Blackjack may not have existed during medieval times, but it certainly seems right at home inside the fairy-tale castle environment of the Excalibur, established on the Las Vegas Strip in 1990. Within the Great Hall on the lobby level, more than 100,000 square feet of gaming space fills the faux stone and wood surroundings adorned with banners and coats of arms. A total of 72 tables make up the main casino pit, including 38 dedicated just to blackjack.
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Excalibur Tables & Games
The rules by which blackjack is played at the Excalibur are relatively standard for casinos belonging to MGM Resorts International, starting with “The dealer must draw on hands totaling 16 or less and any soft 17.” Payouts for natural blackjacks vary, “the dealer will pay you one-and-a-half times your wager or 6 to 5 depending on what type of game you are playing.” Fortunately, tables are clearly marked in this regard, so it’s rather easy to steer clear of the tables paying 6:5 for natural blackjacks; they have a House edge of 1.09%, which rates them among the worst games on the Strip.
The two basic formats available are double-deck and six-deck. For both versions, doubling down after splitting (DAS) is allowed, but not re-splitting of Aces (RSA), and there is no surrender available. The differences relate to table stakes and how the hands are dealt. The $15~$1,000 double-deck game is hand dealt with the players’ cards face down, while the $5~1,000 multi-deck version is dealt from a shoe with the cards face up for all to see. Because fewer cards are in play, the double-deck game has a slightly better House edge—0.45% versus 0.64% for the six-deck game.
Also on the casino floor are live tables for Blackjack Switch, a game that has grown greatly in popularity along the Strip in recent years. In the slots area, numerous IGT Game King units offer a blackjack option in denominations of 25¢, 50¢ and $1, but because cards can be split only one time and natural blackjacks pay just 1:1, it’s probably best to avoid them.
In contrast to the very serious, adult approach some of the other Strip resorts take to toward gaming, the Excalibur likes to refer to its casino floor as “party central.” The pit atmosphere is unapologetically light-hearted, offering players “everything you’d expect from a Las Vegas casino, with an extra dose of fun and friendliness.” As an example of that laid-back attitude are the cocktail “wenches” who serve complimentary drinks to players. For those who are new to blackjack or live table play, the Excalibur is a pretty good place to begin. The main pit offers free gaming lessons, with blackjack scheduled twice daily at 11:30am and 7:30pm.
M Life for Frequent Blackjack Players
Because the Excalibur is owned by MGM Resorts International, its loyalty program is integrated with the same “M life” card offered by the Bellagio, MGM Grand and a dozen other sister properties. Table games are not, however, eligible for M life “points” accumulation. Instead, there’s “a minimum betting requirement to be rated for Table Games (so) please see the supervisor in the pit for assistance at each participating M life resort.”
Blackjack players are able to earn “Express Comps and Tier Credits” based upon the amount of time played and the average size of their bets. The tiers start at Sapphire and move up to Pearl, Gold, Platinum and NOIR at the highest level. The higher the tier, the more Express Comps are earned for play—up to $10,000 worth—which can be used for accommodations, food and beverage, entertainment, or unique experiences referred to as “M life Moments.”
The Inside View
For those who require more entertainment than the cards alone can provide, there’s a special area designated as “The Party Pit”, where the “tables are open and the girls are on stage.” Blackjack players can enjoy “friendly dealers, great music and free beads – all with a view that can’t be beat.” Of course, the cards at all eight tables are dealt using continuous shuffle machines and natural blackjacks pay 6:5, so there’s a price to pay for the extra entertainment. Open only on weekends, the Party Pit is located on the casino floor across from Dick’s Last Resort —the so-called “Shame of the Strip”—a wide-open restaurant specializing in sassy service, unruly waiters and “deliciously messy cuisine.”