Online Blackjack Guide
Ask a gambler what their favorite casino game is, and there’s a good chance that they’ll tell you that it’s blackjack. And it’s easy to see why — blackjack is an exhilarating game, combined with one of the lowest house edges you can find in a casino. It’s no wonder nearly a third of the table games in any given casino are dedicated just to blackjack.
For centuries, if you wanted to play real blackjack you had to go to a casino. But if you lived far away from a casino or had to face overcrowded tables when you got there, you were pretty much out of luck if you wanted to play.
This all changed with the advent of online casinos in the late 20th century. Today, anyone with a computer or smart device and a reliable internet connection can play blackjack online without ever having to travel to a brick-and-mortar casino. Modern software allows people to get the full blackjack experience at any time of day.
Let’s dive more deeply into how online blackjack works, its advantages, and how you can choose the best online blackjack game.
A Quick History of Online Blackjack
The game of blackjack, or 21, has been around for centuries already. It exploded in popularity thanks to books like Beat the Dealer that ensured players could drastically lower the house edge and increase their chances of winning it big by counting cards. Then we saw Ken Uston in the 1980s become a powerhouse player and write the book Million Dollar Blackjack.
In the 1990s, we started to see the internet being used in more and more homes, broadening everyone’s access to more entertainment options. Tech-savvy entrepreneurs started creating online gaming spaces. In 1994 Microgaming started developing gambling software, and they launched their online gambling management tools and player tracking system in 1995. Players could try their skills at simple games like roulette, craps, and yes, blackjack.
More security measures started getting implemented, like audit technology that allowed players to track their gaming history and increased overall security. Today, online casinos continue to innovate when it comes to classic games like blackjack to entice new players and keep veteran players interested.
How To Play Online Blackjack
Mostly, you’ll be following the same rules as your standard blackjack. Your main goal is to try to get your cards to total as close to 21 as possible — and to also beat the dealer by having a higher total than they have (without busting, of course).
The game starts with the players and the dealer each receiving two cards. One of the dealer’s cards is face-up, while the other is face-down.
Most cards in the deck are valued by their stated number (2 through 10), but face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) are all worth 10. Then you have the ace card, which can be worth either 1 or 11. Your hand’s value is the sum of all the card values you have in your hand. You can ask for additional cards to increase your hand’s value, but you will automatically lose (bust) if your total goes over 21.
After all of the players have gone, the dealer can begin their turn. They reveal their face-down card and draw cards one at a time until their hand’s value reaches 17. At 17 or higher, the dealer has to stop (or stand). If you have a hand with a higher value than the dealer and haven’t busted, then you win and you get a payout.
Here are the different ways you could win or lose in blackjack:
- If you get dealt an ace and a card valued at 10, that’s called “blackjack.” If the dealer doesn’t also get blackjack, then you win and get a bonus payout (usually 3 to 2).
- If your hand goes over 21, that’s a “bust.” You lose, even if the dealer’s hand also goes over 21.
- If the dealer busts but you don’t, you win.
- If you get a hand with a higher value than the dealer but don’t bust, you win.
- If both you and the dealer get blackjack or otherwise end up with hands that have the same total, then it’s a “push” and no one wins.
Player Decisions in Blackjack
Once the dealer gives you those first two cards, you have a variety of options on how you could proceed. These are called player decisions, and we have an entire guide on how these can all work in your favor with the proper blackjack strategy. But for now, here are the basics:
- Hit: You take another card from the dealer. You’d do this if you start with a low-value hand.
- Stand: You take no more cards from the dealer. You’d do this if your first two cards total a pretty high number.
- Double down: You can increase your initial wager by up to 100%, but only if you commit to stand after you get dealt one more card.
- Split: If your first two cards are of the same value, you can split them into two hands and add a second bet equal to your first. The cards are separated, and the dealer treats each card as its own separate hand, dealing additional cards on each.
- Surrender: If the dealer’s face-up card is valued at 10, your chances of winning are not great if you stay with your current hand. You can surrender, and you’ll lose only half of your initial bet.
How Blackjack Works Online
If you’re playing blackjack online, you are going to have a different experience than if you were in a brick-and-mortar casino. For one, you’re not surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a live casino, with all of its distractions and pressure to play quickly. Rather, you often get to take a bit more time with your decisions, meaning that playing blackjack online is a great tool for new players who are just learning the game.
