A Guide to Online Blackjack in Pennsylvania

Blackjack is one of the most popular casino games in history, and it’s a safe bet the game will be played for generations to come. One of the best things about the game is that it is available to millions of Americans who don’t live near a casino.

The Pennsylvania online casino market has emerged as a leading source of online gaming fun for Americans across the country. Although players must be physically within the Keystone State’s boundaries to play blackjack for real money, anyone anywhere in the country who is at least 21 years old can register for a free account at most Pennsylvania online casinos.

Blackjack is both a game of skill and a game of chance. Players need to know the basic rules of the game, but they can also improve their chances of winning by learning the strategies that help.

And blackjack is also an intensely personal game. Although some people look for social opportunities at blackjack tables, many long-time players approach the game with a serious attitude. Online blackjack games cater to players who don’t want distractions.

The popularity of online Pennsylvania casinos like Sugarhouse and Unibet means players across the country have safe, licensed choices to practice their skills. Online blackjack is considered one of the best ways to practice for the game when players make only occasional trips to land-based casinos.

Who can play online blackjack at Pennsylvania casinos?

Although all the online casinos comply with state laws, they have some differences between them. Sugarhouse limits even free or demo play to its registered members. Unibet may be the most popular choice for online casino players outside the state.

Blackjack players are also confused by a fast-evolving online gaming environment. Some online casinos offer live dealer games. You may have to wait a while for live dealer games in Pennsylvania. The dealers must be physically inside the state’s boundaries, just as real-money players must be.

Add to that changes in browser software. The popular flash browser plugin is being sunsetted for security reasons by web browsers. Online casino game platforms are developing new gaming software to replace the flash games before they are completely broken.

One reason why Pennsylvania gaming is so successful is that over 150 million people travel to or through the state every year. Players who want to enjoy the online gaming experience can do so even when they are not in the state.

The only drawback to gaming online while outside Pennsylvania is that you cannot play for real money. Players are restricted to Demo Play. And unfortunately to avoid violating federal wire transfer laws the smartphone apps that Pennsylvania’s casinos provide don’t allow real-money play either.

How many blackjack game variations are available?

The origins of blackjack are buried in time. The game evolved from card games played by soldiers and travelers in late Renaissance Europe. It should come as no surprise to anyone that there are many different ways to play the game.

Online casinos typically offer the basic version of the game and one or more variants.

Hollywood Casino and Unibet only offer 2 versions of blackjack. Sugarhouse offers 7 versions of the game.

The field of offerings is expected to grow as more Pennsylvania online casinos come online.

Basic blackjack is one of the best casino games

Since the rules of blackjack are so simple the game is easy for most people to learn. Strategy takes more time because it’s based on reading the cards on the table and making good decisions based on probabilities.

The house edge in blackjack is one of the lowest among all casino games. But because there are so many ways the game is varied up, calculating the house edge is challenging.

Many players assume a basic blackjack table offers a house edge between 1% and 2%.

What affects the house edge?

Examples of things to watch out for include:

  • How many decks of cards are in the shoe
  • Whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17
  • Whether a player can double after a split
  • Whether a player can double on any first two cards or only certain cards
  • How many hands a player can resplit to
  • Whether the player can resplit aces
  • How much the player loses against dealer blackjack
  • If players can surrender

And those are just basic variations. What’s amazing about this game is that it can change so many things and still offer a favorable return to player.

The most important factor in a game of blackjack is the player’s skill. If you don’t know much about basic strategy then the house will most likely win more often than against a more experienced player.

And yet there is always the element of chance.

Basic blackjack payouts

Because each casino can set its own rules you should make a habit of always clicking on the rules before starting to play any online blackjack game. The rules tell you what options are available for play and what the payouts are.

To illustrate, here is a pay table and rules from the basic blackjack game at Unibet:

A player blackjack is paid 3 to 2 on the wager. In other words, if you wager $10 and are dealt a blackjack (ace and 10-point card) then you’ll be paid $15.

If the player beats the dealer in any other way he is paid even money. If you wager $10 and beat the dealer (but not with a blackjack) then you win $10.

If the player and dealer tie, that’s a push. The player keeps his bet.

The game offers insurance. If the dealer’s up card is an ace or 10-point card the game offers the player insurance. By paying an amount equal to half your wager you can keep your wager if the dealer has a blackjack. If the dealer doesn’t have a blackjack you lose the insurance and continue playing.

The dealer must draw on 16 and stand on all 17s (hard or soft).

Players may only resplit once per hand. When aces are split, the player receives only one card per ace.

Players can double down on any two cards and after a split.

The game uses 6 decks and reshuffles after every round.

And the player can surrender (lose half his wager) after being dealt 2 cards and only if the dealer does not have a blackjack.

