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April 24, 2014

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Baccarat, penny slots overtake blackjack as games of choice on Strip

A Simple Guide to Baccarat

Baccarat is a growing business here in Las Vegas. The Sun brings you an introduction to the game so you can test your own skills on the casino floor.

Two extreme ends of the gambling spectrum — baccarat and penny slots — are helping Nevada survive the Great Recession.

Over the past decade, both games have rapidly overtaken more traditional or widely played casino games to become the state’s biggest moneymakers, hitting revenue records last year, according to the latest figures from the Gaming Control Board.

Nevada casinos generated nearly $2 billion in revenue from penny slots last year, a 21 percent increase from 2007, when the state’s gambling and tourism business peaked.

Boosted by China’s booming economy, baccarat peaked at $1.2 billion in revenue last year — more than 99 percent of that coming from the Strip, where fewer than two dozen casinos offer the game favored by Chinese high rollers.

China is a country of entrepreneurs whose propensity for risk in the business world translates into big wagers at the tables, sociologists say.

For the first time last year, baccarat generated more revenue statewide than blackjack, a game that is losing ground as the most widely played table game in Nevada casinos. There are 149 more baccarat tables than a decade ago, and 815 fewer blackjack tables.

Blackjack revenue is down 17 percent from a decade ago and has plummeted 31 percent from 2007. Anthony Curtis, publisher of Las Vegas Advisor, attributes much of the decline to the recession.

Gambling’s high end, represented by baccarat, has been least affected by the economy, Curtis said. Blackjack is a mass-market game played primarily by midrollers who can less afford to gamble, however, he said.

“This is why Vegas got hammered,” he said. “It needs the middle market.”

Nevada’s gambling revenue rose by less than 1 percent last year, reversing two years of 10 percent declines, on the strength of higher baccarat play and, to a lesser extent, penny slots.

Baccarat revenue grew by $279.9 million from 2007. But that wasn’t enough to offset the $1.8 billion decline from all forms of slot machines, which generate more than 60 percent of Nevada’s gambling revenue, since 2007’s peak.

Although baccarat is a simple, low-tech game that’s hundreds of years old, penny slots are a recent invention enabled by technology creating dozens of digital “paylines” — or sequences of winning symbols.

Penny slots are viewed by the industry as the latest evolution in gambling as mainstream entertainment, attracting casual bettors with carnival themes. Baccarat is a world apart, typically played in hushed salons by people who consider themselves serious gamblers.

Some attribute the popularity of penny slots to the fact that more paylines give players more chances to win. Those wins tend to be smaller, giving players the sense that they are winning even when some “wins” are less than the amount bet, Curtis said.

Players have gravitated to these machines in part because they are the newest gizmos on casino floors, with captivating bells and whistles. But casinos also encourage gamblers to play them by “inundating their floors with the machines they want people to play,” Curtis said.

Penny slots can be inexpensive to play because, after an initial wager of $1 or more, subsequent bets can be made for as little as a penny per spin. Many gamblers instead wager the maximum amount of $3 or more per spin to qualify for the best jackpots, making such machines more profitable for casinos than older generations of slot machines.

Despite the penny slot upswing, overall wagering on slot machines fell 22 percent from 2007 to about what gamblers wagered on slots between 1998 and 1999. Nor are individual games as profitable as they were in years past. Dividing revenue by the number of machines in operation across the state, each penny slot game generated about $47,000 last year — a 7 percent decline from 2007 and a sign of increasing competition for gamblers’ wallets.

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  1. There are good reasons why blackjack revenue is overshadowed by baccarat and penny slots.

    Firstly, the casinos have offered poorer rules for blackjack than in years gone by. Smart players highly prefer blackjack games in other venues, e.g. Pennsylvania or Mississippi.

    Secondly, the "cleverly" mis-named "Penny Slots" "return" far less money to the public; and the typical player is betting $1 every time they press the button. I have never seen anyone actually betting a penny or two. Many tourists will tell themselves words to the effect -- "Penny Slots ! That fits with my budget." A typical player will lose hundreds of dollars in a day. I suppose one could view that as tens of thousands of pennies !

  2. If they keep having the bad blackjack games (6:5, etc.), they'll pay a price. I won't play 6:5.

  3. I think the casinos don't want the people to play b-j. It's their main incentive to make money, no matter how. If they can get the money faster and easier setting up slotmachines, they will do so. Operating table games takes humans working there, and where humans work there happen mistakes. And it takes surveillance people and a floormanager, etc. A slotmachine works mainly automatic and does the job the easy way for the casino. And it has a higher hold than a b-j table.

    B-J, in the future, will probably be something for the high limit players. Small time gamblers will have to play penny slots or computer black jack. That's how I see it.
    In our country, you barely find b-j games under 10 dollars per hand (2 hands minimum must be played per game).

    From Switzerland

  4. Yes, you can expect to get a black jack every 21 hands or so. If you get paid not 15 but 12 then this means that you will have to pay approx 10-12 dollars more "for this pleasure" when playing 1 hour of black jack. That's money missing in your bankroll. A cut to 6:5 from 3:2 is a terrible downgrade and the casinos should not act as if they don't know how come less people are playing b-j but rather explain why they went to this silly 6:5 change. Honestly.

    From Switzerland

  5. Gambling is no different from any other recreation. Just like going out to dinner or to a show, a race or a round of golf; once spent the money is gone.

    A smart gambler is one who has a budget, sticks to it and pockets his initial investment if he is lucky enough to win before he taps out of his budgeted amount. Unlike other activities once can recoup some or all of the money spent.

  6. As 3:2 gets replaced by 6:5, Blackjack will become less popular, at least among those who play on a somewhat regular besis. The average tourist who knows little about gambling rules, odds, etc. will not be affected. I'm not saying all tourists are that way, many (like Boris or me) may be tourists, but we also pay attention to what goes on, and play accordingly. To us, Vegas is something we enjoy as often as we can, not "this year's tourist destination".
    Also the fact that there are very few tables (especially on the strip) with limits below $10.00 is making it a game for the higher spenders. Yes, $10 a hand is high to some of us.
    See Y'all next month!

  7. This article alluded to Vegas' need for "mid-rollers. DUH! Vegas was built on mid-rollers (and a slew of low-rollers too) and somebody, somewhere should begin addressing these clientele in ernest. "Whales" and high-rollers are definite substantial sources of revenue, but we average folk enjoy gaming in Vegas also.

    I agree wholeheartedly with @BRASS in that "gambling is no different than any other form of recreation". And, "A smart gambler is one who has a budget". There is no better way to enjoy Chicago, Dallas, New York or any vacation city than being on a budget. Vegas is no different! In my 35+ years of visiting Vegas, there have been just a few times that I've returned home with some of my 'budgeted' dollars in hand... but I ALWAYS have a heluva time. I've even learned to enjoy Penny Slots.

    Vegas is a tremendously enjoyable vacation destination. No matter how games or dining or entertainment changes, roll with the punches and find pleasure in the 'piece' of Vegas that suits you.

  8. Of course blackjack revenue and tables are going in the wrong direction. Who's dumb enough to play 6:5 blackjack? Why even go to Vegas to gamble anymore unless it's for a game you can't get elsewhere? If the odds are better somewhere else then gamble somewhere else. Vegas has a lot to offer but it sure is losing its advantage.