Bringing Blackjack On-Chain

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By Alex Speirs Published: November 25, 2020
Vector of Bitcoin on poker chips and dice and some playing cards

BitBoss has broken new ground in blockchain gaming with the release of the first blackjack game to run entirely on-chain. We spoke with BitBoss CEO Matt Dickson and CTO Alex Shore about the process of getting blackjack on-chain and what it means for the future of iGaming.

Any competitive casino game must be able to be run in real-time. While this isn’t the case for games like slots or roulette, BitBoss know that the online gaming experience has to be about more than just the simplest casino offerings. But bringing the casino experience to the blockchain is easier said than done, and has been a long and calculated process for the BitBoss team – one which required careful consideration of the current technological limitations and how they might be worked around.

‘Like with our other offerings, every single bet and bet result for our blackjack game is a transaction on the Bitcoin SV blockchain,’ explains Alex Shore, CTO at BitBoss.

‘But with blackjack, we go further, because blackjack is a multi-action game; choosing to buy insurance, doubling, splitting, standing – every action is recorded as a blockchain transaction. This has a ton of benefits because everything is provably fair, you don’t have to build off-chain technology and try to scale it. Everything is on the Bitcoin SV blockchain.’

‘It’s a public ledger and that’s the joy of it,’ says Matt Dickson, CEO at BitBoss. ‘We’re not trying to create something that’s secretive and behind-the-scenes, we’re trying to create something very public and very useable so that new business models can come about.’

The benefits of a casino game being built on blockchain are largely the same as those which underpin a blockchain itself: transparency, accessibility, immutability and the enabling of untapped potential.

What’s more, with every bet being a transaction on the blockchain, the information available to both customers and operators is unprecedented. Players can garner a better understanding of their own habits, successes and failures, which they can use to better themselves as players or monitor their own gambling usage. Likewise, the operator can use this information to run their business efficiently with real-time metrics and insights, or even identify and curb problematic usage.

‘A casino operator managing problem players can do that with a client-server and database system as well as a blockchain system,’ says Shore.

‘But with a blockchain-based system, you can say to a regulator, “go look at this casino operator’s player transactions and see for yourself what’s going on in real-time” – not as part of a monthly report from the operator, but in real-time. The regulator also has the certainty that the records they are assessing are true and complete, with no room for an operator to alter or exclude records.’

Photo of Alex Shore

BitBoss CTO Alex Shore

The Cost of Doing Business

The argument for gambling on the blockchain makes itself, then. Making it work in real-time while also being able to support the volume of transactions necessary for a complex game like blackjack, however, is another task entirely.

‘Because we’re running everything on-chain, as this point, we do run into some technical limitations,’ explains Shore.

To run in real-time on-chain means that until the relevant block is mined and confirmed, all of the money transferring between the player and the operator remain as unconfirmed transactions. These transactions are still chained together so that they can’t be double-spent by the player – but typically, blockchain protocols have a limit on the number of unconfirmed, chained transactions. Bitcoin SV is higher than the likes of BTC or BCH, but still only allows for (roughly) 50 chained, unconfirmed transactions at present.

‘In a single RNG event game like Baccarat or Roulette you make one bet, you get a random number and then there’s a result – it’s a very linear kind of model. Per chain of unconfirmed transactions, I have basically twenty-five bets, because I make the bet and I receive a result,’ says Matt Dickson, CEO at BitBoss.

‘Blackjack gets a little more muddied up, because you’re making decisions as the game goes on, and you may get an immediate hand that you stand on, but you also may start drawing additional cards, or you may start hitting. You can hit a two, or a three, or an ace, and they’re all low-value cards, so your blackjack hand is going from 10 to 12 to 13 to 15 and you won’t stop until you hit 16 – and every one of those times you take a hit is an extra transaction.’

‘Because we tie all that together, we end up eventually running into this chain limit,’ adds Shore.

‘Given that, we do things to give the players more options of having different unspent outputs, or UTXOs, that they can use to place new bets, and we can start different chains on these different UTXOs. We have a limit where we can chain 50 transactions together (which works out to 25 bets), and we can do things where players can move BSV around and we end up where we have many different UTXOs to begin a new chain. We might hit the limit on one of these chains, but then we can start another and another.’

Photo of Matt Dickson

BitBoss CEO Matt Dickson

Long-term Returns

Both Shore and Dickson expect the limit on unchained transactions to be removed within a matter of months, but until then, remain confident in the adaptations they have made in order to make the game fully-operable now.

‘We’ve done a lot of work on this limit, but when it goes away, our system is going to be that much more powerful. Even if a block takes 90 minutes to get mined, it doesn’t matter,’ explains Shore.

‘Even if you play now, before you hit the limit, you can play a lot and it’s fast. It’s the same speed as playing a client-server game, and to us, that’s revolutionary.’

‘The removal of that limit is massive for online gaming,’ adds Dickson. ‘It basically completes Bitcoin SV as the ultimate blockchain for gambling.’

Rather than being tempted into taking aspects of the game off-chain, working around the limitation has ensured that BitBoss have created a workable, robust system with blackjack and most importantly, one that is ready to scale once the technical limitation is removed.

‘The solution that we’ve built is so much more powerful than other solutions because we’re doing everything on-chain, so when the limitation is gone, we have all of the power and benefits that we have spent a lot of time creating – with no limitation to the user.’

This means that after blackjack, a full suite of casino games won’t be far behind.