What are the pros and cons of roulette versus the pros and cons of blackjack? How do these games differ, and how are they the same? Like all casino games, they have certain characteristics that hold true for every game you’ll play in a casino. But they also have significant differences, which I’ll analyze for you on this page.
The odds in roulette never change, no matter what happens on previous bets. If you bet on black, the odds are always either 18/38 or 18/37 that you’ll win. That’s because every spin of a roulette wheel is an independent event. Previous results don’t affect the odds on subsequent results.
This doesn’t mean that roulette gamblers understand this. Many of them stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the simple fact that it’s impossible to get an edge on roulette based on studying the results of previous spins. Martingale players take this to a systematic extreme by lowering and raising their wagers based on what happened on the last spin.
Imagine though a new roulette wheel, one in which certain numbers got filled in once they’d been hit. The odds would change with every spin of the wheel, right? For example, there are 18 black numbers, so the odds of winning a bet on black are 18/38. If you removed one of the black numbers after black hit, the odds of winning the same bet would be reduced to 17/38.
It doesn’t take a math genius to understand how you could use this information to your advantage.
But that’s exactly what happens with a blackjack deck. Once a card is dealt, it’s gone, and the composition of the deck has changed. This is how card counters make money. They use a heuristic system to estimate how favorable the deck is to the player.
Some might have trouble getting their head around this idea, but it becomes simpler if you think of it this way. You get paid out 3 to 2 if you hit a natural “21” right? All other bets pay out at even money, so getting a natural blackjack is where a blackjack player makes his money.
But what are your odds of being dealt a blackjack if all four of the aces in the deck have already been dealt? They become 0, right? If the deck has 0 aces in it, and you need an ace and a face or ten to get the 3 to 2 payout, then the house edge increases considerably.
The same holds true for the tens, but there are more of them in a deck. And the reverse of this is true. As the lower cards are dealt, the ratio of tens and aces becomes more favorable. So the card counter raises his bet sizes to take advantage of the higher chance of getting a bigger payout.
Another aspect of blackjack that’s different from roulette is the ability for the player to affect the house edge by making smart decisions. (The house edge is the percentage of each wager that the casino expects to win over the long run.)
In roulette, the house edge is fixed, regardless of what decisions you make. On an American wheel, you face a house edge of 5.26%. On a European wheel, you face a house edge of 2.70%. No decisions that you make can change this number.
On the other hand, there are multiple decision points in a blackjack hand. You could increase the house edge to 100% by hitting every hand until you bust, for example. (Most players are smarter than that, though.)
Smart blackjack players use something called “basic strategy” to make their decisions. Basic strategy provides the mathematically best play in every situation that might come up. It’s generally easy to memorize.
The difference between using basic strategy and just playing your hunches is significant. Game conditions vary, but generally speaking, if you use correct basic strategy, you can reduce the house edge to between 0.5% and 1%. Players who don’t know basic strategy face a house edge of 4% to 5%.
If you like making decisions that affect your outcome, and you want to play a game where you can get edge by an advantage maneuver like counting cards, skip the roulette table. Play blackjack instead.
On the other hand, if that sounds like too much trouble, roulette can be a lot of fun. It’s not a sucker bet, no matter what anyone tells you–unless you buy into some loony roulette system or superstition.
Another difference that has a practical effect on a player is how many wagers per hour happen at the table in the two games. You can estimate how much money you’ll expect to lose per hour if you multiply the size of your wager by the house edge and multiplying that by the number of wagers you make per hour.
Roulette is a relatively leisurely game. If you’re playing at a table with five other players, you’re only going to be seeing 35 spins per hour. If you only place a single wager per spin, you can easily estimate your average hourly loss.
Suppose you’re betting $5 a spin. The house edge is 5.26%. So you can expect to lose about 26.3 cents per spin. You can expect to lose a little over $9 per hour at that rate.
Of course, with fewer players at the roulette table, you can expect to see more wagers per hour. If it’s just you and the dealer, for example, you can expect to see 100 or so spins per hour, which will triple your expected hourly loss.
Blackjack is a faster-paced game. If you’re playing blackjack at a table with 5 other players, you can expect to see 60 hands per hour. If you’re playing with perfect basic strategy (1% house edge) at $5 per hand, you can expect to lose a nickel per hand. That’s just $3 per hour. Even though you’re putting almost twice the money into action per hour, your entertainment is costing you even less.
Does that make blackjack better than roulette? That depends on your personality. Do you like a leisurely, elegant game? Do you prefer not to have to think too much when gambling? Then roulette is better than roulette—for you.
On the other hand, if you like card games and enjoy the challenge of making correct decisions, blackjack is more likely to be suited to your personality.
The pros and cons of each game are all based on what you prefer as a gambler.