons

An Analysis of Real 21 Games on the Internet

Online blackjack for real money, like most endeavors, has its pros and cons. The purpose of this page is to explore those intelligently. My hope is that by providing some thoughtful analysis about how the game of 21 works, especially when it comes to spending real cash on the hobby, readers will be able to make more intelligent decisions about whether or not they want to play.

Some of the Best Odds in the Casino

One of the first perks of this game are the odds that it offers the player. When discussing casino games, experts refer to the house edge, which is a mathematical way of expressing how much money a player can expect to lose per bet. For example, if you read that American roulette has a house edge of 5.26%, that means that over time, you can expect to lose $5.26 for every $100 you wager.

A Screenshot of an Online Blackjack for Money Game

It's important to remember that this expectation applies to the long term. In the short term, anything can happen. There's a mathematical term for this, too--"standard deviation". But most of us just call that luck.

A game with a lower house edge offers you a higher chance of winning. A game with a higher house edge offers you a higher chance of losing.

Blackjack, when played with basic strategy, usually offers a house edge of only 0.5%. That means for every $100 you wager, you're only expected to lose 50 cents. If you enjoy gambling and playing cards, that's cheap entertainment.

On the other hand, if you don't bother learning basic strategy and just play your hunches, the house edge ranges between 2% and 4%.

Great odds is a plus. If you're planning to gamble, choose games with the best odds.

Here's a chart comparing the house edge in blackjack with the house edge in other games:

Game House Edge
Baccarat 1.06% if you bet on the banker.
Blackjack 0.5% if you play with perfect strategy.
Craps 1.36% to 11.11%, depending on the wager.
Keno 25% or more.
Let It Ride 3.51%
Pai Gow Poker 1.46%
Roulette 5.26% (2.7% if you can find a single zero game)
Slots 2% to 15%, depending on the game.
Video Poker 0.46% or more, depending on the specific game.

As you can see, the only game comparable to blackjack (in terms of the house edge) is video poker, but that 0.46% only applies to "full pay" Jacks or Better games. Other video poker games have a higher edge.

A Screenshot of an Online Blackjack for Money Game

The Opportunity to Make Decisions

When you play slot machines, roulette, baccarat, or most other casino games, you don't make any decisions affecting the outcome of the game. The only decision you make is how much you wager. Then you just hope that Lady Luck smiles at you.

But in the game of 21, you make decisions every hand which increase or decrease your chances of winning. In fact, it's obvious that you have this opportunity. For example, do you think that taking a hit when you have a total of 20 increases or decreases your chances of winning? Obviously, in that situation, you have lots of opportunities to go bust.

Every single hand presents a decision like this, and the intuitive decision isn't always the mathematically correct decision.

This opportunity to affect your destiny is a plus for some players and a minus for others. Some people prefer to relax when they gamble. Making correct decisions just creates stress for them. Others enjoy the sense of challenge and control that they feel when playing a game where their decisions matter.

Real Money Games Have a Point

You can play blackjack online for free, but what's the point? You only win or lose "play money". I don't know many gamblers who get excited about risking the equivalent of Monopoly money.

This is a plus and a minus at the same time. If you're a problem gambler, for example, then this is one of the big cons of playing 21 for actual dollars online. Then again, if you're a problem gambler, you should probably avoid the play money games, too, because they're just going to trigger the desire to gamble for real money.

On the other hand, if you have normal impulse control, and you enjoy gambling as a hobby, then you'll enjoy blackjack for real money a lot more.

Is Online Blackjack Legal?

One drawback to card games played online for cash is that in some jurisdictions, they're illegal. I live in the United States, and there are no federal laws prohibiting blackjack specifically, although at one time the Department of Justice claimed that it was a violation of the Federal Wire Act. They have since recanted that position.

On the other hand, many states have specific laws forbidding Internet wagers for actual cash. Other states have recently legalized such activities. The responsibility for knowing the laws in your jurisdiction lies with you.

One other fact you should be aware of if you live in the United States is that no bettor has ever been prosecuted for playing casino games online for money. The government seems more concerned with targeting operators. That being said, our advice is to know the laws in your area and obey them.

Is Online Blackjack a Scam?

Some players who are new to the Internet gambling scene wonder whether or not these games are a scam. They fear that the casino's software might be rigged in such a way as to increase the house edge. I'm confident that these fears are unfounded, and here's why:

Casino games already offer the casino a mathematical edge. Even though this edge is smaller than you'll find in most other games, it's still in the casino's favor. Since Internet casino sites operate on a volume basis, they have no motivation to rig their games.

In fact, there are significant disadvantages to rigging an online casino game. Watchdog sites keep up with how games play out, and a rigged game would be easy to spot by someone with the mathematical know-how. And once word got out in the Internet gambling community that a casino was cheating, their business would be over.

Casino Signup Bonuses

One advantage offered by Internet casinos in general are signup bonuses. Most of the time, when you make an initial deposit at a casino on the Web, you receive a matching dollar amount of some kind. For example, you might deposit $100 into your casino account and then receive $200 in bonus funds.

This is a mixed blessing. At most online casinos, these bonus funds must be used to gamble on games with a higher house edge than 21. The casinos also require you to wager your deposit and the amount of your bonus a certain number of times before allowing you to cash out.

My approach has always been to take advantage of the bonus, play the slots until the wagering requirements are met, and hope I get lucky. Sometimes I wind up with a larger blackjack bankroll as a result. Sometimes not. Either way, it's nice being able to get some extra wagers for your money, even if it's not on your game of choice.

So Should You Play Online Blackjack for Real Money?

This is a question only you can answer. Think about what kind of risk tolerance you have. Determine whether or not you're willing to learn basic strategy. Make sure you don't have impulse control problems. Online blackjack for real money is great for certain people with certain personalities, but it's not for everybody.