You’ll be quickly able to refer to the game’s rules, which will include information like minimum bet sizes, payouts, and other details. Each game may have slightly different rules on whether the dealer must stand or hit on a soft 17, how many times a player can split, and how many decks are used in the shoe.
Instead of physically handling chips and cards, you’ll be selecting your bet amounts and player decisions with a click of your mouse or some taps on your screen. It’s all quite straightforward and purely digital.
Live Dealer Online Blackjack
A more recent development in online blackjack has been live dealer games. This is where a real person sits at a blackjack table in front of a camera. They are live-streamed to one or more players, where you can watch everything they do. You’ll be betting with digital currency, placing virtual “chips” in front of you.
The dealer will pull real cards from a shoe and deal cards to a space in front of the camera as if you were sitting there. Once the cards are dealt, you’ll see your options pop up on your screen of whether you want to hit, stand, split, etc. The dealer will get a notification on what you’d like to do, and they’ll deal out the cards accordingly.
You can chat with the dealers as well, typing your messages into a chat box off to the side while the dealer is working. They’ll be able to see what you write and respond to you aloud, sometimes with jokes or words of encouragement.
Advantages of Playing Online Blackjack
Perhaps you’ve played blackjack before at a brick-and-mortar casino, or maybe you’re a completely new blackjack player. No matter what level of experience you have, online blackjack has a number of advantages.
The continued proliferation of online gaming shows just how convenient the internet has made a lot of things, including our entertainment. If you feel like playing a few rounds of blackjack, you don’t have to get dressed and drive to your nearest casino (which might not be that close).
If you live in a state that allows online gambling, then you can play a couple of hands on your smartphone while you’re on the bus to work or kick back with your laptop at night. Plus, you don’t have to worry about fulfilling any sort of casino dress code.
Some people may thrive in the commotion and hustle and bustle of a live casino, but not everyone does. If you’re one of the latter folks, then online blackjack is going to be more your speed. When you’re playing at home, you can play any music that you like (or none at all) and just generally set the mood for yourself.
You don’t have to worry about someone smoking next to you if you aren’t a smoker, and you also won’t feel the pressure from the rest of the table if you want to take a few extra seconds to determine whether or not you want to hit or stand.
The best online casinos in New Jersey and other states will offer new players sign-up bonuses, something you’d never get at a land-based casino. Just imagine a live casino offering you extra money simply for getting your first chips — it’s unheard of! Sure, if you spend a lot of money at a brick-and-mortar casino you might get some comped food or an upgraded hotel room, but that’s after you’ve probably already lost a bit of your bankroll.
Meanwhile, you can get first-deposit bonuses as a new player at a variety of online casinos, sometimes up to 100% of the amount you’ve deposited. This means that you get extra funds to play with when you do find your game of choice. Some casinos also offer to reload bonuses and other extra benefits for returning players.
Just be sure to check the small print about whether or not you can use these bonuses on blackjack and when you can withdraw these funds.
Can You Count Cards While Playing Online Blackjack?
Honestly, it depends on whether you’re playing standard online blackjack or live dealer blackjack.
If you’re playing regular online blackjack, you can never effectively count cards. This is because the game uses something called a random number generator (RNG). This is a type of software that randomly selects a number from a given range and makes its value appear on screen. There is no shoe, no dealer, and no shuffle order. Sure, you could try to count the cards you see from one hand, but the “deck” is effectively reshuffled after every hand, so it becomes a moot point.
Now, if you’re playing live dealer blackjack, you may have a better shot at being able to count cards. Here you have a human being dealing out physical cards from a shoe, so you can actually track the cards that have been played and perhaps bet accordingly.
However, there is a major difference in live dealer blackjack compared to blackjack in a brick-and-mortar casino. In the latter, the dealer may place the cut card behind about 75% of the cards. In live dealer blackjack, the dealer places that cut card after maybe 40% of the cards. This means that you get to see only about 40% of the total cards before the dealer reshuffles, reducing your edge. So you can still count cards if you’re playing online, but it might not be as profitable as you’d like it to be.
What To Know When Choosing an Online Blackjack Game
While you’re scouting around for a good online blackjack game, have a look at the specific game’s rules. You’ll see either an icon that says “rules,” or you can click on a question mark icon to see answers to basic game questions. This is where you can see important, game-specific rules.
