Blackjack is the most popular casino table game in the United States. If a casino offers table games, be it in Maryland or any other state, it likely offers blackjack. The game’s core mechanic is quite simple, and the table’s footprint is small enough to allow more stations than games like roulette and craps. As long as you can add, or are patient enough to allow the dealer to add for you, you can play blackjack.
If you are a fan of 21 and are spending time in Maryland, this page is for you. We have the details about where you can play blackjack in the state as well as the basics of the game for anyone new to the game. We also cover the different variants and side bets that you may encounter, as well as legal options for playing online.
Is blackjack legal in Maryland?
Yes. All six Maryland casinos offer blackjack options. The available games may vary from property to property, but wherever you go you’re sure to find the meat-and-potatoes basic version of the game.
Interestingly, several of the casinos in the state predate the introduction of blackjack in Maryland. Although the first MD casinos began opening their doors in 2010, blackjack and other table games were not legal until voters passed a referendum two years later. The referendum also paved the way for 24-hour operations at Maryland’s casinos and authorized construction on the property that would become MGM National Harbor.
Can I play blackjack online in Maryland?
No, you cannot play online blackjack for real money in Maryland. Online casino sites, like the ones in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, are not legal in MD, which means there are no legal options for online blackjack in the state.
You might come across online gambling sites that claim to be legal for those in Maryland who wish to play on them. But you should understand these sites are located outside the US and are not bound to conform to any US laws or regulations. That means they are quite risky for US players, and we therefore encourage avoiding them.
The only legal way to play online blackjack in Maryland is through social and sweepstakes casinos. Sites like Pulsz and Chumba Casino offer blackjack among other games, and their business models allow you the option to play for cash prizes if you wish, as well as the option to play blackjack for free. If you want to play blackjack online in Maryland, we recommend you content yourself with one of these sites until the state legalizes online casinos (if it ever does).
The basics of blackjack
Blackjack pits you against the dealer. Each of you is attempting to assemble a group of cards adding up to as close to 21 as possible. If a hand adds up to more than 21 at any time, that hand is a bust and an automatic loss.
The value of each hand is pretty simple. The numbered cards (2 to 10) count as their listed amounts. Face cards (jacks, queens, and kings) count as 10. Aces can count as either 11 or 1.
The game’s name, blackjack, refers to a particular two-card combination that you or the dealer can hit. Any time an ace and a face card or 10 are the first two cards in a hand, that hand is considered a “natural blackjack” and an automatic win unless the dealer gets the same combination. Most blackjack games immediately pay out these hands at 3-to-2 odds, although there are some exceptions that we’ll cover below. If both the player and dealer are dealt a natural blackjack, the hand is “push” or tie and the player gets his or her bet back.
A typical hand of blackjack begins with the dealer dealing everyone two cards each. Generally, your two cards will be face-up, and the dealer will have one card up and one card down. You will be the first to decide what to do with your hand. You can either “hit” and take an additional card or “stand” and stay with your cards. As long as your hand does not exceed 21, you can continue taking on additional cards, but you are not obligated to do so. If your hand does exceed 21, you “bust” and automatically lose, regardless of what the dealer’s cards are.
Assuming that you stand with a hand value of 21 or less, the dealer will then flip the face-down card to reveal its value. In most blackjack games, if the dealer’s hand is worth less than 17, the dealer will have to take another card. Until the dealer’s hand adds up to 17 or more, the rules require additional hits. If the dealer goes over 21, that is a bust and you automatically win.
Between you and the dealer, whichever hand is closest to 21 without going over wins. If you win, the dealer will pay you at 1-to-1 based on your wager.
There are a couple of options that you have available to you beyond hitting or standing during the hand. The first of these options is to “double down” which means doubling your wager and only taking one additional card to go with your original two.
There are certain situations when doubling down is a good play. Because the highest value a card must have is 10, any hands that add up to 11 or less can always take an additional card without fear of busting. In fact, since any hand that adds up to 19 or greater is quite strong, receiving a face card or 10 when you have a hand between 9 and 11 is extremely advantageous. You can double down on these values by doubling your wager. The catch, however, is that you only receive one additional card after doing so. If you happen to have 11 and draw an ace, for instance, then your hand is stuck at 12, so there is also some risk in doubling down.
The other common option that you have is to “split” your cards. If your first two cards are identical in rank, then you may put out an additional wager (as you did when you doubled down) and essentially create two separate hands for yourself. The dealer will separate your two cards and deal two additional cards, one to go with each split card, creating two blackjack hands. You must then continue to play both hands as usual. The only difference is that if you happen to make blackjack after a split, it is quite unlikely that the casino will honor that hand as a natural blackjack and pay out at the typical 3-to-2 odds. It’s still 21, though, so don’t despair.