Best theoretical odds in blackjack

Because there are so many ways to change up the game, it’s not always easy to calculate the theoretical return to player. One simple call anyone can make is to look at the payout odds on a blackjack (when the player is dealt an ace and 10-point card).

Experienced players prefer to be paid 3:2 over the 6:5 odds many casinos now offer.

The first thing to do is to look at the rules in the online game interface. You’ll find the pay table there.

The more decks an online game uses, the worse the return to player will be – although this has only a minor effect overall.

Online blackjack games tend to reshuffle after each round, so don’t expect to practice your card counting skills. You’re strictly playing on the basis of strategy and rules.

Taking insurance is considered a risky bet (worsening your odds) but surrendering is considered a safe move (ameliorating a bad situation) when you have a really weak hand against the dealer’s face card.

Betting strategy versus card playing strategy

Blackjack players can employ a betting strategy to maximize their potential wins and minimize their likely losses. Betting strategy is not very complicated. It’s more often used when counting cards.

The idea behind betting strategy is to raise your bets when you think you have a good chance of winning and to bet modestly when you are not sure.

In an online blackjack game, because usually you cannot count cards, your betting strategy is limited to splitting, doubling down, taking insurance or not, and surrendering or not.

Card playing strategy tells you when to hit, stand, or split. Some players include doubling and surrendering in card playing strategy since you’re deciding how many more cards you want, if any.

Tips for basic strategy in blackjack

There are so many possible combinations of cards that beginning players are often overwhelmed. Fortunately, you should be able to find strategy cards online. Print one out and use it while you’re playing blackjack online.

Whether you’re playing online or in a land-based casino, all your decisions are based on two factors:

  1. The cards in your hand
  2. The dealer’s up card

It doesn’t matter what cards other players have at the table. And if you’re playing multiple hands, all that matters is what you have in the hand for which you are currently playing.

Since most online blackjack games use 4 or more decks, the following tips should help you improve your play at Pennsylvania online casinos. This is just a basic list of tips and doesn’t deal with splitting or doubling.

Only pay attention to the total points in your hand.

  • If your hand totals 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8 then HIT.
  • If you can double and your hand equals 9, DOUBLE if the dealer holds a 3, 4, 5, or 6.
  • If your hand equals 9 and the dealer’s up card is a 2 or 7, 8, 9, 10, face, or ace then HIT.
  • If you can double and your hand equals 10, DOUBLE if the dealer holds anything less than 10.
  • If your hand equals 10 then HIT.
  • If you can double and your hand equals 11, DOUBLE if the dealer holds anything less than an ace. If the dealer hits on soft 17 then DOUBLE even if the dealer has an ace.
  • If your hand equals 11 then HIT.
  • If your hand equals 12 and the dealer holds a 2, 3, or anything higher than 6 then HIT.
  • If your hand equals 13 or 14 and the dealer holds anything higher than 6 then HIT.
  • If you can surrender and your hand equals 15 and the dealer holds a 10 then SURRENDER. If the dealer hits on soft 17 then SURRENDER if he holds an ace.
  • If you can surrender and your hand equals 16 and the dealer holds anything above an 8 then SURRENDER.
  • If your hand equals 15 or 16 and the dealer holds anything higher than 6 then HIT.
  • If your hand equals 17 or higher than STAND. If the dealer hits on soft 17 then SURRENDER if the dealer holds an ace and you have 17.

Best way to bet in blackjack

Because the house edge is so low the payout odds in blackjack are very low, too. Unlike roulette where you can choose between even money bets and betting on a single number, you’re only able to play against one set of payout odds in blackjack.

Unless your money is running out and you just want to stay in the game for as long as possible, never make the minimum wager.

On the other hand, unless you really play perfect blackjack, and most of us don’t, you don’t want to bet the table maximum if you want a chance at staying in the game.

Experienced players bet multiples of the table minimum, where each multiple of the minimum bet is called a unit. Good players practice simple money management, adjusting their bets up or down by units based on some arbitrary threshold.

As an example, suppose you start playing with $500 and the table minimum is $5. You can bet anywhere from 1 to 100 units (each unit is worth $5).
As long as your balance remains above $250 you can bet 6 units per hand ($30).

If your balance drops below $250 (half your original stake) you drop your wagers to 3 units ($15).

If your balance rises above $750 (1-1/2 times your original bankroll) then raise your wagers to 10 units ($50).

Adjust accordingly as your balance changes.

Online blackjack is a more engaging gaming experience than, say, playing slot games. Some people enjoy slots more than blackjack and that’s okay. But if you want to practice playing blackjack before visiting Pennsylvania’s casinos, then you should spend some time on their websites.