You should also look at the overall user experience at any given online casino. Take a close look at these details when finding your game of choice:
Look to see what the minimum and maximum allowable bets are at this digital table. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want a table with a low minimum bet (perhaps as low as $1). This helps you from losing too much money while you’re still learning.
Meanwhile, if you’re a veteran blackjack player and want to make some big-money wagers, knowing the upper bet limit is still important. This way you can make as large of bets as your bankroll will allow and hopefully earn some great payouts in exchange.
When the Dealer Stands
We’ve already mentioned the idea of a “soft 17,” but what actually is that? When you have an ace, that card can be either a 1 or 11. This is a soft hand because your total isn’t clear-cut at first. Meanwhile, a hard hand doesn’t contain an ace and has a clear total value right off the bat.
Dealers will always stand on a hard 17, but casinos differ on how they have the dealer treat a soft 17. Some have the dealer stand on all 17s, while others have them hit on a soft 17. You should be able to see within the game’s rules whether the dealer will stand on all 17s or not.
Bonuses and Promotions
Take a look at the casino’s signup bonuses or other promotions. Consider casinos that allow you to use your bonuses on whichever game you like rather than just something like slots. Also, keep an eye out for any loyalty or VIP programs.
Security and Customer Service
Take a look at the casino’s license, as well as its safety protocols and payout percentages. You should also make sure the website you’re using has 24/7 customer service. This way, if you have any issue outside of “normal business hours” you can still get it sorted out. Basically, you want to be certain that you’re connecting your bank account to a trustworthy casino.
The Legality of Online Blackjack
The United States has always had a bit of a complicated relationship with gambling overall, with various attempts over the years to limit how people can do it. This includes the Interstate Wire Act of 1961 (also called the Federal Wire Act), which blocks people from gambling across state lines. However, this does leave open the possibility for individual states to make their own laws regarding how they want to ban (or even embrace) gambling activities.
Then in 2006, the federal government made it harder to gamble online with the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act — but still not impossible. The UIGEA made it illegal for businesses to accept payments from players who place a bet, over the internet, from a state that hasn’t legalized gambling. At first, this scared off plenty of online casinos from doing business in the U.S., but as more states legalize gambling both in person and online, this becomes less of a concern.
Where You Can Play Online Blackjack in the U.S.
So where are you able to play blackjack online? Sure, there’s no federal law banning gambling online, but you have to be logging into an online casino within a state that allows that kind of gambling. As of 2021, there are only a handful of states where you can gamble online:
- New Jersey
- West Virginia
More states are sure to update their laws in the future, but right now the options are a bit limited. Some online casinos may ask you for proof of residency when you try to sign up for an account to prove that you’re a resident. Others may use geolocation software to ensure that you’re actually within their state borders and not trying to gamble across state lines.
Where Else Can You Play Online Blackjack?
But what if you don’t live in one of those five states? You can still access online casinos to play blackjack, but they just won’t be on websites hosted in the U.S. That doesn’t mean they’re automatically suspect, though! Plenty of countries have strict regulations when it comes to running online casinos, offering rigorous enforcements over player safety and operator integrity.
You can easily check where your online casino of choice has its home base. These are jurisdictions with some of the highest standards to keep you and your money secure:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Isle of Man
- New Jersey
- United Kingdom
If you see that an online casino claims they’re licensed in one of these regions but you’re getting a weird vibe, you can check their licensing authority. You should be able to click on the license seal on the casino’s website, which would then pull up an external page on that authority’s website showing the details of that particular license.
There are other countries that offer online casinos too, of course. They do have looser regulations, though, and you should approach them with some caution. This isn’t to say that you should automatically refuse to gamble at any online casinos based out of these countries, but just be wary:
- Costa Rica
These countries offer fewer to zero protections to players if you end up in a dispute with the online casino, and they have more lax enforcement over their licenses. So, as we said, just be aware.
Try It For Yourself
We have the internet to thank for making our favorite pastimes more convenient, and blackjack has had the opportunity to gain a whole new audience thanks to online casinos.
Being able to play blackjack online is a great option for beginners and veteran gamblers alike. You can play at your own pace and even earn special bonuses just for signing up — why would you ever want to go to a live casino ever again?
So take a look at some of the blackjack options available at your favorite online casinos, and you’ll start to understand why playing blackjack online is such a thrill.