Like all casino games, you are at a mathematical disadvantage when you play blackjack. We’ll cover the exact math behind the disadvantage below, but what is important to realize is the source of the house edge in the game. The chance that your cards will be better than the dealer’s cards is actually a 50-50 proposition, as the dealer is drawing from the same pool of cards as you. Instead, the house edge in blackjack is due to the fact that you must act before the dealer. This means you will go bust more often than the dealer, so a small percentage of the hands that you would’ve won based upon their value become wins for the house.
Property-specific blackjack rules
Although every Maryland casino will offer blackjack with the basic rules as above, there are a few elements of the game that might be different from one property to another. Before you begin play at any blackjack table, it’s a good idea to know where the table stands on these issues:
- Dealer hits or stands on soft 17: One of the most common differences between casinos is their stance on whether the dealer will hit or stand on a “soft 17.” A soft 17 refers to any combination of cards that adds up to 17 and includes an ace with a value of 11. Since aces may also equal 1, this combo is “soft” because it is a high number that can be hit without any danger. It is more advantageous for the player if the dealer stands on a soft 17.
- Double downs limited or unlimited: There may be rules regarding the situations in which you can double down. Some casinos will allow doubling down on any two-card combination. Others might restrict you to doubles on 11s, 10s, 9s and sometimes 8s. Obviously, the more flexibility you have, the better.
- The number of splits: In theory, you could continue having the option to split if you keep drawing pairs in your hands. Some casinos might let you split as many combinations as you like. Others might cap the number of times you can split, and you’ll have to play the hand as it is dealt to you.
- Split aces: The majority of casinos are likely to limit the number of cards you may draw if you are splitting aces. For the most part, you are only allowed a single card on each ace, similar to doubling down. Aces are the strongest and most flexible cards in the deck, and allowing you to play two hands with aces as their foundations is likely to result in poor outcomes for the house.
- Doubling down after a split: If you do happen to play a hand where you split your first two cards, it’s hit or miss whether you can double down on either of the resulting two hands. Some casinos will allow you to do so, but others will not.
- Surrender: If a casino allows you to surrender, you may forfeit your cards at any time before the dealer acts. If you do so, you receive half your wager back. Many players like to surrender if they are facing an unfavorable situation, such as drawing a 15 or 16 when the dealer has a face card showing. Not every casino allows you to surrender, however.
- Blackjack payout odds: Although the common payout ratio for hitting a blackjack is 3-to-2, it is not the concrete standard at every casino or even at every table in a casino, as some pay out at 6-to-5 instead.
- Mid-deck or mid-shoe entry: Casinos are hyper aware of the potential damage that card counters can do at a blackjack table, and they take steps to create obstacles for those types of players. One of their tactics is to limit game entry to the beginning of a shuffle or shoe, particularly if the game is only using one or two decks. The more decks, the harder it is for counters to do their work, but some casinos still don’t take any chances.
It can pay to understand what these quirks mean if you happen to see them. If you ever sit down at a blackjack table and notice a rule or some aspect of the game you don’t recognize or understand, don’t hesitate to ask the dealer or the pit boss for clarification.
Maryland blackjack variants
Along with all of those rules you may encounter, you will also find numerous variants of blackjack. For the most part, these will be normal blackjack tables with optional side bets that you can choose to play or not to play. As a general rule, side bets tend to bear a much higher house edge than the standard hand of blackjack, so be aware that they can be quite the money drain if you make them a standard play.
Here are some of the variants that you will find when playing blackjack in Maryland (with the provider in parentheses):
- Back Blackjack (Chumba Casino): The only online variant legally available in Maryland, Back Blackjack offers a side bet on whether the dealer and/or player will get a blackjack. If so, then a random dice roll determines the value of the payout, between 8-to-1 and 55-to-1. If both the dealer and a player have blackjack, the value of the payout quadruples.
- Blazing Sevens (Rocky Gap): In this side bet, players win 2-to-1 or more if they have a 7 as either of their first two cards. Receiving multiple sevens, particularly of the same suit, leads to higher payouts, all the way to a mega progressive jackpot.
- Double Deck Pitch Blackjack (Rocky Gap): The dealer deals manually to you from only two decks, and all player cards are face-down and remain so until the end of the hand. This variant is often reserved for higher-limit play and bears more risk of card counting to the casino.
- Lucky Ladies Blackjack (Rocky Gap): This side bet concerns itself with the player receiving the queen of hearts. If you do and your first two cards equal 20, you win at least 4-to-1 on the bet. If your cards are pairs, especially if they are both the queen of hearts, then the payouts get quite large.
- Players Edge 21 (Ocean Downs): This variant uses decks with the 10s removed and offers several different ways to win. Most notably, all player 21s are automatic wins. Other rules, like liberal split and double down conditions, along with a rule that makes suited and ranked player cards automatic wins, make Players Edge 21 worth a try.
