Playing Blackjack at El Cortez Hotel and Casino

Located downtown on Fremont Street, the El Cortez proudly calls itself “the longest continuously-running hotel and casino” in the city. It has been serving Las Vegas since 1941, and few casinos can claim to have been dealing cards longer than that. In fact, the hotel’s longevity recently earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Legions of locals love the decades-old 45,300-square-foot gaming floor, where a dozen blackjack tables can be found among the 20 games offered in the pit area. Low limits, favorable rules, friendly dealers and a laid-back clientele are reminders of how things used to be in the “good old days,” back before corporations replaced ‘wise guy” owners, turning gambling into gaming and hotels into resorts.

El Cortez Tables & Games

In a town where being #1 means everything, the El Cortez has made blackjack its niche. For five consecutive years, 2009~2013, the Las Vegas Review Journal has cited the casino for having “The Best Blackjack in Las Vegas”. The bread-and-butter game here that gets all the rave reviews is the $5 single-deck version paying the traditional 3:2 for natural blackjacks. Although the dealer hits on soft 17 and there is no doubling down after splitting (DAS), no re-splitting of Aces (RSA) and no surrender, even with such options eliminated, the House edge is just 0.19%.

Couple that with access to a $3 double-deck game that allows DAS for a House edge of 0.45%, and it’s easy to see why the El Cortez tables have such a strong fan base. According to one study, the average advantage to the House at the El Cortez on all of its blackjack games combined is just 0.24%, which rates it better than all downtown casinos, all Strip casinos and all off-Strip hotels and casinos combined—the undisputed #1. The only drawback is that wagering is limited to $500. There’s just one single-deck table offering limits of $25~$1,000, which makes the games unattractive to professional card counters and high rollers who might like to take advantage of such favorable odds.

Other blackjack variations available at the El Cortez include Double Attack Blackjack with a side bet on whether the dealer will bust and several types of Royal Match, which has side bets for wagering on suited pairs and suited K-Q combinations that pay from 2.5X to 25X. There’s also a Royal Match Progressive where thousands can be won with a properly timed one-dollar bet. Oddly enough, all of the blackjack games are dealt from shoes, not from the dealers’ hands.

What’s Different

The El Cortez proves that a casino can be old school without being old-fashioned. In fact, it has been lauded by many for its seemingly unique ability to mix “retro with modern” year after year. An example of this are “Vintage Vegas” promotions and marketing that make a big deal out of the hotel’s association with the infamous mobster known as Bugsy Siegel. In fact, Siegel briefly owned the hotel-casino for about a year in the mid-1940s before turning his attention to construction of the old Flamingo on the Strip after World War II. However, the real personality behind the El Cortez is 93-year-old gaming legend Jackie Gaughan, who owned the property from 1966 to 2008. Now retired, today Gaughan lives in the hotel’s penthouse, and he still plays cards with customers in the casino’s poker room, providing a true glimpse of Vintage Vegas.

Club Cortez for Frequent Blackjack Players

Also referred to a “Jackie’s Club” in reference to the hotel’s former owner, the Club Cortez is the casino’s loyalty program, which provides players with “VIP access to El Cortez promotions, giveaways, and events.” Points are earned for play on slots, video poker and video keno, while Comp Dollars are earned for playing table games and live keno or wagering at the Race & Sports Book. Blackjack players must present their Club Cortez Card to the dealer to get credit for the average amount bet and length of time at the table. Benefits increase as members progress in status from the Emerald level to Sapphire, Ruby and Diamond, including a personal Comp Dollars account, cash back, discounts off accommodations and dining, priority reservations and line passes, free gifts, and invitations to exclusive events.

The Inside View

The El Cortez may be custom-made for low rolling tourists and locals on a fixed income, but the word on the street is that the casino will “sweat” suspected card counters and anyone varying wagers between 1X and 10X, including those at the $5~$50 range. The safe zone is apparently 1X~6X. Also, bets of $75 or more will earn special attention from the pit supervisors in any event, as will winnings of $200+. Once the heat begins, it is reportedly not at all difficult to get banned from play. On the other hand, some professional blackjack players have said that “being 86’d at the El Cortez is almost a rite of passage,” so wager at your own risk.

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