New Free Bet Blackjack raising eyebrows in US casinos

As gambling enthusiasts on the consumer side of the business, we don’t often think about everything that goes into managing a live or online casino. One of the least recognized facets of the industry are the groups of men and women who dedicate their time and mental powers to the development of neoteric table games. New slots are easy to come by – replace the graphic scheme, mix up the free spin or bonus stage requirements, and a fresh slot machine is born – but putting a new spin on an old favorite like blackjack takes a little something extra.

The latest and greatest innovation out of Las Vegas is called Free Bet Blackjack, and it’s quickly spreading throughout land-based casino in the US and even Canada. Last month, Free Bet Blackjack made its debut as a mobile blackjack app on myVegas. Real money online casinos are sure to pick it up next, although it might undergo a slight name change first to avoid legal disputes.

The designers of Free Bet Blackjack were looking for a way to draw more players to the tables – players who weren’t necessarily interested in racking their brains to remember perfect strategies or count cards. Instead, they are given multiple ways to take advantage of free bets, placed by the house on their behalf. When a player chooses to double down or split, the dealer covers the additional wager, not the player.

Let’s try an example. You bet $20 and are dealt a pair of 9’s. You want to split them. The dealer will put up the extra $20 for the split and the game proceeds as usual. Or maybe you bet $50 and the dealer hands you 5+6. You want to double down? The dealer pays the extra $50 for the double, not you. As the name implies, these are free bets, and if you win, you are paid the full amount (minus the original free bet; the house gets that back). There are a few restrictions on what hands can be doubled or split, but the limits on the number of doubles/splits are actually increased. Let’s review the rules.

Standard Free Bet Blackjack Rules

  • Game uses 6 decks of cards
  • Dealer hits soft 17
  • Free Bet Split on any pair except 10’s and 4’s
  • Split/Re-split up to four times
  • Double on 2 cards only
  • Free Bet Double on hard 9, 10, 11 only (player may pay to double on any other total)
  • Double up to 4 times
  • Player can double after split
  • Blackjack pays 3:2
  • Dealer’s 22 is a push

If you noticed that last rule, you already found the catch. The trade-off for all those free bets is that anytime the dealer’s hand totals 22, instead of it being a bust and an instant win for the player, the hand is a push. When a push occurs, everyone gets their bet back, which means any free bets placed by the dealer are returned to the casino, and the player’s bets are returned to them. If using a basic strategy, the house edge for Free Bet Blackjack is 1.02%.

Free Bet Blackjack originated at the Golden Nugget, located in the heart of Downtown Las Vegas. The game first appeared in the summer of 2012, and while the locals were crowding around the new blackjack tables the very first night, it took some time for the title to pick up speed. To date, Free Bet Blackjack is played throughout multiple Las Vegas casinos, at least one location in Canada and is currently under review by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement for future installment at Atlantic City’s Resorts and Tropicana casinos.