Online casino play has barely been legal in Pennsylvania for half a year, and the 2019 revenue numbers make clear that slots are the backbone of the business. Across five PA iCasinos in 2019, internet slots generated $20.9 million in revenue, whereas internet table games produced $8.2 million.
On a per-game basis, though, it swings decidedly in the other direction.
Whereas most of those PA online casinos have upward of 40 slots options, the table games are limited to a handful — typically one or two blackjack games and a few roulette varieties. The online casino traffic is not unlike a stroll through an actual brick-and-mortar casino floor at peak hours: Plenty of slot machines will have open seats, whereas blackjack tables — particularly those with lower limits — might have crowds a row or two deep watching and waiting.
At PokerStars Casino, in fact, online table games revenue in 2019 following the Nov. 5 launch outpaced online slots revenue, $1.46 million to $1.12 million. Apparently those with an enthusiasm for one virtual card game carry that interest over to another.
Though still lagging far behind the more mature New Jersey online casino industry, online blackjack participation and availability in PA are clearly growing. There are now eight digital casinos operational for real-money play in the state, and all eight offer some form of blackjack. But the limits and options do vary somewhat.
Place your bets
Across the state’s eight sites, the lowest minimum bet is 10 cents and the highest maximum is $5,000.
In general, online gaming is much more friendly to the low rollers than land-based gaming. You won’t find $1 blackjack at any B&M casinos, never mind 10-cent blackjack.
PokerStars has the highest minimum bet, with only one online blackjack offering and no options cheaper than $5 to be dealt cards. Several online casinos, such as Parx, BetAmerica, and Hollywood Casino, set the minimum at $1. At Unibet, 50 cents is the cheapest wager, whereas at Play Sugarhouse, sister site BetRivers, and the mobile-only FanDuel Casino, a dime is all it takes to play.
Then there’s the variation on how many bets you can place at a time. Most of the PA iCasinos offer IGT’s version of blackjack, NetEnt’s version, or both. The IGT offering allows only one hand at a time, whereas NetEnt has three circles that players can fill with chips.
PokerStars is the only online casino in the state that currently allows bettors to play five hands at once.
The more hands you can play, the more you can cut down on variance. Playing five $5 hands at a time opens up the likelihood that you’ll win or lose less than $25 on a given deal than if you were to play a single $25 hand of blackjack.
Rules and regulations
A common complaint heard by Las Vegas gamblers in recent years concerns casinos tilting the felt extra heavily in the house’s direction. Whereas 3-to-2 payouts on blackjack used to be the norm, now a casino that pays that way is an oasis in the desert. A payout of 6-to-5 has become the new normal.
You’ll encounter no such sketchiness playing blackjack in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board has rules in place to ensure a more modest house edge, including blackjack paying 3-to-2 across the board, whether live or online. Also:
- The dealer must stand on soft 17
- Surrender is available
- Players can double down on any starting cards and can double after splitting (except when splitting aces)
There is some variation from iCasino to iCasino and game to game in terms of how many times you can split and how many virtual decks (generally either six or eight) are used.
One thing we are not seeing yet at any online casinos in PA is the option to place side bets. Whereas brick-and-mortar properties and virtual casinos in New Jersey have bonus games available such as “Lucky Lucky” or “21+3,” in Pennsylvania, all that matters is beating the dealer straight up.
Speaking of which, the dealers at all online casinos in the Keystone State are virtual for now. “Live dealer” games, popular in New Jersey, have not arrived in PA yet.