- Pontoon 21/Spanish 21 (MGM National Harbor, Hollywood Perryville, Live! Casino Maryland): This variant uses the same 10-less decks as in Players Edge 21. In this game, your goal is to match one or both of your cards with the dealer’s face-up card. Like Players Edge 21, there are rewards for getting multi-card 21s or other combinations of cards. The game even has additional side bets based on the cards the dealer draws.
- Trilux Blackjack (Horseshoe Baltimore): Trilux Blackjack has a side bet that adds a poker-like element to the game. The bet is whether your two cards and the dealer’s face-up card combine to form a straight, a flush, three of a kind or a straight flush. If so, you can win anywhere from 5-to-1 to 30-to-1 on your wager.
The math of blackjack
With almost all casino games, including blackjack, you are destined to lose, at least over the long term. It is a mathematical certainty. The reason to play blackjack, therefore, is the short term.
In the short term, anything can happen, including tremendous winning streaks that defy the statistics at play. However, in order to play blackjack as intelligently as you can in Maryland, it is important to understand both the actual numbers behind your disadvantage and what they mean for you.
Before we begin this discussion, we need to talk briefly about the basic strategy for blackjack. There is, in fact, a right way to play blackjack. Players have devised a system over the years to pinpoint the best statistical move to make in every situation. This system is known as basic strategy.
We are mentioning basic strategy because it serves as a control variable for the percentages and numbers that appear below. If you deviate from basic blackjack strategy, that’s your decision and it’s your money, but you should understand that you are increasing the house edge against you when you do so. In other words, the percentages listed below are minimums, not absolute figures.
The house advantage
The fact that you must act and decide how to play your hand before the dealer does puts you at an inherent disadvantage because of all the times your hand will bust without the dealer having to do anything. However, this disadvantage is perhaps not as big as you might think.
If the dealer is using only a single deck of cards for the game, the house advantage if you adhere to basic strategy is only 0.19%. That means for every $100 you wager, you can expect to lose 19 cents, on average.
Because of this low percentage, single-deck games are often difficult to find and usually reserved for higher stakes. One common tactic that casinos use is to increase the number of decks in a game. Blackjack tables with multiple decks will use a plastic card dispenser known as a “shoe.” Not only does this allow for fewer shuffles and less time spent not playing, but it also increases the house edge.
For each added deck, the house edge rises. You may see the following number of decks, along with their associated house edges:
- One deck: 0.19%
- Two decks: 0.47%
- Four decks: 0.60%
- Six decks: 0.64%
- Eight decks: 0.66%
As you can see, the advantage more than doubles with the addition of only a single deck. However, you’re unlikely to see a shoe with more than eight decks, as the effect of more decks flattens out as the number goes up.
Incidentally, the casino using more decks for blackjack also makes card counting more difficult. Essentially, card counting involves keeping track of the cards that have appeared in the game, then using that knowledge to inform decisions about how to play your hand (e.g., whether to stand or hit). Card counting is not technically illegal in Maryland, although you are explicitly forbidden to use any aid such as an electronic or mechanical device while at the tables.
Maryland law and blackjack
When Maryland first allowed casinos to open in 2010, table games like blackjack weren’t part of the plan. The original five properties permitted to operate under a 2007 constitutional amendment were only slot parlors, more or less. Table games like blackjack were not legal until another voter referendum in 2012.
That referendum, known as Question 7 or the Gaming Expansion Question, passed by a 52% margin in November 2012. In addition to allowing table games at five locations, the referendum also allowed for the construction of a sixth casino location in Prince George’s County. That is how MGM National Harbor came to be in Oxon Hill. The referendum also expanded the maximum hours of operation at the six casinos to 24 hours a day.
Locations for blackjack in Maryland
All six casino locations in Maryland have blackjack tables. Thus, the locations where you can play blackjack are also the places where you can play roulette, poker, and almost any other casino game:
- Hollywood Casino Perryville — Perryville
- Horseshoe Casino Baltimore — Baltimore
- Live! Casino and Hotel Maryland — Hanover
- MGM National Harbor — Oxon Hill
- Ocean Downs Casino — Berlin
- Rocky Gap Casino Resort — Flintstone
We’ve already discussed the social and sweepstakes casino options that you have in MD. From those, Pulsz and Chumba Casino are the only sites with online blackjack games that offer you the potential to win cash prizes.
Although we listed the different variants that may be at these locations, it’s no guarantee that these variants will be available around the clock. Similarly, circumstances change all the time, so if there’s a particular form of blackjack you wish to play, it is best to call ahead to see if the casino has it.
Finally, make sure that you play blackjack responsibly. Don’t bet money that you need for necessities like rent or food. For that matter, you probably shouldn’t even bet with funds earmarked for family fun or other diversions.